Mother’s Day 2021: How being a military spouse prepared me for the pandemic

Elyce Middlebrooks is a mother of two, homeschool educator, community leader and marketing specialist. As the spouse of a healthcare professional serving in the U.S. Navy, she participates in the American Corporate Partners program, paired with a professional from Colgate-Palmolive to connect on career and professional opportunities.

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They say necessity is the motherhood of invention. So it’s entirely appropriate that necessity – prompted by the pandemic – has led to many moms redefining the very essence of motherhood. 

With no COVID playbook to follow, some moms are juggling it all. Others are doing just enough to stay sane. As a military spouse, much of the work I’ve been doing during the pandemic is the same work that I’ve always had to do: Managing the family in isolation, pulling long shifts as a mom and wife, and putting family first. Military life can be frustrating at times but it also prepared me for this pandemic rollercoaster. This Mother’s Day – to encourage and empower ALL women (military spouses or otherwise) to learn from each other and embrace these extraordinary challenges – I wanted to take a moment to share my story and the five lessons I’ve learned that have helped me navigate uncertainty during the pandemic.

These past ten years, I thought I had seen it all. Being a military spouse and a mother of two toddlers, trying to piece together a career has not always been easy. As a military family, we have moved six times across four states, including a two-year tour overseas in Okinawa, Japan. The constant change of surroundings and people has shaped and developed me. The good times have allowed me to spread my wings and see the world while the tough times have tested my inner strength and demanded intense flexibility. 

2020 was supposed to be the year I gained control. My husband and I had been considering his retirement from the Navy, and I was looking forward to planning my non-military future including re-establishing my marketing career. For me, it was a milestone. Then came COVID-19.

Like most families, the pandemic changed our life. Questions like, “How does one get COVID?” or “What are the best steps to keep my family healthy?” consumed my thoughts. While stocking up on Softsoap and toilet paper, I observed many moms struggling emotionally from the isolation and their new role as home school teachers. Many of the working moms in my circle left their jobs while others shifted to working from home. The balancing act of caring for children out of school and managing work responsibilities became a national issue. It was not just military spouses staying home to raise the kids – many working moms were suddenly forced to make the difficult decision to continue their careers or stay home to care for their children. 

Without any family members nearby, I had a limited support system. But recalling past experiences as a military spouse, I realized that I was more prepared for this pandemic than I thought. Living overseas, or in small military towns, and being far from family and friends are the norm for many in the military. While stationed overseas, it was not uncommon to have curfews and travel restrictions. At times, even restaurants were off-limits. It was difficult for family and friends to visit. So many of the restrictions that came with the COVID pandemic were somewhat familiar to me. 

Additionally, when my husband was called unexpectedly to serve on the Navy’s hospital ship, the USNS COMFORT, in New York City, my plans to relaunch my career came to a screeching halt. My mission became taking care of my boys –  ensuring they felt safe, loved and educated. I also wanted them to understand what was going on and the role their dad was playing to help people. 

There was little time to adapt. To overcome my initial fear and self-doubt, my self-help technique was to help others. That’s where I gained the sense of control and confidence I needed to care for my family and manage through the pandemic. My most valuable resource was my community, and so I looked for opportunities to connect and contribute. I recruited neighbors to send care packages to the ship my husband was on and wrote letters to people who had been impacted by the pandemic or other hardships. I signed up for American Corporate Partners’ corporate mentoring program to help sharpen my skills and gain insights into the corporate world, and I organized a family Zoom meetup every Friday. 

My mental and physical health were also a priority, so I downloaded the Peloton app to take virtual workout classes. With all of these investments, I was flourishing, feeling healthy, managing my family, commanding my ‘classroom’ and giving back to others. Even though my formal marketing career is still on hold, I have accomplished quite a bit in the last 14 months, enough to fill a resume, in fact! 

Here are 5 things that helped me navigate uncertainty during the pandemic:

  1. I looked for opportunities where I could help serve and give back. I made my focus less about me and more about helping others.
  2. I stayed centered. I prayed and I continue to pray for others who need strength during this challenging time. 
  3. I kept a routine where I focused on my health and wellbeing. A fancy way of saying, I downloaded the Peloton App and focused on fitness.
  4. I established a family Happy Hour. Every Friday at noon we had a Zoom chat. #Family Fridays!
  5. I turned schoolwork into an opportunity to use my creativity and developed crafts and activities that resulted in big smiles for my boys.

COVID has been hard for many people, including me. IT’S STILL HARD!  But it isn’t breaking me. It’s making me stronger! Hopefully, my experience can help other moms manage through difficult times. Above all else, my advice is to find what motivates you and use it to stay healthy, connected and productive. In addition to my family, my inspirations are gratitude and caring. I needed a hand, and I asked for one. The support was invaluable. Raising my hand to help others made me feel valued. Either way, this Mother’s Day, give yourself a hand!

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