As I approach my seventh year being the Wife of a serving member of the Royal Air Force, I have to admit it’s honestly the hardest way to live a life with a family. Like so many brave people who serve for Queen and Country, my husband and I accepted our life would be a little different to other families. We knew there would be periods of separation, we knew we would not have a permanent home to live in, but we also knew that once my Husband fulfils his full service for the country we would be able to create a nice, stable life for the children, should we be lucky enough to have any.
These conversations happened before the birth of our beautiful first born little girl. Its amazing how fast having a baby can change your entire outlook on life and the world around them. My husband was posted down south just a few weeks after I gave birth, so we had an overwhelming move away from Wales, leaving all of our family and friends. I struggled to interact with ANYONE around camp. We had been told the atmosphere in this particular camp was sombre but I ignored all warnings, opting to judge for myself as I am a very positive person with practically every part of life.
As the days passed by and the laps walking around the camp with my pushchair added up, I struggled to get so much as a ‘Hello’ from people who walked by. It was tough, really tough. When my husband came home for dinner I would talk solidly for his whole lunch break as it was the only adult interaction I would have all day.
I tried the baby/ toddler groups but struggled to mix. Thankfully the one amazing big change in my life was just how much I loved being a Mum. Finally, a job I adored. We had the most fun together; it helped that I had a dream baby that never had a night feed. I appreciate this will make some people feel very angry and for that I am very sorry, but my second born made up for two babies night feeds, so do not worry my sleep loss caught up with me.
My husband would drive us ‘home’ every weekend, which cost all of our spare money on fuel as I felt seeing relatives would help ensure our daughter had bonds with other family members other than just my husband and me. After two years we were extremely tired of living on the motorway each weekend and we reduced the amount we went home. Our parents came to visit a couple of times which saved us a couple of visits which was great, but we were fast approaching the time our little girl would need to start interacting with other children to prepare her for school life.
We were nearly nine months pregnant with our second child when we sat and had a very tearful discussion about our children’s future, and we decided we didn’t want our children to live the Military lifestyle, moving to different parts of the country every few years. Now I was a parent and I had this amazing little girl who deserves the best of everything, we couldn’t imagine disrupting her social development by moving to different schools so regularly.
I didn’t have a childhood like that so it didn’t seem fair to deny my daughter a chance to have a stable childhood, staying with friends they work so hard to meet once they start school. We found a great school near where we grew up and bought a house in the catchment area and moved in a few weeks after our son was born.
I was so happy we had some stability back in our lives, except one huge horrible change was that my husband overnight became a weekend parent. He would work down south Monday to Friday and return home late Friday evening. I became a single parent during the week which was tough going.
Thankfully I am very independent so I didn’t struggle, I just found it sad, really sad that we couldn’t be together. At only 10 weeks old our son fell quite ill with viral bronchiolitis and he had to be hospitalised as his oxygen levels plummeted below 40%. It was such an emotional experience and our beautiful little warrior made a full recovery thanks to the children’s ward he stayed on.
My emotions remained wobbly as once our son was back home safe and well my husband had to return to work hours away. The military were absolutely great with my husband and arranged his leave to care for our children. It just felt so cruel that our life had so quickly became so separate. My husband became very down with the distance between us. Not being able to bath the children and kiss them goodnight each night became painful for him. The children would opt to ask me for all their needs even when ‘Daddy’ was home. It just became very sad, that’s the best word for military family separation, very SAD!
Our little girl was enjoying the nursery group joined on to the school we had chosen. This brought relief that our decision was the best decision, as all the little friends she had made went up to start the Reception year in school with her, making her first week in school a lot more comforting. But the school hours away meant ‘Daddy’ missed sports day and parent meetings. He missed baby appointments, immunisations, evening family strolls and an endless list of other parts of family life. Thankfully shortly before our second born was turning one he got a posting a commutable distance away, a two-hour daily commute, but his stresses visibly disappeared and we felt like a family unit again.
When we sat and thought of how a military career would benefit the futures of any children we would be fortunate enough to have, we never imagined the reality of it. Last year we were blessed with our third child, another perfect baby girl, when a new road in my husband’s career placed him back in the awful position of living away Monday to Friday again. This time was very different. My husband had to relive the pain of missing out on all the beautiful new born firsts and not getting to tuck all three children up in bed with a massive Daddy goodnight kiss, but the biggest curve ball was how our eldest daughter reacted to her Daddy moving into work during the week.
