Mailbag: Family Support or Family Stress?

Military Sealift Command Hospital Ship USNS Comfort Deployes to Southeast Asia

Ahhh, the Family Support Groups. When they are good, they are very, very good!  And when they are bad… Well, then they make the evening news.

A little while ago, RedLegMeg touched on this very issue when she wrote about her FRG discussing a “First Kiss Raffle” as a fundraiser.  Emotions were high on that one, and it’s not hard to see why.  Nor did everyone agree – many spouses were absolutely fine with this idea for a fundraiser.

We recently received a mailbag letter from L on somewhat the same subject:

Personally, I do not have contact with my FRG. I work full time and a lot of overtime,then when I get home I have our daughter to take care of.  Imagine my surprise [this information was given out only at a meeting] I find out that they have a raffle to pick your hubby up at the airport.  Now, being a submariner, we generally dont get this option at all, its pick up and drop off at 3 am in the morning. The point is, the FRG groups should not have the “power” over peoples lives like they do.  I work, I don’t know if they do or not, but I have to, end of story. I do not have any people I know from the boat, we have chosen to keep his career and our lives totally separate.  The last time I tried to get information from my FRG, I was told that it was not an option: I either go to the meeting or I find out soon enough. Unbelievable.

I said somewhat the same topic, because the raffle obviously isn’t the only issue at play in this letter.  There seems to be a breakdown in communication at the family support level – at least from the information we were given.  I wish I could say this rarely happens, but unfortunately, that’s not necessarily the case.

When my grandfather was fighting in World War II, my grandmother had her own run-ins with other military spouses at Victorville.  If you were one of the lucky ones who met my grandma in San Diego, you know that she is a pistol.  She managed to figure out a way to get the information she needed and work around the difficult personalities in the group – but to this day she has some doozies of stories to tell about it!  I’m pretty sure you could talk to Wives Groups of the Civil War and hear the same complaint.

The problem is that anytime you have a group that exists to fulfill information purposes, it becomes very easy for that to be abused – even if the rules are all being followed.  Particularly when they are staffed entirely by volunteers, people’s feelings can get hurt, leading to a downward spiral resulting in an emotional knock-down, drag-out more raw than the time Geraldo got his nose broken by a skinhead.  It’s an emotional minefield.

Another problem is one of being disconnected.  I understand the urge to separate oneself from military issues, believe me.  Even when we’re being assured that office politics are being kept out of the situation, they’re often still there.  And as a spouse, it’s frustrating to have our words and actions measured against our active duty partner.  It’s frustrating and it’s not fair.  And sometimes we just want to get away from it all.  We have things to do and schedules to keep, and if a spouse group is unwilling to be understanding of that fact it is easy to throw a one-finger salute to the whole thing.

The problem is that by cutting our ties, we also cut our support lines.  An FRG may be disfunctional, but not everyone involved with the unit will be.  Just as our spouses need battle-buddies to get them safely through deployments, so do spouses.   It’s not just to get together and talk about child-rearing milestones over coffee, but to exchange information and look out for one-another.

Sometimes, we are all we have.

And since we are here as a virtual spouse support group, what advice do SpouseBUZZ readers have for L on this?


About the Author


airforcewife started her military journey as an Army National Guard wife, but upon experiencing base housing decided to aim high and made the switch to the Air Force. That's worked pretty well for Air Force Family so far, even though airforcewife holds the spouse world record for Come to Jesus talks with various members of the command.

Air Force Family has four children, two pit bulls, and a Mother-in-Law who lost her mind eight years ago. Despite the reputation of pit bulls, airforcewife would like to assure you that her Mother-in-Law is truly the most dangerous of the group, and is banned in more places than the dogs.

airforcewife gets through Air Force Guy's frequent deployments and TDY's by frequently attending her boxing gym, after the chance discovery last deployment that hitting things really does make life better. She also volunteers as the Ambassador for Sew Much Comfort to Bethesda National Naval Medical Center and in a variety of other causes throughout the year.

airforcewife has no idea what the future holds, but decided five years ago that she wants to be Andi when she grows up.

  • Yuck, I can’t believe she was told to show up at the meetings or just be uninformed.I’m not involved with my FRG, but I am on their email list and a fan of their Facebook page – I find those two things let me remain informed about what’s happening on base without actually interacting with them.

