The auditorium was crowded, but there was an excited hush that filled the air. Names were being read and the large room erupted with cheers after each one. But there was a different pride on Victoria’s face as she walked across stage to receive her undergraduate diploma from the University of West Florida. This piece of her goal had been more than 10 years in the making, and even though the vast arena held more people than she could count, her eyes scanned the audience, only caring about three specific faces: her husband, her 13-year-old son, and her 8-year-old daughter.
Victoria didn’t always want to be a lawyer.
But as a Navy wife of over almost 16 years and mom to two kids, she had to navigate some difficult waters and situations with health care, school systems, moving, etc., and a spark ignited. But she hadn’t finished her undergrad yet and left school and jobs behind to be a stay at home mom while her kids were little.
“Babies don’t keep,” she told me one night over my kitchen counter. “I know these days seem long, but enjoy them while they are little.”
Victoria loved being a stay at home mom. In that season, she was able to focus fully on being the solo parent (and everything that entails) during her husband’s deployments. And she enjoyed having the freedom for family adventures while her husband was home.
“Did you regret not continuing undergrad classes and postponing your dreams of continuing onto law school?” I asked her that late night.
“No,” Victoria responded confidently. “I made the choice early on to always put my husband, my kids, and my family first. They are and always have been my priority. I knew I wanted to be there for every soccer game and bruised knee, and be an active member of my military community and neighborhood.”
Finding the right time to start
But when her youngest was established in elementary school, and she had the days to herself, Victoria knew it was the right time to finish her education. Her family had been settled for a few years, and she knew she had to seize the day (and nights and weekends) for classes and homework.
“I knew it was the right time,” she told me, “because my babies had grown into kids and no longer needed me to feed them or wipe their bottoms. They were largely self-sufficient. Plus, I knew we would be in one place for a few years, and I wouldn’t have to worry about how credits might transfer.”
I met Victoria right after she started going back to school the fall of 2017. She lived down the street from me, and our paths kept crossing on evening walks with our families and at neighborhood parties. I was instantly drawn in by her vivacious personality and her voice that bubbled-over with eager kindness. I noticed that she rarely skipped out on these activities. Not only that, but she was also on the PTO board, the moderator of the local spouse’s page, had a part-time job AND internship, and was an active participant in our local politics.
I asked her one day how she found time to do all these things and invest in relationships, too. Her response stuck with me: “You don’t find time. You make time. I have to carefully align my priorities, and plan my time for what brings me joy. Yes, the thought of completing my degree brings me joy, but so does my family and my friends and how my kids are taught. I can’t let my schoolwork take over my life. I’m a college student after all; I should have fun, too!” We both shared a laugh at that comment.
Balancing school, work, and life
After our giggles subsided, I was shocked how she even found the time to make room for all these things in her schedule.
“How do you manage all your responsibilities, everyone’s schedules, and make dinner and do laundry and housework?”
Her response was perfect: “We wouldn’t have survived without Trader Joe’s freezer family meals!!” We giggled again. She continued, “But really, having a shared digital calendar was crucial. We color-coded different family members, and it made it easier for my husband and I to easily see what needed to be done so we could share the family responsibilities better.”
But as a military spouse, it’s easy to feel lost in your responsibilities to your family and your spouse’s career. It’s easy to lose sight of your purpose and dreams and goals.
“My advice to other military spouses who are feeling lost in their responsibilities is to never give up on your dreams. Remember that not every season is right to move forward; it takes wisdom to know when to proceed and when to wait. But if you wait to move forward until it is the right time, your success will come much easier!”
“Enjoy the time with your kids and your family,” She continued. “The guilt can creep in easily, because the reality is that, as with any dream or career, everyone in your family must make sacrifices. I have made sacrifices to follow my husband around the country to pursue his military career, and he has been so encouraging and supportive to step up and be more involved with the kids so I can pursue my career.
“And I have to say that my kids have been my biggest cheerleaders. But I’ve found that when I keep them active in my studies, they understand better why it’s important that mommy has to stay in the law library until midnight and can’t tuck them in some nights. We watched many movies for my classes together, and I got to explain why lawyers are important and why it’s important to me! And I always did my best to step out of class for a moment to FaceTime them to say goodnight, too.”
Victoria refers to her undergraduate studies as a military wife and mom as an “unforgettable experience.” She won’t forget having to submit online assignments while on a cruise. She won’t forget studying while in the school pick-up line. She won’t forget having to work on assignments while watching her daughter’s basketball practices. She won’t forget having to miss multiple lectures to tend to sick kiddos.
“My professors were so understanding of my life situation as a military wife and mom. Anytime I needed to miss a lecture, they gave me grace. Many were parents of young kids too once upon a time. They understood the challenges and wanted to see me succeed.”
Now that school is starting again this fall for her, I asked if she was starting law school now. “Not right now,” Victoria responded. “This just isn’t the right time. We might be PCSing in the next year or two, and my husband is so close to retirement. There is absolutely no way of knowing where we will be going next or when we will get there.”
It’s never too late to follow your dreams!
“Do you feel defeated, working so hard to earn your Bachelor of Arts degree in Legal Studies, and not continuing onto law school right now?” I asked curiously.
“Absolutely not!” Victoria replied. “I know I will go to law school, and I know right now isn’t the right time. I’m okay with that! I landed a great part-time job as a paralegal at a local law firm, and I’m enjoying the break from school to be honest. I’m still gaining experience in my career field, and can perform many tasks that a lawyer can do anyway, under the supervision of a lawyer. Plus, in this season, I need to have more time for my family. I’m able to give my husband more support and kiss my kids goodnight every night. I wouldn’t trade that for anything in this season!”
I asked her if she felt it would be too late if she waited too long to finish her education.
“Not at all!” she said. “I’m only in my mid-30s, and I have so much life left to go to law school and establish a career. Always remember that is it NEVER too late to pursue your education and career!”
If you know an inspiring military mom who has a unique story to tell, let us know!