In honor of Mother’s Day, we interviewed a military mom from each of the past eight decades. We enjoyed hearing what has changed and what has stayed the same. From fads to parenting techniques to timeless advice, moms have an opinion on it all. In addition, each interviewee holds a special place in the interviewer’s heart.
For more from this series, find “Motherhood Through the Decades: 1940s and 1950s” here. And 1960s, here; 1970s, here, and 1980s, here.
Being a mother is hard and being in or having a spouse in the military poses a unique set of challenges in the world of motherhood. One of my biggest supporters in helping me walk through motherhood in the military has been my own mother. She raised me and my sister while my father served at home and abroad in the Air Force. Every time I struggle with my husband being gone or with the woes of potty-training, etc., my mother has been my go-to for encouragement and advice. My mom married my father when she was 20 years old in 1989 and had my older sister in March of 1990 while my father was in Air Force tech school. Three months later, she left everything and everyone she knew in Alabama and rode with my dad and sister to Hill AFB, Utah, where she delivered me three years later.
It was a lot of fun sitting my mother down for an interview, and I hope you have as much fun reading it as I did listening to her! She’s an amazing woman and if everyone had a mother like her, the world would be an amazing place. I think so anyway!
Susan, 48 years old (Montgomery, Alabama)
Relationship to interviewer: mother
Two children: Grace (1990) and Sarah (1993)
Wife of an Air Force Veteran
WHAT DID YOU DO FOR FUN BEFORE KIDS?
I enjoyed shopping and cross-stitching. I went straight to college after high school and worked, so activities to unwind and decompress were what I considered fun.
WHAT DID YOU DO FOR FUN AFTER YOU HAD KIDS?
The exact same things—having kids did not change what I considered to be fun.
DID YOU HAVE DATE NIGHTS?
When my husband was in the country—and we had money—we would, but that was not often. Dinner or a movie. We wouldn’t go often without kids because I didn’t trust anyone to watch them after a babysitter caught a toaster on fire and threw it outside in the snow when we lived in Utah.
WHAT WAS CHALLENGING AS A MOM?
The lack of sleep and change of schedule with newborns.
WERE THERE THINGS THAT KEPT YOU FROM FOCUSING ON YOUR KIDS?
No, I don’t think so. Even though I eventually worked outside of the home, I made sure I was involved and participated completely in your lives by running your local Girl Scout troop and making sure to attend every school play and dance recital.
HOW DID YOU FIND OUT THAT YOU WERE PREGNANT? DID YOU TELL PEOPLE? WHEN DID YOU KNOW THE GENDER BEFORE THE BABY WAY BORN?
I missed my period—how else do people find out? [I couldn’t stop laughing at that response!] We told everybody with both pregnancies. We did not find out gender because you only got one ultrasound at the time, and they couldn’t tell with either pregnancy because it was too early. With my second pregnancy, the nurse said that she couldn’t tell if you were a boy or girl and your dad said, “Well it had better be a girl, then.” [HA!]
Also you were delivered on base by the emergency room doctor who had never delivered a baby before. When I arrived, screaming, he told me to shut up and push, so I shut up and pushed, and you were born. The doctor took you around the entire hospital to show everyone that he had delivered a baby. Your dad had been playing a double header baseball game and left in the middle of the first game, saw you born, and then left to play the second game. The other ladies at the game were shocked he left me, and got on him for leaving, but I had kicked him out. He was a ball of nerves and was driving me crazy. [HA!]
WHAT WAS CONSIDERED THE NORM FOR FAMILY SIZE? WERE YOU INFLUENCED BY THAT?
Around two was considered the norm, and no we were not influenced by that. It is just how things worked out for us.
DID YOU HAVE A NURSERY? WHAT WAS IT LIKE?
Yes, we did a teddy bear theme for both.
BREASTFEED OR BOTTLE?
STROLLER OR BABY WEAR?
I used both, but I probably baby wore more often. I was home with you both during the day and it was easier to strap you to me to do things around the house.
WERE YOU A FREE RANGE OR HELICOPTER PARENT?
