MARRIED TO THE MILITARY

MOTHER OF ALL LISTS

Fortunately for me Ben doesn’t work away much, but when he does I don’t handle it well. It’s not just the time on my own the that’s a challenge. The before and after are hard too.

As such I have HUGE respect for any couple that manage to function when one partner is away long term. Especially when on top of that there are tons of other things against you: that fact that that partner is somewhere dangerous, the place you are living my not have been home for long enough for you to have established a support network of friends. Not to mention the fact that your kids are missing their parent too! What a combination. Here Emily du Feu  gives a humbling glimpse into life as military wife and in doing so reminds me not to complain when Ben is back fifteen minutes late for bathtime:


 

I’m Emily, freelance personal assistant and marketing manager. I have 3 children, Finley who is 8, Henry who is 6 and Josie who is 2 and I have been married to Rob for the last 9 years who is in the military. I feel like I need to include in the introduction that I am by no means portraying military life as the worst or hardest of existences… so please don’t feel affronted. I am simply taking this opportunity to explain to those that are interested what being in a military marriage can be like, and my own personal experiences of being married to a guy in the military.

 

  • Deployments (when they get sent away, the length of which is usually between a few weeks and 12 months) I liken deployments to a rollercoaster… there are some common emotional stages that everyone seems to go through and always include some spectacular lows and incredible highs.
  • One of the worst times for me is the few weeks before he goes… the build-up is quite possibly the worst.
  • It hangs over me like a cloud and dampens all the joy out of my immediate future – because it physically doesn’t include him. The day he goes (depending on the circumstances of his departure) can be quite a proud day – waving him off on a ship is emotional but amazing at the same time but I do feel a bit like someone took my right arm away and sometimes slight relief that the hideous moment of saying goodbye to my loved one is over.
  • Then comes the anxious overwhelming fear of what’s to come.
  •  I know I’ll cope (I’ll have to) but the feeling of responsibility particularly when I have 3 small children to keep alive is a huge weight.
  •  I become the master of creativity before he goes, making deployment walls with a map, a picture of daddy we can move about the world to see where he is. Clocks go up on the wall, one for our time, one for his time. We stick up postcards or photos he sends (when they finally arrive). We also make a collection of things to share with Daddy when he gets home such as pictures they’ve drawn, certificates they have been awarded etc. We make ‘daddy dolls’ so that they have a cuddly toy with a fabric photo of daddy that they can talk to and it helps when they are missing him.
  • We also make boxes of bits to send out to him. These deployment shoe boxes include anything from sweets and toiletries to coat hangers and ankle supports… basically whatever he needs or is missing where possible! He only receives them every so often though, so I have to time it well.
  • As part of the pre-deployment creativity streak I come up with (and steal from other military wives) ingenious ways to count down until he is home. Marbles in two jars to move from one to the other, sweets to eat, a chalkboard to countdown or ticks on a calendar. The ones where I can add in a few sweets or marbles should I need to are the best, as the date inevitably always changes and nearly always gets extended means I won’t have sad eyes when I explain it’s not now 4 sleeps but 14.
  • As much as humanly possible I completely ignore the knowledge that he is somewhere dangerous. Because that brings worry on a whole new level. I do however forget all of my troubles (trying to buy a new house with him thousands of miles away, the washing machine breaking and flooding my house or the utility provider who NEED to call to sort something drastic out but they won’t speak to me because he is the account holder) all of these troubles pale into insignificance when he is in a war zone and I spend my days wishing, hoping and praying that he’ll be safe.
  • Choices:
  • My most loathed sentence to hear from people who aren’t in military relationships is ‘but you knew what you were getting into didn’t you?’ My answer is simply this… you knew what you were getting into when you had children, but does that make the tough times any easier? I think not.
  • The military decide where he works. They try to where possible give him some choice – however 9 times out of 10 in our experience if they have a job to fill or that they are struggling to fill it doesn’t matter what he wants or what is best for him or his family.
  •  I joke that the military is the third person in our marriage because it really is. 
  • They are in control and they wear the trousers and our life is not our own.
  • They decide when he can have holiday, and we have to buy special military holiday insurance which covers us should he not be able to go, and we have to cancel – which happens a lot of the time!
  • My career has been dictated by the military and by my choice to have children. After I had my first child in 2010 and in order for me to be able to follow my husband around the UK I set myself up as a ‘virtual assistant’ and began my freelance career in marketing and personal assistant work. I have had to work remotely and flexibly to fit in all that life throws at us. Short notice moves, short notice deployments, him away on training, I can’t rely on him being able to pick the kids up from clubs or take them to anything.
  • I have to plan my week as a single parent because if he was away I’d have to juggle it all. I have to be the one to take time off work if the kids are ill. I have to manage the appointments and the school trips. 
  • Parenting:
  • Parenting military children is the same as parenting non-military children but harder. They physically grieve when they go, and the older they get the worse it seems to be. have to put my own emotions aside and help them through theirs. They can go through sadness, anger and hurt. 
  • I must live my life prepared to be a single parent, because if he goes away I need to be one, even if it’s just for a certain period. I must cover all the bases that both of us cover when he is here. Be even more present for them, make sure they are all feeling listened to, that they get time with me, that nothing else is changing for them, that they can rely on me.
  • They then get used to him being away.
  • And if young enough, when he returns they don’t recognise him, cry and not want to be anywhere near them as though they are a stranger… because in their short lives 9 months can be a lifetime.
  • There are more and more businesses, theme parks, attractions and forces charities that are working together to offer forces discounts, days out and special events and even glamping holidays which are just amazing and so very appreciated. It is so important we make memories together when we are all together and also that we have nice things to do while he is away to make the time go faster.
  • Military children must adapt to moving around in most cases. Which means moving houses, school, clubs and constantly making new friends. This is a difficult transition for any child… but imagine your child having to do it every 2-3 years.
  • They also must reach milestones and gain great achievements without being able to celebrate with him.
  • They will miss him every day until it becomes the norm… which is then heart-breaking in its own way. Then it will be every now and again that a wave of emotion hits them, and they remember.
  • If I live away from ‘home’ I have to call upon my friends like family, because they become family – they are mytribe.
  • There are some pretty amazing moments and experiences my kids get because we are a military family. They get to look around the ships, watch amazing air displays and visit Daddy’s work. And who else’s kids have Santa arrive at school in a helicopter??

