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From "Ma'am, Yes Ma'am!" to "Mommy": A Veteran's Story

By Danielle Corazza

Mom and child.

The successful elimination of Osama bin Laden is one of the most visible reminders of the skill and dedication of America's armed forces. But it is by no means the only example. Every day, members of the U.S. military make sacrifices for our country—often at the expense of the families they leave back home. And women shoulder a significant portion of that burden.

Transition Struggles for Military Moms

According to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, more than 40 percent of women on active duty have children, and more than 30,000 single mothers have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. When these military moms come back home, they often face overwhelming challenges.

There are 1.8 million women veterans in the U.S. today. They are four times as likely as nonveteran women to be homeless. And they face a higher rate of unemployment than their male counterparts. Perhaps more heartbreaking are the struggles they face when readjusting to family life.  A participant in a study of military members who served post-September 11th recalls: “When my ship deployed, we had a female sailor whose son was nine months old when we left. When we returned he didn't know she was Mom and cried. That was devastating to the young lady and took time to mend.”

Even for moms whose kids remember them when they return, the interaction is not the same. It can be hard acclimating to life in the suburbs after living with the constant pressure of keeping your soldiers alive in the field. And trying to make it through a single afternoon with a whiny toddler—barely manageable for most civilian moms—can be excruciating after experiencing the stress of combat.

An Emotionally Intense Journey

Although I became a mother after my time in the military, my feelings of frustration navigating a civilian world were just as intense. After five years of service, I left the military with visions of securing the American dream: a husband, two kids and maybe even a white picket fence. After giving birth to my son in 2007, I was shocked to find that the nurturing, compassionate attitude I’d always imagined myself embracing as a mother was not second nature. I found myself wishing for the days when I was the boss, when I called the shots and soldiers jumped to follow my orders. The helplessness I felt when becoming a mother, not once but twice (my daughter was born in 2010), left me doubting my instincts, my training and even my sanity.

Although it wasn’t easy, I eventually regained the sense of control I cherished in uniform. If you’re a military mom experiencing the rocky transition back to civilian life, I hope these tips will help you too.

  1. Take time for you. A stressed, harried mother does not a happy family make. Find an hour a week to spend alone, even if it means retreating to your car with a good book.
  2. Accept that parenting is a learning process. Don’t be ashamed to continue your training—motherhood is on-the-job training at its craziest. Visit PBS Parents’ “Coming Home” which offers tips for military families in transition.
  3. Take advantage of free resources. Through the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation’s Joining Forces for Women Veterans program, you can find benefits you’ve earned from the VA, utilize Connect-a-Vet resources, and even access scholarships, mentoring and career advice.
  4. Learn from others who’ve walked in your shoes. Peer-to-peer support is priceless. Find a local moms group or a veteran support organization like the American Legion, or plan a weekly phone call with another woman vet.
  5. Don’t be so hard on yourself. No one raises perfect kids. Survival and sanity are vital components of motherhood. In other words, ditching the library to build dining-room table forts does not equal parenting failure.

My journey through parenthood is far from over, but I am finding more comforting parallels with my military service each day. Keeping my cool and guiding everyone to safety while running a tight ship are still vital elements of my daily civilian life.

I just wish I could get a “Ma’am, yes, ma’am!” every once in a while.

Danielle Corazza is a member of the Advisory Council of Joining Forces for Women Veterans, an initiative of the Business and Professional Women's Foundation. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband and two young children.

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