Serving on two fronts – finding balance between motherhood and military service

By Denise CaskeyMarch 29, 2023

Cover photo - Laity and children
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – 2nd Lt. Shawna Laity and her children, Aurora, left, and Zia, right, stop to pose for a photo at Laity’s Basic Officer Leader Course graduation at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. (Photo Credit: Denise Caskey) VIEW ORIGINAL
Laity family Halloween
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – 2nd Lt. Shawna Laity, back right, is pictured with her husband, George, and two daughters, Zia, left, and Aurora, right, dressed as characters from “Stars Wars” for Halloween in 2022. (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

The military has come a long way in the last 50 years, putting its people first and making it easier for women to serve, especially when it comes to motherhood.

In 1970, the case of Air Force Capt. Susan Struck, a nurse in Vietnam, was the catalyst for change. In the case Struck v. Secretary of Defense, Struck had been honorably dismissed from service because she was pregnant.

Struck’s case went all the way to the Supreme Court, with her attorney, Ruth Bader-Ginsburg, but was never heard. At the urging of Erwin Griswold, solicitor general of the United States, the Air Force decided to abandon its pregnancy policy.

Today, motherhood no longer hinders a woman’s ability to serve in the military, and many women have found ways to balance service to their country with serving their families. Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Public Affairs recently spoke with service members from around the National Capital Region to discuss the challenges of being a mother in the military.

Charity and family
Staff Sgt. Christy Charity,right, her husband, Lawrence, son, Ari, and daughter, Ava, enjoy a walk around Belmont Bay in summer of 2022. (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

PA: What has been the most challenging aspect of being a mother in the military?

Army Staff Sgt. Retanya Collier, Fort Belvoir: It just depends on the leadership and where you're stationed. Fort Belvoir is really nice, because you have leadership that is more about the Soldier and making sure their family is good, because they say if your family is good, then they know you will do what you need to do effectively to execute your job and your mission.

Army 2nd Lt. Shawna Laity, National Guard Bureau at Arlington: Being a Soldier in the reserve sometimes can bring its own unique set of challenges that people wouldn't think of if they’re a full timer, because almost 100 percent of what we're called to do is done on a weekend, and almost all the fun things happen on a weekend. There are birthday parties and trips and things such as that. Sometimes you're like, ‘I want to go to my kid's birthday. Can I duck out early?’ and you might have leadership that says, ‘yes’ or ‘you can make up that day,’ or you might have someone that says, ‘I've missed every birthday of every kid I've ever had.’ That’s when even a reserve component Soldier will have a sacrifice to make that sometimes you don't anticipate.

Army 1st Sgt. Corrine Geiger, National Guard Bureau at Arlington: Being in a leadership role in the reserve is a lot more than one weekend a month. Not a day goes by that I don't spend at least two hours doing reserve stuff. I work full time as well as a Department of the Army civilian, so I’m trying to juggle that with making time for my daughter and making sure she gets the attention she needs from me. That, as a reservist, even more so than the drills themselves, is challenging. My unit is in Fort Dix, New Jersey, so I have to travel for my reserve duty. Me not being there for the weekend puts a lot on my family. My husband's whole weekend revolves around my reserve duty too, because it's not like I'm just gone for an eight- or 10-hour block of time. I'm gone from Friday afternoon until 10 or 11 o'clock Sunday night. They make a lot of sacrifices on my behalf.

Army Sgt 1st Class Ashley Boyer, National Guard Bureau at Arlington: Having served in both a Guard capacity and a full-time capacity, there's drastic differences between the two. When you're doing drill weekends, some leadership is more understanding. If you don't request it at least a month out, or if it's not something significant like a wedding or a funeral, you don't necessarily get that acceptance or that extension to make it up another day or another weekend. When you are full time, you get your weekends, but sometimes you give up your evenings or early mornings to meet the mission. It's kind of six of one, half a dozen of another. Both require extra time and extra effort that could, and sometimes should, be spent with your family. There are sacrifices either way you go.

Army Capt. Amanda Damian, Fort Belvoir: It’s hard to practice self-care. I’m always focused on my family and my job, so there’s not a lot of me time. Finding that balance has been difficult as well, but I know that in order to give my family and my military service 100 percent, then I need to get myself to that 100 percent. I know there's also days when I only have 50 percent to give, but if I'm able to give 100 percent of that 50 percent then that's what I can give for that day. But just trying to remind myself that at the end of the day I'm human and trying to take care of myself and my family, and as long as I'm getting my work done, it's not the end of the world if there's a little imbalance every now and then.

Army Staff Sgt. Christy Charity, Fort Belvoir: The most challenging part about being a mother and serving in the military is being intentional about the time I do get with my children. I have a 1 and a 2-year-old. By the time I get home in the evenings, I have about two hours with my children before it is time for them to go to bed. During those two hours, they still need to be fed dinner, have bath time and then conduct their bedtime routine. It feels like there simply isn't enough time in the day to spend quality time with my kids.