I was semi-helicopter when you were little. When we lived on base I would walk with you to the playground, which was not considered the norm, because everyone else would just send their kids out once they realized an adult was at the playground, so I ended up watching everyone’s kids.
DID YOU HAVE OTHER TERMS THAT DESCRIBED PARENTS?
Not really. I only remember two camps of moms, which were the working moms and the stay-at-home moms.
WHAT WERE THE PRESSURES OF NORMAL, EVERYDAY PARENTING?
The biggest thing was if working moms or stay at home moms were best for children. I remember Hillary Clinton’s comments during the 1992 election that brought the debate to the forefront. “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas,” Clinton snapped to reporters at a restaurant called the Busy Bee during a campaign stop in Chicago, “but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life.”
WHAT DID DISCIPLINE LOOK LIKE?
Before the age of five, we spanked. After five, it was a combination of time-out and revoking privileges.
DID YOU PACK SCHOOL LUNCHES?
Nope. We would get the school lunch calendar and you both would tell me what days you wanted to eat it, and if you didn’t want to eat lunch that day at school, you would pack your own lunch for that day.
WHAT WAS THE WEIRDEST FAD/TREND THAT YOUR CHILDREN WERE CRAZY ABOUT?
Those Capri-Sun or Kool-Aid pouches that were made into purses.
WHAT DID YOU DO WITH OTHER MOMS WHEN YOU HAD TO GET OUT OF THE HOUSE AND HAD YOUR KIDS WITH YOU?
I never did play dates with other moms. If I needed “me time” to get out of the house then I waited until your dad got home and left after you both went to sleep. Otherwise, we did scouting and church with other moms and kids.
WHAT WERE YOUR FRIENDSHIPS WITH OTHER MOTHERS LIKE?
Any relationship with another mother was secondary to my relationship with my husband. I rarely discussed parenting with other mothers.
WHAT WAS YOUR GREATEST SOURCE OF PARENTING STRESS?
Lying kids! [Gulp!]
HOW DID YOU RELIEVE STRESS DURING DIFFICULT TIMES?
Prayer, especially when my husband was gone. I didn’t smoke, drink, or exercise: the normal stress relievers.
WHAT WAS YOUR GREATEST SOURCE OF PARENTING JOY?
Watching my first grandchild get baptized and knowing the faith was being shared with the next generation.
WHAT ADVICE IS TIMELESS?
The most important thing a mother can do for their children is love their father.
IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND DO IT ALL OVER, WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY AS A PARENT?
As a young mother, it took me longer than it should have as the children aged to realize that I was the parent and not their friend.
WHERE DID YOU FIND SUPPORT OR DID YOU FEEL LIKE IT WAS DIFFICULT TO FIND?
From the time my dad died when I was 14, I learned to rely on my faith to get me through difficult times, but when I needed extra help, I had a great support system with the local church and the resources available through the military.
WITH THE CURRENT TECHNOLOGY, IT IS EASY TO FIND AN OPINION ON EVERY ASPECT OF PARENTING. WHAT DID YOU DO?
I definitely think it was better when you didn’t have an opinion readily available on every aspect of parenting because I think it would make mothers doubt their maternal instinct. I went to family for parenting wisdom.
DESCRIBE YOUR FAMILY SITUATION? DID YOUR HUSBAND COME HOME AT 5? DID HE TRAVEL FOR WORK? DID YOU WORK OUTSIDE THE HOME?
From the time we were married, I was either in school or worked. Your dad worked from 7-4 on base every day except when he was deployed. When I was in school, I would watch you both during the day and then go to night school after your dad got home.
HOW DID THE DIVISION OF LABOR WITH THE CHILDREN AND HOUSE WORK FOR YOUR FAMILY?
I’ve always taken care of everything in the house and your dad everything outside the house and trash and bugs. Your sister and you were responsible for your own room and the bathroom you shared and helping with communal chores like dishes.
WHAT WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE CHORE?
Dishes. They seemed to never end!
DID YOUR HUSBAND HELP WITH THE KIDS?
Yes, he assisted with everything from diapers to disciple.
WHAT IS YOUR BEST ADVICE FOR A NEW MOM?
Ask for help.