Home:

  • If I want to live with my husband full time, and not be a ‘weekend warrior’ then I need to be willing to move around. Which means that I’m not in control where live, for how long and when I move. They do pay for our removals between jobs, and they give us an allowance to cover things like having to buy new school uniform, setting up internet charges and so on.
  • We joked for the first few years of marriage we just needed a caravan because the packing and unpacking was ridiculous. We moved 8 times in 6 years… so we are seasoned professionals.
  •  Living in military accommodation (or married quarters as they are known) can be a mixed bag. Some places have an estate of new builds which are lovely (but more expensive) but most are old and being held together by wood chip and magnolia paint. Magnolia is the bane of most military wives’ lives. I can live for so long in it but then I just want a bit of colour, a bit of personality and for it to feel like home! We have to revert it all back to magnolia before we move out though… which is pretty rubbish when the next person loves our décor! We also often have no idea (unless we take time off work or have time one weekend to take a long drive) what the new house we are moving to looks like either. Which is always fun for the highly organised individual who needs to know which bedroom is for which person and what furniture is going where (me)!
  • Our last quarter before we bought our house had painted tiles, mould in one corner of our bedroom which they kept coming out to paint over, blue, pink and green carpets, a 70s style kitchen and a boiler which was older than me and got condemned when we moved out… you get the picture! But they are cheaper than paying rent would be and so there’s not much that can be said.
  • Emotions:
  • Loneliness. At some point it hits me. Whether it’s during deployments or after moving somewhere new. Even to an adult, moving to a new place and making friends again is not something that happens overnight. It takes time to meet people, find the groups or places I like and want to spend my time in. Then there will be groups of people already friends and then I have to try and infiltrate if I want to be part of their gang. I have been so lonely over the years because it is hard.
  • Anger. Sometimes I hate the military. Because I blame them for the sacrifices I am making and the circumstances I find myself in. Sometimes I hate the non-military people on Facebook who write statuses about how hard their weekend has been solo parenting as their other half as been on a 2-night stag do and it takes all my energy to stop myself from angry typing ‘TRY 9 MONTHS LOVE’ in shouty capitals. Sometimes I hate my partner for making me love him and live this life when I don’t want to move or be on my own or cope.
  • Desperation. The feeling of not being in control of my life sometimes makes me feel desperate. Particularly in circumstances such as when he has been told he is on 24 hrs notice and might be going away for 6 months… and I literally don’t know whether I am coming or going. Desperation also hits when I get one phone call a week if I am lucky, and occasionally some emails. And then they cut communications sometimes without warning and I constantly refresh my phone to see if an email appears… or I have it with me at ALL times in case it rings. Nothing however prepares me for the feeling of desperation when I miss his first call in 3 weeks. Literally nothing.
  • Dedication. I really admire my partner for the dedication he shows to his job even when he has to go to places he doesn’t want to, do things he doesn’t want to and be away from his loved ones.
  •  Love. When he is away distance does often make the heart grow fonder, we aren’t arguing about the little things that annoy us about each other. Most couples after a long deployment go through a period of readjustment. I need to get used to him being in my life, and house everyday again. It feels a bit like going from being single to someone moving in the next day. I know him, but feel like I need to get to know him again. It’s an odd feeling that I think you only really appreciate when you’ve been through it. I think it’s understandable though when I haven’t seen him for 7 or more months.
  •  Pride. The pride I feel when I see him in uniform, or he takes part in an event or I see him come home from being away makes me the proudest wife that possibly ever existed. I see all the good in being part of this crazy journey and proud that he’s part of something amazing and therefore so am I.

