The final of our posts for Armed Forces Day is from the friend who inspired all this. Thank you, Kate, for getting me thinking about what it is like to be a wife and mother in the forces family and for sharing your story. You can read the previous posts in this series here.
I have been a forces fiancé then wife for 12 years, we have two daughters aged 10 and 7, one of the biggest challenges that has faced us as a family is deployment.
Deployments are inevitable; it doesn’t make the lead up to them any easier. In many ways the lead up is harder than the reality. I hate the two weeks leading up to departure, I always feel under pressure for everything to be just so, to make sure we have quality time as a family and as a couple, inevitably it doesn’t work that way. He is stressed because he has to prepare; I am stressed because I don’t want him to go; the girls are playing up because they want his attention and he is distracted by the impending deployment. I think 95% of all our arguments take place in this time. The few hours before he leaves are either a mad rush, or you’re sitting and waiting, killing time. It gets to the point that you actually want them to go, because you just want to get on with your life.
There are always a few tears when he does leave, but I make sure the girls and I have a treat that day, something like a take away or a DVD night. From that point on I am physically a single parent. I make a concerted effort to continue with our normal routine. The first two weeks are hard as we all still half expect him to come home in the evening or at least every weekend. The three of us have to adjust to doing things differently; for example they have more jobs when he is away (a benefit of having older children). Once those two weeks have passed we have got used to it, as there is no point wishing he was around when he’s not.
As it is I deal with the day to day running of the house anyway, that aspect of being on my own doesn’t bother me. It’s little things like watching something on TV I know he would love, passing comment on something in the paper, which might develop into an in-depth discussion however pointless, our in-jokes, or seeing something in the supermarket I know he would enjoy but not bothering to get it because the girls wouldn’t like it.
The girls cope very well with him being away, as they have got older they are aware of the dangers he faces but they know he should come back (normally with loads of presents which certainly softens the blow). They are also old enough to email him independently and speak to him on the phone.
When they were younger it was harder. Trying to explain to a three year old who is crying for Daddy, that Daddy can’t come home as he’s 8000 miles away and won’t be home for a very long time, is heart breaking. Conversely, you have built up the homecoming, got them very excited about Daddy returning but when Daddy does comes home your 18 month old doesn’t understand Daddy is an actual person and not just a photo or a concept and they are actually scared of him, that rips you apart.
From personal experience, my husband was away for much longer periods of time when my older daughter was a baby and toddler, and even now at 10 she wants me if she is hurt or upset, whereas my 7 year old who he was around much more regularly when she was a baby and toddler, has no preference.
A lot of people have asked me about the effect deployments have on our relationship. Trust is key, I trust him 100%, as he does me. I know he values our marriage and family more than a one-night-stand on a run ashore. Personally, I can be self-sufficient and know I can cope on my own; it’s almost as if deployments are a morbid test on how you would cope if they didn’t come home.
We are by no means perfect, we still argue and irritate each other but we try to resolve it quickly, as time apart makes us realise how much we love each other and however many compromises we have to make, we as a couple and a family are worth it.
Email and weekly phone calls make it easier. On his first couple of deployments, I would try and make sure every phone call was as full of news as possible, but some weeks it’s very much the case of same s*** different week! It’s those phone calls where there is no big news but you’re just chatting about any old thing that help maintain as semblance of normality. I also email, a lot, even about the most banal things, but it maintains that connection with home.
When the deployment is over we are all thrilled to be back together and “normal” for a while, but I do get a sense of satisfaction from having got though by myself (with the help of my girls) and having been independent. As a family we have to adjust to being together again, things normally settle down after a few weeks.
Although deployments are tough, when my husband is based in the UK, there is still uncertainty and plans often change as the Navy always comes first.
There are many good points with being a forces family: we lived in Gibraltar for 2 ½ years; we have made friends all over the place; my husband has one of the most secure jobs there is; we are adaptable and the support you get from other forces families when living in quarters (which we do pay rent for) is second to none.
When you start a family with a member of the forces you have to accept there is no “normal”, you have to be adaptable, trusting, independent, strong and most importantly have a sense of humour. It is so much more than your partners’ job it is their life and it becomes part of yours too. As long as you can accept the Navy will always come first, it will work.