RRP: Thank you for serving our country. As a busy service member and mom of three, how do you balance your military career and being a mom of school-aged children?
Kristina: You are so very welcome; it is an honor and privilege to serve. First, let me just say thank you for the opportunity to share my story. Us moms are so thankful for a platform like this to encourage and support each other. Being active duty and raising three children brings about some unique challenges and I cannot tell you that I have always kept those two things in balance. In full transparency, I would tell you that after 14 years of active duty and a decade of raising children, I still don’t have the scale right.
But to your question, “how” do I do try to balance the two? First, I learned to give myself grace for not always getting it right and second to ask for help. It, no kidding, takes a village and I have been blessed with some amazingly supportive grandparents, neighbors, friends, and husband who have stepped in when I couldn’t be there. Lastly, is that for over the years I have learned that my bosses aren’t unapproachable and appreciate and respect when I say “Sir/Ma’am, I have to leave early today to catch my kiddos soccer game.” Those boundaries are important and needed.
RRP: You served during a deployment to Afghanistan two years ago. What advice would you give other moms in the military who are approaching deployment for the first time away from their spouses and children?
Kristina: First, I will not claim that I have the right approach to deployments. They are hard on everyone involved, including the service member. Some advice I would offer from experience is to allow your family to be a part of your internal monologue as your process your deployment tasking news. With your spouse share your fears, share your frustration, share your excitement whatever it is give voice to it. With your kiddos, if you can share where you are going, tell them the important work mommy is about to go do, make them proud of you and want to tell their mommy’s story to their friends…and finally prepare your heart. Your nation has asked you to do a job, go do that, do a darn good job and come home safely. Mission complete.
Redeployment….Ok, here is where the hard work comes in. I say all of this from personal experience because I have screwed this up a couple of times. First is to take the time to reintegrate with acceptance. Things have changed, the kids have changed, your spouse has changed as they have reinvented themselves to compensate for your absence, the cups might be in a different cabinet. That all doesn’t just go away or back to how it was now that mommy is back. Second is to do the hard work of making sure you are mentally ok to jump back into life back from deployment. For me, even just driving a car in traffic was a trigger…those are real red flags that must be addressed because they easily turn into bigger issues if left unanswered.
RRP: With you and your husband serving our country, your family relocates frequently. What is that like, and how do you and your family become acclimated? How do you get your kids connected?
Kristina: We do move roughly every 2-3 years and there is good and bad to that. It is great that we get to travel and experience different places together and that the kids have been exposed to so many different cultures, climates and experiences. The bad side is that these moves have become more challenging as the kids get older and create dear friendships, have put in the hard work to make sports teams, and real fear of having to start over again. And on a personal note, it is hard to make friends myself.
Some tricks I have learned over the multiple moves is to find an amazing church and plugin there. Second, we try to set up the house to be as familiar as possible for example putting the couches in the same spot, hanging artwork in similar locations. That way when the kids come home, it is at least one thing that feels “familiar”. Finally, we try to do as many outdoor, local things as possible and really submerge ourselves as much as possible in the environment and local culture. Who knew there was football on television on Saturdays?? Lol, not us.
RRP: Being a devoted mom and devoted to your career, what strategies have you used to ensure that you’re advancing within your career path?
Kristina: Wow, that’s a great question. I think the one thing that has helped me be successful in my career is being relatable. As I have progressed in rank, I have noticed that it is easy to start becoming more removed from the people and easily forget the challenges your team is facing day-to-day. A previous boss once told me, “It’s lonely at the top Sawtelle”. I didn’t quite understand what that meant until recently and I would argue that it doesn’t have to be if you stay relatable to your team. At the end of the day, in uniform or not, we are all humans with human emotions with real-life human stuff going on. Sometimes in the military we lose sight of that and expect robot-like performance from leaders and subordinates and that is just not sustainable in any organization.
RRP: Balancing both a career and being a mom has its challenges. What are three things that have helped you with this process to remain present as a mom?
Kristina: My career has taken me physically away from my kids a lot. I have missed birthdays, first days of school, holidays, that list goes on. Not here to share a sad story just share how I try to still stay “present” when not physically there. What I would offer is that I have learned that each of my kiddos have very separate and unique love languages that can still be answered while I am away. First, my son’s is quality time which has equated to a lot of hours logged on FaceTime…albeit sometimes staring at the ceiling fan because he forgot to take the phone with him to the other room, but regardless he knows I am still on the line. My middle one and oldest daughter’s love language is words of affirmation. To that, we share a “Mommy and Me Journal” which has been shipped back and forth all over the world and has some of the sweetest notes in the from her.
And finally, my littlest’s is physical touch which is obviously nearly impossible when I am away… so she usually goes rummaging through my old sweatshirts and t-shirts and claims them as her own. Here is the kicker, is that when I return home it is a lot to process having all three of them fighting to immediately have their love buckets filled, especially when all I truly (selfishly…??) desire is alone time. I struggle with this one…not going to lie and maybe another balance issue for me. Lol, I am starting to see a common thread here. I must be ready and able to pour out love, but I can’t do that from an empty bucket… so I make sure I am mentally and spiritually prepared to reintegrate and be physically present again.
RRP: Understandably, every parent will parent differently. Do you find yourself parenting similar to the way your mom parented you? If not, why did you decide to take a different approach?
Kristina: Yes, I couldn’t agree with that statement more. We all have our own style, and none better than the other; I just give all you moms fist bumps for showing up each day and trying again. I would say that my parenting style somewhat mirrors my mom’s. Quick back story here: My mom had me at a very young age and it was just her and me against the world for many years. At one point she worked three jobs just so she could afford for me to play on one of the most premier soccer leagues.
She would have sacrificed everything, and sometimes did to give me the best. Here is where maybe we differ in our approach to parenting, not saying one is better/worse, right/wrong, just different. I have instilled in my kids that if you want something you work hard for it. You want that new video game or soccer ball or 700th poppit thingy (insert eye roll) you prioritize to meet your goal. I will help them along the journey of reaching their goal because darn that temptation… something I didn’t get until after college and the subsequent student loans that followed my poor decision making.
RRP: How does it make you feel, as a mom, knowing that you will impact your children’s lives and shape them into adults while preparing them for the real world?
Kristina: LOL, well now after you put it that way… I am terrified. Jk. We were told once by a mentor that you must let God win their hearts…and after knowing that mine love Jesus, I am excited to watch them become young adults and do amazing things. However, my kids are entering the pre-teen stages and that doesn’t come without its own challenges and sometimes I wonder about my son who is 13 going on 5…and if we will ever make it to 14, but that’s another topic. In the end, I am confident they are going to be remarkable adults and citizens. I think their love for this nation, for people, and for Jesus will serve them well in life and I am beyond thankful to be a part of their story.
RRP: Is there anything else you would like to add about motherhood?
Kristina: I would offer this last thought regarding motherhood. I often struggle with imposter syndrome when it comes to raising children. That fear, or honestly, it’s the devil, telling me that I am not qualified, not strong enough, or just not enough. A lot of prayer and counseling has ensured me that is just simply not true. You are exactly who you need to be for the task. He chose Moses…of all people…and look what he did with that trust and confidence. To me, that’s very telling in who He chooses and for what tasks.
Spouse: Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Sawtelle, USAF
Married: 29 Dec 2007 (coming up on 14 years)
Children: Ian (age 13), Esme (age 11), Zoe (age 10)