 

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5 Comments

  • Reply Liz Goode October 15, 2018 at 12:02 pm

    My Dad was in the Navy for most of my life (I am now 42) he retired out completely 5 years ago and all the things that have been mentioned about children grieving when their parent leaves on deployment rings true. Especially when you don’t fully understand why. Not recognising your Dad when they returns so common, it happened with my sister and I after the Falklands War when my dad came home after 9 months with a beard! In the ‘olden’ days we never knew where my Dad was and we spoke to him very rarely, one year he queued for 9 hours to ring us at Christmas.
    x

  • Reply Emma October 16, 2018 at 2:56 pm

    As a military wife with a little boy this is so so so spot on. We are married unaccompanied so we see Hubble/daddy at weekends when he’s at ‘normal work’. It a weird, wonderful and exhausting life choice.

  • Reply mummingandlifeing October 25, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    I feel quite emotional reading this, of course I didn’t ‘know’ what I was marrying into. It’s impossible to know if you haven’t grown up in it; however I accepted it (And do) for what it is. We have 2 small boys and my husband is away for about 60% of the year. All your points ring true and I’ll be using some of the creative activity ideas – thank you! I think something I find really hard I’d sharing the parenting when he gets home- too tempting to say ‘no, this is how we do it,’… I have to let him get on with it!
    Lovely writing (and the friends as tribe is so right), thank you xx

  • Reply Nikki November 14, 2018 at 9:56 am

    It makes me feel guilty that there are things I hadn’t really sat and thought about. I admit that early on I did think ‘you knew when you married him’, but that didn’t last long. I witnessed a lot after Finley was born and when he was just a baby. You didn’t know anything about a military life, no more than I did, because it wasn’t something we’d ever experienced. However, I also witnessed a strength, that I don’t think you knew you had! You’ve written openly and honestly, expressing the emotional and physical realities of your world and while I’ve always respected you, this makes me even more proud of you. I appreciate the fact that your friends are your tribe and that you have no choice where you’re based, I just want you to know and remember always, that I’m still here and want to be a part of your life in whatever way possible.
    Thank you for sharing you and your life. It helps those that love you and those that have never even met you, understand a lot more. I can only assume that other military families will relate to everything you wrote.
    I admire you and I love you. I don’t tell you that enough xx

  • Reply Shirley Bridges November 14, 2018 at 4:31 pm

    I cannot put into words how well you have described your live as a military wife and mum.So very proud of you ,your husband and three gorgeous children.We miss living close enough to help you when he’s away.

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