Today I received another request for money to help a certain population enjoy the Holiday Season. I have nothing against helping the various causes out there. My husband and I do donate a large sum of money and our time to help those who need assistance. However, as we approach the Holiday Season, I wanted to write about a group of women that are very dear to my heart. I feel it is time to share my story so that others can benefit.
I have not always been the woman wearing 9 carats of diamonds on her left ring finger. I have only been remarried for one year. My journey in life has not always been easy or as easy as I’ve made it look. I was raised in Iowa in a small farming community. I joined the United States Marine Corps in October 1982. I was married in 1984 and started my family. I was always the girl with the perfect hair. Everyone thought my husband and I had the perfect marriage. People always commented on what a beautiful couple we were and how we had beautiful children. What they didn’t know was the violence that took place when inside the privacy of our home. Women Marines have a great deal of pride and they will never tell or share their struggles. They put up a great façade. I have lived in a homeless shelter with my children. When my husband decided to leave us we were stationed in Okinawa, Japan. The family car was registered in his name on base so he got to keep the car. People thought I just loved to run because the only way I could get to work was to walk my three small children (ages 3, 4, 6) to daycare and then run to work. It was only a couple miles. In the afternoon, I ran back to the daycare to pick them up and walked with them home. We even walked to the Commissary; that was rough trying to carry groceries and kids who got tired walking. This took place for a couple months until I was able to purchase a car. No one knew I didn’t have a car and I wasn’t going to be one of those whiney women and expect sympathy from others. I had pride. Today I can spot a Woman Marine who is the victim of domestic violence- my internal alarm beings going off. I never received spousal support so when I paid my bills there were times I would only have $20 left for two weeks of food. I learned to make miracles happen with my paycheck without defaulting on my bills. I could not risk losing my security clearance by being late on paying my bills. I remember the first year I was on my own with my children. When holiday time rolled around, I was publically humiliated by my SNCOIC. She handed me one of those Holiday boxes from the Chaplains office in front of my entire office of junior Marines. I had budgeted and purchased my families holiday meal. Granted I only had $15 to spend on each child for Christmas that year but I made sure they had something. I had never asked for that box of food and guess what …I said “no thank you” “give it to someone else” and I never took that box home. I did go home and cried. That incident made me feel like a failure.
After my tour in Okinawa, Japan, I was stationed at the Pentagon working for the Secretary of the Navy. Everyone knew I was a single mom and no one ever treated me like a lower class citizen. They themselves had class. I worked with some of the best Generals, Admirals, and Political Appointees. When holiday time rolled around, I was overwhelmed with very nice gifts, flowers, Godiva truffles and well wishes for the Holidays. No one made me feel like I was a charity case. They all made feel like an equal, valued employee, and friend. Their kindness felt genuine. I love it when I see them as commentators on the news shows now. I knew them when…They are the reason I am finishing my PhD. They inspired me to greatness and treated me with dignity. Many of those gifts came in handy as hostess gifts during the holiday season.
While on my twilight tour at Camp Lejeune, I had great peer relationships. People would come to the rescue without me asking. They knew times were tight because things in their households were tight too and they had wives that worked. By then my children were teenagers. I worked part-time as a telemarketer to pay for Christmas and I donated plasma to pay for necessities. However, I never whined or let on how tight money was. My children always had the latest styles and no one would have guessed how tight my budget really was. I brought my own lunch and was a PT fanatic so I always had a reason to turn down a lunch invitation. Even when there was “kid trouble” at home, no one ever knew. I would drive almost four hours to visit my son in the hospital after I got off work and I would be at work the next day. No one had a clue. Again, I put up a great façade. I saw how others were ridiculed when there were problems at home or they didn’t have money for haircut etc.
So, if you know a single mom who is in the military she may not be as financially well off as she appears. Her appearance will be impeccable. She will always be cheerful and volunteer to help others. But, she maybe stressed wondering how to pay for the holidays. However, remember, she has a great deal of pride and will not ask you for a handout. She will not put her family on the adopt a family list or ask the Chaplain for a care package. People who are in charge of those programs also may not realize she qualifies because it may be just her and one child or two. They seem to focus on families composed of a mom, dad, and a few children. Not a single mom paying mega bucks for daycare and who is probably not receiving child support. I have met several women this year who are not receiving child support even though there is a court order.
Here are my suggestions on how you can help her without embarrassing her or wounding her pride.
1. If you have some extra cash sneak into her office and put it in her gym bag, coat pocket, or desk drawer. There is no greater feeling than finding money. I once found a $20 bill in my All Weather Coat pocket. I don’t know if it was mine or if someone had put it there. But, at that time that $20 had the same feeling as 1K does today. If you can get hold of a recall roster with her address on it just put an envelope in the mail with some cash in it.
2. Don’t be afraid to give her a small gift of homemade cookies, breads, fruit or something small with a personal note wishing her and her family a Happy Holiday. But also do this for other people too so she doesn’t think you did this just for her. The food gift will be welcomed and if it is a gift she doesn’t like she will be able to re-gift it. Paying for all the extra gifts at Christmas time is hard on a single mom budget. Many times, you will see a single mom offer to stand duty instead of attending a party where you need to bring a toy for Toys for Tots, buy a new outfit or pay a big fee to attend. I once begged to stand duty so I didn’t have to pay $50 to go on a fishing trip. Luckily, I was the only female SNCO in the Unit so they readily agreed I could be the Duty. I didn’t have $50 to blow on something so frivolous. While stationed at the Pentagon I would use my children as an excuse so that I didn’t have to attend a party that required a more formal party dress that just wasn’t in my budget. I also didn’t date when my children were little because I couldn’t afford daycare or clothes to go out on a date.
3. If you invite her and her family to dinner be prepared for her to say “no”. She may not have money for a hostess gift or to pay for the gas to get to your house. I turned down many an invitation because I did not have money for the gas to drive the extra distance or to buy or make a hostess gift. Make it very clear that she does not need to bring anything. However, if she says NO just drop it. Don’t make her feel bad by having to state the real reason she cannot accept your hospitality.
Being a single mom Marine can also be very lonely. As she advances in rank there may be times she is the only female of her rank in the Unit. During the workday, she has many friends who are often male Marines. However, when it is time for office functions she is left alone because the male Marines do not want to introduce her to their wives because they may get jealous that he talks to a female at work. The Marine Corps Ball is a very lonely and stressful time for women Marines who are single parents. They often cannot afford the price of the ball ticket. They are forced to wear their uniform and not a pretty ball gown. They can purchase a dress uniform but many cannot afford to do that nor can they afford daycare so they can attend the event. If they do attend the event, they sit alone because everyone else is paired with their spouses or they leave after happy hour and say they need to pick up kids. Many women Marines often end up not attending the Marine Corps Ball due to finances. They sit home alone. They also sit home alone during the holiday season because they cannot afford the gas or airfare to go home to visit family. It is different being a single parent home alone with children on the holidays than being a married family staying home on the holidays.
I challenge you to listen with your eyes and ears throughout the year. Learn from my story how to be respectful yet helpful to a single woman Marine Mom. She has a great deal of pride and will never admit that her life is anything less than perfect. It is tough being a Marine; it is tougher being a Woman Marine, and even more tough being a Single Parent Marine.
Jaynine Howard retired from the United States Marine Corps in 2002. She is the author of Mom’s Recipes for the Broke & Starving available at http://www.knowledge-download.com/5120/