    And for support when my husband’s gone, I turn to sailors in his division and their wives. I can’t imagine not knowing any of them – in addition to keeping me updated on changes in my husband’s schedule while he’s gone, they just generally “get it” more than anyone else does. When my husband is gone, the sailors and wives are like my family, stepping in to fill the void and make sure I’m doing ok. I’d encourage L to try to make friends with at least one person on her husband’s boat. Chances are there’s at least one other wife who feels the same way as she does — and that wife might be willing to let her know what’s going on when the FRG won’t.

  • Interesting. Some spouses groups are trying to break those barriers and stereotypes.

  • jessica

    in a way, this is her fault. if she has CHOSE to be disconnected from them. then why would they go out of their way to inform her? and im sure this is how they feel. im not one of those women deep into FRG land. but i stay connected. i e-mail my POC once a month. we’re on deployment so its super important more then ever to stay connected. i dont attend meetings but because i make a point to go out of my way to get informed, they go out of their way to inform me. i think by choosing to disconnect herself completely, they have chose to do the same. is it right? no. should the FRG always be there, no matter what? yes. but she has obviously upset some people with her attitude towards the military life. and even though FRG’s arent supposed to play favorites, or be closed minded… they are real people. and they come with all different personality types. she needs to either choose to involve herself or not. and cant complain when she chooses the latter and then isnt informed.

    • SemperSteen

      They would go out of their way to inform her because that’s their job. They are volunteers who have agreed to support and inform the families, period. According to L, she tried contacting her FRG for information and they blew her off so something is very wrong there. Yes they are real people, but if they’re so easily butthurt over a woman daring to not attend their meetings then they probably should not be in the position they’re in. They are not gatekeepers to bestow information from on high to their chosen favorites, they are there to serve the families. All of them.

  • Amy

    I’m not goiing to touch the raffle thing this time, but I will say this:

    There has to be a happy medium between “do not contact” and “I heart the FRG.” With the variety of social media options out there and the structure of POCs, everyone should be able to get all the information they need without being so in touch as to be called “involved.” I am hesitant to really participate in an FRG because, well, I think people should save their drama for their mama. But I do want to know what’s going on, be informed and be active and available to help when catastrophe strikes. I also like being friends with the people whose husbands my husband is standing next to when the bombs are going off.

    There are stories- real stories – about those who asked to be totally discounted and then encountered the worst circumstances, including health catastrophes of their own, and then found themselves begging the FRG for help because they had no where else to go.

    Surely balance is possible — right?

    • Amie

      Absolutely, there is balance! There should be balance. My recommendation on how to fix the “do not contact” fiasco is to persuade the Commander (FRG is a commander’s program) to re-educate everyone on how the Privacy act statement works; its not a permission slip it is a notification claus. If it is Commander’s disgression, everyone will be contacted. However, they can identify at which level they want to be contacted.

      • Amie

        When I was FRG Leader we had a “red, white and blue” policy. Red: Contact for urgent troop movement activities only, deployments, deployment briefings, redeployment, etc. White: all of the above plus official business, like FRG meetings, community updates/activities, military family benefits, etc. and finally Blue: all of the above, plus “feel free to call me if you need brownies made for a bake sale.” or “tell me about the FRG Christmas Party” or other purely social events. When I inherited the FRG there were 133 spouses associated with the FRG and only 53 were on the ‘contact list’– everyone else was on a ‘no contact list’. The Commander and I worked to call everyone associated with the unit personally. It took several evenings of calling, but it worked beautifully. We cleared the “no contact” list and enhanced the FRG’s productivity.

  • Becca

    I don’t see anything in that letter that says “No emails or Facebook please”. She has her own life outside of being a military spouse, nothing wrong with that. Were is the rule that we have to find deployment support or “battle buddies” only from fellow military spouses or activities on post/base? From what I’m reading she is being punished for not attending the meetings.

    I work full time and can’t attend FRG meetings because they schedule them for 5PM and its never the same day. To get there on time I would have to leave 45 min – 1 hour early from work. Rush hour traffic, no time to eat, no time to get the kids from the babysitter. One, I cant do that every month, especially when we only get at best a five day notice. Two and more importantly , I shouldn’t have to! I make no apologies when they call every so often and say “oh we missed you”.

    The point is, if you are going to run your meetings on the assumption that the spouses don’t work (or there job is not as important) and their lives revolve around the FRG, the military, etc than you are going to turn off a lot of spouses. When you start “punishing” them they are not going to come to meetings and they are not going to want to get involved at the next duty station.

