Julie Boyle’s husband is leaving the Army this year, having served for 22 years. Here, as our guest blogger, Julie looks back on life as a military wife and mother, reflects and shares her top tips for managing the ups and downs of military life.
Looking back on my military life…
I met Owen almost eight years ago, I knew then life would be a rollercoaster! I was right too. Living over two hours apart meant we saw each other at weekends and when Owen was on leave, when other army commitments didn’t interfere of course. It was tricky and at times hard to make the distance work but somehow we muddled through and in 2014 we married and moved into our first quarter, in a remote little camp miles from anywhere, I was officially living ‘behind the wire’! It was my first proper taste of army life, armed guards greeting you on the gate, passes and signing in processes for guests. Funnily enough I think this is one thing I will miss as we move into ‘civvy street’. Life in quarters was full of ups and downs, you spend large amounts of time alone while the other half is away – on courses, AT, exercise, ops and the various other ways in which they get sent off for a few days, weeks or months at a time. I was lucky that before I moved I had a new job so I was able to get out and meet people and start building a network for myself for those times when I was home alone. We don’t have family close by, they are all a good few hundred miles away, so it was important I forged some friendships here. When I moved to camp I didn’t know anyone other than people Owen worked with, and I wasn’t going to any of the coffee mornings as I was working. Although I never minded the isolation of camp I wonder how I would have felt if I hadn’t been out working.
In 2016 our lives changed entirely with the birth of our baby girl. The world as we knew it was turned on its head! When Chloe arrived and I started to feel the fog of labour lifting I wondered how I was going to spend the 12 months of maternity leave I had stretching before me. Again I felt lucky though, as I had gone along to antenatal classes and made some lovely friends that I would go on to see every week (and still do!). I also made the decision to go to the tots groups and coffee mornings on camp to meet some of the people living near me. I went on to meet some amazing people there and count some of the ladies I met amongst my closest friends. It was a great place to go and socialise for both Chloe and I.
Once Chloe had arrived, Owen going away became more of a challenge. How do you cope on your own with a new born? You go to groups and classes and start to channel your inner creativity – if you are me! I felt having the groups to go to made me feel more secure and gave structure to our days, so we had a weekly programme of yoga, swimming, tots and coffee planned. When Owen was away the first time it was hard, but you get into a routine after a few days and it sort of works. Chloe was so young she didn’t really realise he was away which in hindsight is a good thing. I think it hit Owen harder as he was missing out on little things that Chloe was starting to do. Over the last three years Owen has been away here and there, thankfully not for longer than eight to nine weeks at a time and often for much shorter periods. As Chloe has got older the times away have been harder with her understanding that he isn’t there. Owen would come home and see Chloe had developed more and was doing new things, which must be hard to feel you have missed out on ‘the first’ of the things babies do. Predictably Chloe would be ill when Owen went away and we have had a couple of hospital stays while he has been away, which again is hard for him as he can’t be there to help.
I stumbled across Reading Force on a Facebook page and so began our journey of making scrapbooks and spending time together reading and crafting! It was great to do as a family all together and lovely to talk to Owen about the books and activities we were doing when he was away. We were also able to share what we were doing with family and show them the things we were making. Family would send us books to read as they knew Chloe really enjoyed this. It has been a lovely way for us all to bond.
For us our time as a military family is coming to an end as Owen has served his 22 years and we are on to a new chapter, we have moved from quarters and started to put down roots. Life in the military has certainly been filled with highs and lows, and although I have only been in it a short while I will miss it! Particularly the friendships you make, the support when you need it, and the understanding from others what this life can be like.
I am so very proud of Owen and the commitment and sacrifices he has made to serve. He has achieved amazing things in his time. It is time for us to look to what is next on our journey.
Ten things I have learnt as a military spouse:
- Plans are always subject to change, it is frustrating and difficult but ultimately not the fault of your other half so try and go easy on them!
- Laugh – and then laugh some more!
- You will make some amazing friendships along the way that will stand the test of time.
- Never lose sight of who you are; be confident.
- Keep in touch with family, even when it feels you make all the effort sometimes, they miss you too.
- Take some time out for you – even just to have a brew and catch your breath.
- Try things you wouldn’t normally – that coffee morning on camp, the tots group in town. It can be daunting but it can be worth it too.
- It can be hard when they are away so reach out to the people around you.
- If they give you a date, it will change, at least four times!
- Sign up to Reading Force – it is really amazing and one of the best things we have done as a military family!
Thanks so much for sharing Julie! We’d love to hear top tips from other families – what have you found useful in navigating military family life? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your tips.