I don’t often write or speak much about what it’s like to be an army wife. This is for two reasons. Firstly, I’m usually a little afraid that if I talk about what it’s really like when things are tough, that I won’t be able to continue to be strong and get through the times apart. Secondly, I feel for wives who have it worse than me and I don’t want to ‘whinge’ when others have it worse.
This week I’ve been contemplating this. Whilst it’s hard to talk about, many of you on instagram encouraged me to share what it’s like. So I spoke to about 10 other defence wives to put together an insight into what defence life can be like for the wives/partners including what we want you to understand, so you can support us when our husbands are away.
Strength in times apart
‘How do you cope?’ is one of the questions I get asked the most. Personally, I deal with time apart by:
- trusting God with Reis’ safety and my own strength;
- focusing on what I have to do in the meantime;
- speaking positive words about it to others (I know what I say affects the way I think);
- chatting to other defence wives over some coffee/wine and/or chocolate…Although we don’t really say much, our hearts just empathetically sink to the bottom of our chest pushing a big lump to the top of our throats and together we smile, sometimes cry and just acknowledge how much it ‘bloody sucks’, and
- just keeping on putting on foot in front of the other until he is home again.
Things a defence wife wants you to understand
I spoke to about 10 defence wives and collated a list of things that army/defence wives wanted to share about their experiences. I’ve added examples of my experiences below some of the point’s by adding an editor’s note.
Things we are thankful for
Keeping a strong, positive mindset is grounded in gratitude, so let’s start with a few of the things we are thankful for in our experiences as defence wives:
- The chance to give back to this great country and teach our kids about sacrifice and loving others first,
- The chance to explore new cities and make new friends all around Australia,
- The chance to grow in mental, spiritual and emotional strength,
- The chance to encourage others through our experiences.
Things that are hard
1. Time apart, distance & limited communication
It’s difficult not being able to talk some days, or only being able to talk for a short time at random hours due to different time zones and long work hours. You can’t just call when you are having a bad day for a little pep talk there and then. It’s even harder on the trips without reception or phones to speak to each other on. EDITOR’S NOTE: Reis and I once went a few months with just snail mail (I salute the women whose norm this once was).
It’s very weird having a husband that you physically can’t get to, even if you wanted to. It’s not just I don’t have the money or time to fly, he is physically unable to see me – he is either at war or deep in the bush training with weapons that are unsafe for me to be around. In a very connected world, this is a very foreign experience.
2. Impact of separation on kids
It’s tough on the kids. Tougher than you expect.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Our son, Finley, is now 20 months old. After he was born I thought he wouldn’t notice until he was at least pre-school age the impact of Dad being away. To my surprise, I was wrong. In his first year of life he wouldn’t settle, would wake up more throughout the night, and just be generally grizzlier when Dad was away. The most heart breaking moment though was a week or two after Reis left in January where nothing I did would get him to stop crying and I said ‘what’s wrong baby?’ and he said ‘Dad’. I thought surely, at 18 months old he can’t know that, so I asked him again, checking if the problem was needing food, water, a cuddle, or a story. But he still said ‘ Dad, Dad, Dad’ and kept crying. This took a big emotional toll on me too, it broke my heart that he missed his Dad and there was nothing I could do in that moment to heal that pain.
3. Impact of separation and reunion on the family
The first two weeks and the last two weeks are the hardest. The first two weeks you’re trying to find your new routine as you fly solo. The last two weeks you’re both anticipating their return and trying to make everything ‘just right’ before they arrive, but equally dreading the chaos that you know is coming to your life as you lose the old routine you worked so hard to establish.
3. The loneliness
There are times that feel very lonely and isolating. Coming home to an empty home, no one to make a cup of tea or give you a hug after a big day, no help as your baby wakes every few hours throughout the night, no one to talk to about the minute & relatively insignificant moments of the day, no one to help with the craziness that is bath and dinner time, no one to help clean or bring the washing in, no safe arms to snuggle into at the end of the day. Hats off to every mother/father who has ever single parented. It’s bloody hard work.
Whilst I do my best to trust God with Reis’ safety, worry can sneak in when I see different news stories about horrible events that are happening nearby. It seems surreal to think he is so close to it and potentially working amongst it. It makes me feel sick to think about it, to be honest. Other wive’s echoed these experiences too.
Most defence families move cities every 2 years.
Can you imagine packing up your life – new job, new friends, without support networks close by? Things which you once took for granted, like going to the shops to quickly pick something up become an expedition that requires more brain space as you navigate a city you’ve never lived in before. Our move to Canberra when I was pregnant was particularly tough as I had morning sickness at the same time we moved. Other things like picking up an enjoyable conversation with a friend about the drama you had on at work last week, are replaced with awkward, getting to know you small talk. The depth of relationships you once had can take years to rebuild and often by the time you do, you’re moving again. You grieve your old home and friends for at least 6 months, even if you enjoy your new location.
Seeing friends and family that you live interstate from is amazing, but sometimes you avoid it because it’s so emotionally tolling when you have to say goodbye again. It can throw you out of routine for a week or two and leave you pretty down.
How to make a defence wife feel loved
We have felt most loved, when the wonderful friends and family in our life:
- Come to help cook dinner, drop in a meal or invite us around for a meal.
- Have taken the kids for a play at the park or for a day at their house to give us a break.
- Have made the extra effort to travel interstate to visit us at our new home or checked in with a phone call to make sure we know we haven’t been forgotten.
- Have been delicate in the way they’ve expressed how much they miss their own partner if they’ve been away for the weekend. When they haven’t dwelt on it too much and acknowledge and empathise that this is our everyday situation, we just want to hug them!
- Have come to help unpack the 10 boxes that are likely to remain unpacked for the remainder of the posting because we were too tired to even considering looking inside another box.
- Has made the effort to say thank you for the sacrifice your family makes for this country and encouraged our efforts at home.
There are a LOT of blessings that come from being a part of defence – a stable income, meeting new people, new experiences and places. Most defence wives are the most positive people you will meet and have emotional and mental strength beyond most. I hope this has given you an insight into some of the things a defence wife and family might be experiencing and some practical things you can do to help. A huge thanks to any of the beautiful people who love, support and care for me/a defence family – we could not do this without you – you rock!
If you’re a defence wife, or know someone who is, please feel free to share this article to help others know how to support you/them!