    If FRG’s are there for information why is this one not passing out that information?

  • I feel for her. I think that FRG’s should be required to at least email the information given out at meetings to those who can not attend for whatever reason. And while her attitude to distance herself entirely from the military may not be the right one , I can somewhat understand her thought process, having been burned many times before by the FRG in my 10yrs doing this. However I do still try to put myself out there so I stay informed.

    But during my Hubby’s last deployment they deployed him from texas even thoiugh we are active duty stationed in GA, and the FRG there did not keep me informed at all and gave me no contact info at all. I had to rely on hubby. It was a nightmare.

    So my advice to her is to try and be a lil kinder to them and make more of an effort with them and respectfully ask for emailed information and explain why she can not attend and just know that it will not last forever and she will eventually move and maybe the next command will be different. But Hugs to her, she is definitely not alone.

  • FRG Leader

    While it is true that if you attend FRG meetings, events, trainings, programs your voice is heard, that should not exclude you from the information. There are no requirements to participate, but the participants are not usually the ones who complain. The FRG is a group of volunteers who can only do what they feel best, if they are not supporting their families well they need to know that. I have provided surveys to get feedback, & during this deployment I have had 1 filled out. I struggle being professional as FRG leader, & being personal as I am also a soldier’s wife & need my Battle Buddies too. Lastly, I will say that I hear all the time that “FRG is only for spouses”, my reply is “FAMILY” readiness group, for parents, children, spouses, cousins, aunts, uncles, girlfriends/boyfriends, grandparents, anyone who loves a servicemember. In other words YOU are part of FRG whether you volunteer, attend, or participate. YOUR actions reflect on other military families whether you think so or not. (just as the service members actions reflect on the unit) So be the example you want to see from others!

    • AGW

      As I said in previous post, sometimes it is the FRG volunteers, for whatever reason. In my case I have come to wonder since my husband has been deployed with other units or TDY’d individually 3 of the past 3.5 years, maybe they do not consider me a unit spouse. But I had on several occasions given our FRG president my contact info personally with verbal notification that I wanted to be involved…finally I gave up and thankfully have a great FRG with his current ‘temperary’ unit.

  • Linda Shaw

    I am just fine with this as a fundraiser. Whats a few minutes longer to support your group? Sometimes things get too blown up over nothing.

  • A.J.

    As an Army Wife and as a leader my brain aches. A dozen or so classes, freely available on Army installations, myArmyOneSource and beyond, come to my mind. Has anyone heard of Army Family Team Building? Or OpREADY? Or the Military Family Life Consultants? All of these programs provide outstanding training to help leaders identify and assess needs, improve communication skills, motiviate groups, build teams and ultimately improve the effectiveness of the Family Readiness Group. Reading through these posts, I can see literally ‘text book’ examples of how to transform these negative experiences into positive success stories- through communication skills, understanding needs, leadership, team dynamics, etc.

  • Stir the pot more…

    I’m one of those people who has never had a good experience with FRGs. I gave it my best, but as a newbie, I just did not understand these women. I definitely have some soap opera stories from those deployment days, but at least I can say I tried. I did keep the group at a arms length always saying I had to work. We had a lot of bad stuff happening in each of my husband’s squadrons and I just did not want to be reeled into it. I had plenty of stress at my own job. I always made my own friends (outside of the military) who supported me plenty! They might not have understood exactly what I was going through, but they were there for me without all of the drama!

  • r3mm4h

    Without trying to sound snarky…she should be happy she was given the information. I have been the wife of a sailor for almost 12 years and in those 12 years our current commands FRG/OMB dropped the ball. DH report to the command just over a year ago and he filled out the paperwork to give the OMB and I too emailed my info to the OMB. I did not hear from anyone and to be honest, I am too busy to get involved with FRG functions. Fast forward to now…the command goes out to sea for a very short deployment for 5days (No pre deployment night sioree). I knew what day the boat would be back, just not the time. How did I find out the boat was back? Facebook.
    The following month, the boat has an official FRG pre-deployment night. Imagine the surprise on our faces when the command OMB has no information on us. And apparently there was another wife that was left out of the loop. To add insult to injury, the command was awarding the OMB for her job well done and was stepping down after her 1 yr term and a new OMB was taking her place.
    I guess you could say after all the great commands we have been apart of, this FRG/former OMB has made this a memorable and not in a good way.