Log in Newsletter


For military families in the Fort Liberty area, make sure you make connections


Editor's note: As part of CityView's commitment to filling gaps by providing reporting and information for the Fort Liberty community, our HomeFront initiative has added two columnists who will write regularly about issues military families face. In this debut column, we're introducing Aria Spears, who lives at Fort Liberty with her active-duty spouse. If there's a topic you'd like for our columnists address, let us know at talk@cityviewnc.com.

If you’re affiliated with the military, you’ve likely acquired an experience or two that evokes wildly different reactions from different groups:

Your civilian connections? Shock, disbelief. 

Your military connections? Shrug. “I did that in 2016.” 

I had one such experience over the past year with the birth of our first baby. Like many past and present spouses and service members, I was set to move not once but twice in the same calendar year — all while pregnant. 

January: Leave current post. Move to the next installation. 

April: Have a baby. 

June: Move to Fort Liberty. 

Between landlords and our permanent changes of station (PCS), we lived in four houses within a single year. While others painted their nurseries and perused preschools, we packed and unpacked boxes, lugged our stuff between locations and located new grocery routes. 

In the most recent move, we traveled only two hours north from the last post, but other families — not so lucky. Spouses and service members regaled me with tales of hours-long plane rides much too close to due dates, babies birthed without partners and international moves time zones away from family support. 

I knew families — especially spouses — carried much of the load of this work and care. However, after experiencing the challenges of a post-baby life in real time, the need for support came into sharper focus.

The Department of Defense moved the needle this year with the introduction of a new parental leave policy. As of March, all service members can take paid, 12-week parental leave for their child’s birth, adoption or long-term foster care placement. With our baby due in April of this year, she came at just the right time. 

But after the service member takes all 12 weeks of leave, what happens then?

In her cross-national, qualitative study on how women in the U.S., Germany, Italy, Sweden make careers and motherhood work, Dr. Caitlyn Collins discovered that out of all the women interviewed, only the women in the U.S. attributed their stressful struggle “balancing” work and child rearing to their own personal failings. In other words, they thought it was a matter of waking up earlier, managing their time more effectively and generally, just "doing better." However, in the rest of the countries, mothers primarily attributed their challenges to lack of formal policy support. 

Similarly in my experience, military spouses (whether the 8% of male spouses or female) often feel it is their fault for struggling to make this lifestyle work. Military families here in the Fayetteville region — primarily spouses by default — not only care for their own children but also manage care for aging parents in other states, assist in organizing household moves and navigate career instability, all while hours away from their most effective and trusted support systems. 

People from within the military and civilian community here in the Sandhills region have taken it upon themselves to help solve not only the lack of access to affordable child care but the resulting spouse unemployment issues as well. For example, Twelve Million Plus is a free, spouse-focused, child-friendly co-working space in Moore County. 

Private efforts such as this are critical, stop-gap solutions to the months-long waitlists on which many Fort Liberty area families find themselves. But ultimately, if military families are to thrive, it requires change at a higher level. 

Luckily, momentum is building, and the DoD continues to roll out additional programs to help create longer-term solutions for affordable, accessible child care. 

As of July 2023, the Child Care in Your Home program expanded to six new regions for a total of 11 cities, now including Fayetteville. This pilot program provides eligible families fee assistance for a minimum of 30 hours to a maximum of 60 hours of child care. The care is located within the family’s own home, utilizing the services of a nanny or other caretaker. This can assist families in need of overnight care, weekend care and other nontraditional hours. Registration is through MilitaryChildCare.com.

And as announced in August, eligible military families can also look forward to the rollout of the Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account in January. The program will enable eligible families to set aside up to $5,000 a year in pretax funds for child care, after-school programs, adult day care and more. Eligible families can sign up during the federal benefits open season, which runs between mid-November and mid-December. 

Families navigate increasing complexity with the addition of every dependent. After experiencing this firsthand, I can attest to the challenges of making military life work with dependents in tow. Knowing all of the resources and programs available, however, can help make this lifestyle more sustainable — for every member of the family. 

Aria Spears is a writer, communications professional and civic leadership enthusiast. With a master's degree in nonprofit and civic leadership, Aria can be found exploring cities, persuading people to join local civic boards and sharing her book The Community Mapping Journal. When it comes to active-duty military family life, she believes that joy makes us strong. 

The CityView News Fund is a nonprofit organization that supports CityView’s newsgathering operation. Will you help us with a tax-deductible donation? 

fort liberty military families children spouse Fayetteville