Jennifer Goodman (guest writer, military spouse and Director of Programs for Miligistix) dives into the good, the bad and the funny world of the “dependa” and the impacts on a military family

Look no further than a basic internet search and you will find numerous references to the term “dependa” and too many variations of the term to count (to include “definitions” like the ones below that are in serious need of a spelling and grammar check). To say I haven’t snickered at a dependa joke would be a complete lie, because I have. Like any good person with a twisted sense of humor, I know how easy it can be to find the inappropriate funny. As an advocate for the military community though, my concern over the widespread use of the term dependa, or any variation of it, is that it’s use ignores the real and serious employment challenges faced by military spouses and, instead, turns unemployment into a choice made as the result of feelings of entitlement. For this reason, I would like to address the above definitions by sharing a few facts about some of the points they address.

 

Military spouses rely on their service member for financial support because they won’t get a job. According to the Institute of Veterans and Military Families publication, “The Force Behind the Force; Training, Leveraging, and Communicating about Military Spouses as Employees,” only 3% of military spouses choose not to work. 66% are either working, or are looking for work, and 23-26% are unemployed. Some of the challenges to employment spouses face include:

  1. Childcare. Service members frequently travel and work extended hours. The intense work schedule of the service member leaves the civilian spouse responsible for the logistics of child care. As a result, the civilian spouse may only be able to consider employment with specific work hours and/or is within a certain traveling distance, limiting the number of opportunities available. Childcare access is also both limited and costly and spouses are, on average, both underemployed and paid around 38% less than their civilian counterparts (source: IVMF, The Force Behind the Force: A Business Case for Leveraging Military Spouse Talent).
  2. Work history. Spouses often have numerous short term tenures with previous employers and their experiences may be unrelated and worked in several geographic locations. Military spouses move 10x more than their civilian counterparts. On a resume, the spouse appears uncommitted and undependable. The resume also makes it very easy for employers around military installations to identify a military spouse, which could result in the spouse not being selected for a position out of concerns for their assumed imminent relocation.
  3. Military spouses are “generally not educated and have no goals or aspirations in life.” Fact: military spouses, on average, have higher levels of education than their civilian counterparts – “84% have some college, 25% have a bachelor’s degree, 10% have an advanced degree” (source: IVMF, The Force Behind the Force: A Business Case for Leveraging Military Spouse Talent).

Military spouses are “traditionally stay at home [moms and do not] do a… thing all day besides sitting on the couch.” If stay at home parents were getting compensated for watching children in a private home, they would have the title nanny or caregiver and would have work experience to place on their resume. Because the military spouse is watching their own child(ren), the value and the cost savings is often forgotten and defined instead as “sitting at home on the couch doing nothing.” This statement also only addresses female spouses and forgets that 8% of military spouses are male.

I was recently discussing the fact that there are also male military spouses, which is too often forgotten. The person with whom I was speaking responded that “male spouses are unicorns so they don’t count.” To an extent, the person was right – I searched and searched, but I could not find one negative depiction of a male dependa (unicorn or otherwise). If we’re speaking about facts though, male spouses face the same barriers to employment as female spouses including underemployment, unemployment, and lower rates of pay than their civilian counterparts.

Dismissing something doesn’t make it cease to exist. Saying that “stereotypes exist for a reason” doesn’t make a statement any less derogatory or untrue. Making jokes about real barriers to employment faced by military spouses doesn’t solve the challenges, it perpetuates them.

My goals for writing this post:

1) To spread awareness:

  • Barriers to military spouse employment are real and recognizing that they are not choices and knowing the facts is the first step to addressing them.
  • It is just as important to build bridges between military dependents (spouses and children) and civilians as it is for us to build bridges between veterans and civilians. This includes building bridges to companies/organizations – military spouses can offer companies an amazing talent pool from which to recruit.
  • As military spouse employment is supported, the service member/veteran is also supported. The gainful employment of the spouse contributes to the financial and personal wellbeing of the entire family unit.

2) To encourage military spouses:

  • Find your passion, determine what short and long term goals are necessary to follow your passion, and never stop. Only you can define what success looks like – never apologize for how you define it.
  • Strategically build your tribe and network with people who will empower you and challenge you to improve daily. Also surround yourself with people who possess knowledge in areas you do not. I cannot stress enough the value and importance of establishing and leveraging a LinkedIn account.
  • Find a mentor who has gone through experiences similar to your own. Having your experiences normalized and learning about how someone else overcame challenges and barriers to success like those you are facing can be a very empowering thing.

And please, I beg you all, before you write a statement calling someone else uneducated, do a spell check and phone a friend for a second review. Otherwise you may find yourself in the same situation as the authors of the dependa definitions shown above – trying to be funny, but ultimately insulting Jabba the Hutt by both misspelling his name and reminding him he has a civilian face only a parent could love (as opposed to pointing out the “fact” that he is a civilian).