Challenges and Rewards of Military Motherhood

Motherhood in the Military

Tiffany Kelley, wife of Master Sgt. John Kelley and mother of three, poses with her son, Ashton, and her daughter, Tatum, at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, May 8, 2018. Kelley is passionate about being the best mother she can to her children despite the challenges that a military lifestyle brings. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Madeleine Remillard)

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – It has been said that there is no love like a mother’s love. While motherhood can be a beautiful and incredible experience, it does not come without struggle. Being a mother in the military can make these struggles even greater. 

Tech. Sgt. Quintina Tatum, the 82nd Training Wing equal opportunity advisor here at Sheppard AFB, knows of the beauty and challenges that motherhood can bring. Tatum was a Senior Airman on a short tour in Korea in 2010 when she discovered she was pregnant. Her tour was cut short by two months because of the pregnancy and she had a permanent change of station to Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, where her husband would join her soon after.

Starting fresh as a dental technician at a new base was challenging and fast-paced, but adjusting to being a new wife and new mother to her daughter, Journee, was even harder.

Tiffany Kelley’s journey in motherhood started in 1998 when she had her son, Caysen, at 21 years old. Kelley was a single parent living in Texas and had a flourishing career as an insurance agent when she began a relationship with her now-husband, Master Sgt. John Kelley.

Kelley and her son left their life in Texas to join John at Hanscom AFB, Massachusetts. Watching 10-year-old Caysen adapt to a new school, new life and having a father figure was quite difficult, and she struggled with learning to co-parent.

Tatum said she also faced struggles in co-parenting and in 2013 when she and her partner divorced.

“At the end of the day, it’s about her,” Tatum said of her daughter. “We can still be great parents.”

Tatum refused to let divorce hold her or her daughter back. In 2017, Tatum went to Patrick AFB, Florida, to retrain into equal opportunity. While she was gone, Journee was in her father’s care in Ohio. While Tatum knew her daughter was in good hands, leaving Journee was heart breaking. She maintained her relationship with her daughter through frequent FaceTime calls and traveling to see her whenever she could.

Kelley said that after eight months in Massachusetts and five and a half years in Florida, Kelley and her family, which had grown by two, moved to Arnold AFB, Tennessee. Her son Caysen was a freshman in high school and had to adapt to yet another new school, being a small fish in a big pond, and now sharing his mother with a 2-year-old sister and a 1-year-old brother. Kelley encouraged Caysen to stay strong and helped him to adapt as a family.

“You have to raise your children to know that circumstances can make you bitter or they can make you better,” Kelley said. “I truly believe that our circumstances made each of us better,”

Tatum said that her daughter is a fun, energetic and resilient little girl. All that Journee has been through and all the traveling she’s done in her six short years of life have helped to shape her into who she is today.

Tatum also said she has to constantly do self-awareness checks to make sure that she is setting the right example for her child and giving her all the tools she needs. Some of which include asking Journee who she is, making sure she knows that she doesn’t have to be like anyone else, and understanding the importance of staying true to herself.

Kelley said she has become a better mother by asking for help. By reaching out to others through Air Force spouses groups, she has had more support than she ever could have imagined. Whether it be a friend to help out with meals, or knowing there’s someone who will be there for your children during an emergency. The community she has found through the Air Force has been life changing.

“The military lifestyle has afforded us opportunities I don’t think civilian life ever could have,” Kelley said. “I don’t think we would be the people we are today without these life experiences,”

While these two women have completely different stories, they both agree that while motherhood with a military lifestyle can be challenging, is it incredibly rewarding.