This past week, my husband returned after being away for a couple of weeks with his Defence job. Don’t ask me what number trip this was because I lost count long ago. The truth is, we have been married 9 years this July and we have probably spent about 2 years of that apart all up (I may or may not be being conservative). Our youngest turns 3 in August and so far Andre has probably missed about 1/3 of his life and one of his birthdays. Our oldest has had her daddy miss three if not four of her actual birthdays and about 18 months+ of her entire life. This is our reality, this is my life.
I feel like lately I have been getting asked questions like “Is he gone again?? For how long this time?” To me the question comes across at times more as an accusation of my husband, as if I have come home at different times in our marriage and he has just left me a note to tell me he’s taking off for some indefinite amount of time to party. I feel like there are still many who don’t really understand or “get it”…they don’t get my husband’s motivation or my support of him as his wife. Maybe even wondering if I am locked into this arrangement against my will and someone who should be pitied or encouraged to get my husband to change careers. Some will even read that opening paragraph and possibly wonder how my children could possibly feel any love or stability with the life we have chosen for them and us…again, as if we just sorta walked into it ignorant and continue to just stumble along.
I want to just lay it all out there and possibly clear up some misconceptions of what it is like for me as a military wife and hopefully give a more realistic perspective of what it’s like. The truth is, the life of a military is damn hard but the “calling” many feel to serve in the Defence Force can be one of the most intense and convicting and it is because of that “calling” that many families set-out to be military families. It is why many families work hard at “sticking it out”.
The hardest part of being a military wife is the separation. They can be long and/or frequent. I’ve already given you a run-down of how often my husband has been separated from me and our children. I thought that as the kids got older, it would get easier, but the reverse has proven to be true for our family. As they get older, they are more aware of daddy being gone and more expressive of their feelings. At the best of times kids are learning how to control their emotions and express them in a healthy way; so you can imagine how stressful it can be for a young child dealing with a parent being gone for long periods of time, coming home and leaving again at some point…and REPEAT! Not to mention the upheaval it causes mommy…oh wait, that’s me ;0). And yes, it is extremely difficult helping your kids manage their emotions while you cope with your own. I think this will always be the toughest part.
Adding to that, is me knowing that my husband misses our kids a lot…a whole lot…and hearing him express his feelings about being away from them…knowing the separation is also hurting him often weighs on me.
When he is away and near war or right in it, the fear and anxiety can come in waves. You hear about other soldiers dying or being hurt and you catch your breath. You remember being told, “Babe, if it makes the news, then families have been told and it’s not me, so don’t stress, I will call when the phones are back up.” You remember and you sigh in relief and then think how crazy it is that you even had to have “that conversation” with your husband before he left, but you are so glad in that moment that you did, because you can stop worrying and start feeling sadness for the family that is getting the dreaded news. You shield your children from the news during these times because you don’t want them to worry and whenever your oldest, more perceptive child asks “Is daddy anywhere really dangerous?” You smile and lie….”No sweetie, he’s fine…”, because you really don’t know either. I have become a mastermind at dodging emotional minefields and sensitive questions from my daughter, protecting her from the worry that I often carry, while trying to live in some realm of denial so I don’t end up turning into a non-productive worrying, crazy person myself!
So why does he stay in this job?? Why do we keep going through this as a family?? Why don’t I “put my foot down” and say “Listen here buddy, I didn’t sign up to be no single mama!!” Well basically for two primary reasons at this point. One, my husband feels a conviction to serve his country and as his wife I support that fully. And two, the job security is pretty great…pretty…well, secure. Being in Defence is not a bad career usually as far as longevity. It has enabled my husband to provide well for our family and has given him some great opportunities on the job and as a family, great opportunities in life. Do we ever question or second guess if this is the right path for him…for us? Of course, all the time, almost before, during and after every trip he takes away. We ask the tough questions all the time, we have to. And here’s the thing, the main reason I can support my husband so fully and completely is because I know…I KNOW without a doubt that if ever I told him one day “Honey, I’m done, I just can’t do this life anymore, let’s do something different, please!” He would be on the computer that night looking for other jobs and he would have another plan worked out before I could sleep on it and change my mind in the morning. I am able to support my husband because I trust and believe that me and our kids come first and as soon as the job is not good for all of us in the
long run, he would pack it up and be done. It’s that simple.