Our happy, independent, strong little girl quickly became emotional and sad…that reoccurring word in our Military journey, SAD!! I sat and had so many chats about Daddy not being too far away and tried to explain that Daddy only had less than one hour with her when he used to return home from work after his one-hour commute home before she went to bed each night, to try and help ease his absence.
Her response was simple yet painful, “At least he is here, I hate Daddy being on his own when his family are all in this house. It’s different and I miss us as a family. I feel mean when we are laughing when Daddy is lonely…” she felt very down and even said on one occasion that she felt Mummy and Daddy were not married anymore. I spent so many nights in tears all alone wondering how I can fix my beautiful little girl.
Her teacher pointed out how sad she had become in school and it soon became very obvious that there was only one solution, we had to move to live with Daddy. Our marriage is so full of love and strength and I hated to think my daughter thought being separated from each other for periods of time meant we were not happy anymore. We needed to show her strength and unity, so in the blink of an eye our house was sold and we moved back into the dreaded quarters.
We visited a lovely school with our little girl and she seemed happy to begin a new adventure. It was so unbelievably tough moving into a house which had so many issues and the lack of support from those whose job it is to support you just makes the whole process so much worse.
We had to do the wonderful job we have as parents which is to make sure the children don’t realise there is a problem, hide the fact we won’t let them into one of the rooms until they replace the urine stained carpet, hide the 30-year-old kitchen units and tell them we ordered the pink bathroom furniture especially for them as we know its their favourite colour.
Be brave Mummy, then cry when they drift into dream land, blissfully unaware of the black cloud above Mum and Dad. Selling our beautiful home that we didn’t have to live in fear of receiving a one-million-pound bill for a scuff on a wall is a hard transition to adapt to overnight. We had however achieved our main goal which was to remove any stress and anxiety our daughter had with Daddy being away.
After the house move between Christmas and New Year with three children five and under, we hit the ground running, with our daughter starting her new school in early January after the Christmas break. She only had a week leave from school, as the school she left finished a week after her new school and still had another week off when she started in her new school.
Even with a quick turnaround our little warrior walked into her new school with such bravery and I managed to hold back my tears until she had gone into her new classroom. It then took weeks for her to mingle with the other children. She seemed happy but made the saddest comments about how she enjoys her own company and that he doesn’t mind if she doesn’t have friends.
All her stories of what she did at break times would always be about her playing alone. My heart felt like it split in two as she had so many friends in her other school and suddenly she is starting half way through a school year and most friendships had already formed. Our daughter is kind, caring, clever and very well behaved, so it took her months and months to find one friend who had the same qualities as her personality.
Thankfully one of the few children she has befriended is so similar to her and I know she makes her day fun. I spoke to school about it every day when she started and they reassured me she wasn’t upset during the day, but confirmed she was finding it hard to mix. There is a bench which is described as a friendship bench which encourages children to approach children sitting alone and engage them into play time, but my daughter told me the bench doesn’t work. Heart breaking.
I now have a strong anxiety that I have two other children who have to go through the same experiences, moving schools every two years and this fills me with fear and sadness.
My children will always be the new children, who have to work extra hard to make friends with children who have already had the time to seek out those who are similar to each other and make great bonds over time with each other. I had to witness my daughter standing lonely in the school disco, watching her try to join already formed friendship groups but not getting very far with her efforts. Needless to say, I cried myself to sleep again.
My husband and I find ourselves torn between our heads and our hearts when we discuss our future as a Military family. Neither of us want our children to live this way; it’s tough and scary and just so unfair. Although the children’s reactions to future schools they attend are a mystery, we know we can provide a stable future for them should my husband complete his full service, yet the unknown of how our children will deal with such a chaotic school life is unbearable.
As dependants we have to turn each move into an adventure, but it’s something that fills me with dread, so how can I expect my children to feel otherwise.
I applaud those who have lived this life, they are my heroes.
I envy those who lived this life and loved it.
I empathise with those struggling with this life. It’s an emotional rollercoaster.