Army Maj. Meadow Reeder, National Guard Bureau at Arlington: I am a geo-bachelorette in the National Capital Region. I maintain housing in Virginia, but my husband and daughter still live in Pennsylvania. I get a lot of question about this. It is common to hear of men being geo-bachelors, but people tend to have a hard time imagining a mother not seeing her child every night, by choice.

Geiger and family
1st Sgt. Corrine Geiger poses with her husband, Will, and daughter, Fiona, at Enchant Washington D.C. light display in December 2022 at Nationals Park. (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

What skills have you learned as a mother that help in your military service?

Laity: A broader understanding of unconditional love. Some people might think it's a little too fluffy to say love, but love comes in all forms. It's that dedication and commitment – ‘I’m not going to give up on you. We're in this together. If you need resources, I have resources. If I don't have the resources, I will find the resource. If you're sick, there are answers. If you're in trouble, there are answers. If you need a push…’ – Those are the same kind of qualities that I walk through in life with my children. And then, for the Army itself, the idea of a community coming together for a greater purpose, for wanting excellence in the smallest and most menial tasks. So, from being a mom and into the military, it's a broadening understanding of love for me.

Damian: Being able to prioritize what's important and trying not to dwell too much on little things as much, because if everything's a priority, then essentially nothing can be a priority.

Damian and family
Capt. Amanda Damien, left, pictured with her daughter, Daniella, and her husband on the first day of daycare at the Child Development Center on Fort Belvior. (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

How did the military prepare you for children?

Reeder: The patience and communication and analytical skills I developed in the military helped me be a better mother. Instead of being frustrated with my daughter for doing something she wasn’t supposed to or making a bad decision, I try to find out what her reasoning was and talk through it like a counseling session with a brand-new lieutenant. I can see that it has made her a better communicator too.

Charity: The military has prepared me for being a parent by teaching me how to work well under stress, as well as simply cope with the stress. The Army preaches about resilience, and having personal resilience prepared me for the occasional stresses of parenthood.

Reeder and family
Maj. Meadow Reeder, right, with her husband, Trevor and daughter, Aurora, pose for a picture following a gymnastics competition in January in which Aurora received her best personal scores in the beam and floor events. (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

Has there ever been a time when you thought it would be easier to leave the military and just be a mom?

Boyer: I would have to say no. I joined at 17, and so the military for me has given me everything I have to this point, so wouldn’t change a thing.

Laity: I was a band director on the civilian side for 10 years, and being a band director would actually take me away from my family far more than my military career has so far with football games and marching competitions and all of the morning and evening rehearsals. So far in the military, I've been surrounded by leadership that is family first and making sure that your family's taken care of. When you're a band director, there's nobody saying that. But also, just the financial aspect. The better health insurance and the better base pay is something that's helped me be able to provide better for my family, and I appreciate that.

Damian: There's definitely been multiple times when I thought it would be easier to leave service and just be a mom - whenever she gets sick or right before I went back to work from maternity leave, because, to me, there's no better caretaker for my child than myself or my husband.

Collier and family
Staff Sgt. Retanya Collier and her family grin after a recent escape room adventure in Arlington. (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

What are some tips or advice you have for service members who are mothers or are thinking of becoming mothers?

Laity: Never underestimate the example that you give to your children by just wearing the uniform. I think one of the best things that I do as an example to my daughters is wear the uniform, and whether it's that they see their mom in a position of leadership or balancing home and work and taking the things that I've learned – from resilience to structure to discipline – and applying it, even if they don't understand the concept or the broader reason why that is, they can benefit from it.

Geiger: Try to find and connect with other women who have children and have maybe gone through some of the difficulties or challenges you might face as a mom trying to continue to serve. That way, you have kind of a sounding board and other people to talk to when things do get stressful or you're not sure how to deal with something. It's always good to have that guidance from others who have been there in the past or sometimes even someone to just listen when you're frustrated.

Damian: Make time for yourself as a mom. Try to find that balance and not lose yourself in the whole of just being a mom. A lot of the time it is easier said than done but try to make time for yourself and do things that you enjoy. Remember that at the end of the day, you're more than just a mom. There are other aspects of your personality, of your life, that you need to focus on as well.

Sgt. 1st Class Ashley Boyer, center, enjoys the Enchant Washington D.C. light display with her husband, Josh, and daughter, Emma, December 2022 at Nationals Park.
Sgt. 1st Class Ashley Boyer, center, enjoys the Enchant Washington D.C. light display with her husband, Josh, and daughter, Emma, December 2022 at Nationals Park. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

Anything else?

Laity: I just encourage leadership to think outside the box and consider those times when something that may seem menial becomes paramount in our lives. The littlest thing that leadership can do to is consider that hierarchy of family first. If you put that investment into the family for the mothers in uniform, it will come back tenfold.

Boyer: Our children, not just our daughters, see how we're treated as mothers in the military. When my daughter was little, she would run around in my patrol cap saying, ‘I’m going to be an Army girl like Mom.’ And she still says that today. I truly feel that it's because she has seen the opportunities the military has afforded me as well as the treatment that I've received. Even into her teenage years, she still says, ‘Mom, I want to do it.’ As long as Soldiers, but especially mothers, are treated with dignity and respect, they'll continue to recruit for future generations to come.