Another reason I/we are able to continue on in this crazy life of being in the grips of the military (and at times it does feel like a death grip!), is because we make the most of our family time. My husband is amazing at coming home from his trip(s) and being “all present” to our kids. He misses them when he’s away and knows that they long for their daddy, so when he gets home, he is home and ready to jump back into their lives. I know many families in and out of the military who have husbands or partners that really struggle with this. The job is literally everything to them and their family has come a very obvious 2nd or 3rd…or even 4th. We witnessed many marriages of Defence members, crumble and one of the big reasons would be that the job took over and there was not a balance within the family unit. Putting your family 1st in Defence is something you have to fight hard and often for, because if you don’t, your superiors most certainly won’t and that is how the job can become all consuming, so fast. I am blessed to have a husband who has always fought for us. It is very hard to support your husband or even want him to have success in his career if you know or believe that if forced to choose, he would choose the job over you and your children. Unfortunately we saw scenarios like this a lot in military families and it was heartbreaking. You of course see this kind of thing in the civilian world too; men who are just workaholics and their wife and kids are nearly an afterthought or something else they have to put in their day planner. I know of many fathers who are physically around their kids but are never as “present” as my husband is whenever he has time with his babies. Because of this, no matter how hard it is when he goes away, I know me and the kids are his priority, so I can kiss him, send him on his way and start counting the days to have him back with us, spending quality family time to make up for the lost time.
One last thing I struggle with, that I’m not sure many people would think of unless they have been the spouse of a Defence member, is that being a military wife narrows down greatly, my own job prospects. Whatever job I have, it has to be very flexible, because when my husband goes away, I am “it” for the kids. Thankfully I have my in-laws nearby who help me a lot with childcare on certain days, but if I have a night time meeting or an early start…OR if one of the kids is sick on a day that I must be at work, I feel like I am single-handedly negotiating a major UN deal, just to make sure everyone is taken care of and I can still get to work on time. This aspect often causes me stress, because without fail my husband will be gone during a conference, that has weird hours or whatever, so I’m forced to decide if I should let the kids sleepover at the grandparents on a school night or just be late to my appointment. So yeah, trying to work while being married to a military man who comes and goes can really give your organizational skills a test. However it is something my husband is very aware of and when he is home, he does everything he can to work his schedule around mine, so I can make my meetings or early starts and don’t have to send the kids to school in their PJ’s and with cold toast for breakfast in order to make it happen.
I just want people to know that any suffering or hardship I face because of our rather unique and intense life as a military family, I face with my husband. He joined the military with my full support and every decision he has had to make about his career since the day he joined, he consults me, prays with me and always lets me know that if something is too hard for me or we see it hurting our kids, then a change will be made. We make it work because we give each other mutual respect and support along with a lot of appreciation and love at any given time =0). I also have a lot of pride in what my husband does and we have been blessed in different and unique ways through his job in Defence. It is tough, but it is not all bad and definitely an intense growing experience that is always teaching us both a lot.
Our biggest worry and concern at the moment is our children. Our oldest is in school and really seems to struggle with change, so obviously what happens with my husband’s career and how it will affect this specific child particularly, weighs heavy on our hearts and minds. We are constantly re-evaluating the kids and how we think they are coping…or not. The fact is, life is hard whether you are part of a military family or not. All marriages face intense challenges, really dark times, followed by really good, renewing times, followed by a struggle, etc., etc. Children in all families have to learn to cope with whatever is going on in their family and hopefully build their resilience through the support of their parents and loved-ones. Being married to a Defence member does bring with it distinctive and often exceptional circumstances that no one really gets, who hasn’t lived through it themselves. If anything, we are lucky (?!) in a way because once you get into it, the stress we feel and experience does follow a pattern and often we can prepare for what is coming. It is hard, it is demanding and sacrifices are made by everyone in the family. However, we are not to be pitied or have our love and commitment for our children or each other questioned. It is because we love so firmly and are both so determined to make it work because of the conviction held for the job, that we are able to do this.
I am not cocky…I am not arrogant….I do not think that it is not possible that we could become a Defence statistic by becoming another marriage that has fallen apart under the pressure. Those in Defence whose marriages have not lasted, often have underlying circumstances that the pressure of being in the military does nothing to improve. We have been sad for many friends and of course when we hear about friends getting divorced, it breaks our hearts and makes us pause. We do know the statistics and know we are in a risky environment for our marriage and family. It’s with this knowledge that we work really hard at “making it work”. My husband is determined and I am stronger than I ever thought I was when we got on this ride almost 9 years ago. If people want to know how we are, I pray they ask with the motivation to encourage us to keep pressing on, not to encourage us to look for something else because it’s too demanding on our family. Only we can ever truly know what these demands do to our family and we will continue to weigh the pros and cons with great care. We do believe God has a plan for us and that we are in the military on His time. If and when that is meant to change, we trust fully that He will move in both of our hearts to let us know. In the mean-time, we will carry on with confidence and faith! Do pray for us….Pray for all military families…Pray for personal understanding and empathy for what they/we go through…Pray that our conviction, motives and perseverance are honoured and appreciated, rather than questioned or trivialized….Pray we can always be eachother’s biggest fans!
Below is one of me and my husband’s favorite songs…I think in a marriage you go through phases where different songs could be “our song”. As a couple that is wading through the murky waters of Defence life…this song represents a lot of our feelings…it’s our truth….it’s “our song”…