Sunday, September 27, 2009

More on military moms

Another item in the New York Times "Women at Arms" series appears in today's paper. Lizette Alvarez's feature story is headlined, "Wartime Soldier, Conflicted Mom." It features poignant vignettes of several military moms and explains that the military has adapted to having women serve in Iraq and Afghanistan with, for example, birth control and gynecological exams now available on bases in war zones. Adapting to the challenge of mothers as soldiers has proven more formidable, in part because of the challenges the women face as mothers.

Alvarez reports that almost half of the women who have served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are mothers. That's more than 100,000 solider moms. Among them, a third are single mothers, and the overwhelming majority are primary caregivers. Alvarez explains why they join (many of the same reasons men do, duh) and summarizes some of the challenges they face:

The pay is good, particularly in a war zone, the benefits are excellent and the jobs offer financial security and career advancement — all of which is good for their children. Many love their work and feel a sense of pride and patriotism in defending the country. Yet mothers, whether married or single, say that long periods of time away from their children and then the transition back to domestic life — where they are expected to immediately resume household responsibilities — can be excruciatingly difficult.
Not surprisingly, then, the military faces enormous challenges when it comes to recruiting and retaining women. Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth of the Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University, an organization that the U.S. Department of Defense supports, observes:
The Army’s challenge, but also the military’s challenge, is to help service members feel they don’t have to choose between family life and their military career. They leave when they can't figure out [how to do both].
I suppose Alvarez explains her focus on "mothers" as soldiers instead of "parents" as soldiers by noting that most of the military mothers are primary care givers. Perhaps we are to assume that most male soldiers are not. Or, maybe Alvarez is just following the U.S. military's lead in terms of how it sees this matter--as one about mothers rather than about parents. In any event, it would be nice to know that the Dept. of Defense is working to address these same issues (e.g., balancing work and family) as they play out for soldier fathers, too.

See other blog posts about this NYT series under the military label.

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