I want to keep my job

By an anonymous military wife.

To give this month’s blog some context I wanted to start, Bridget Jones-style, with a few statistics:

  • Total time husband has been in the military: 54 months
  • Number of months we’ve managed to live together during this time: 18 (non-consecutive) months
  • Average distance we’ve lived apart when separated: 205 miles
  • Amount spent on the magazines, service station sandwiches and takeaway coffees that have been the fuel of this nomadic lifestyle: don’t even ask. 

In fact, I estimate that, for the 36 months we’ve lived apart, we’ve spent 25 full days, travelling 25,872 miles, to see each other at weekends. Even during the time we’ve managed to live together, I’ve spent an estimated 39 full days commuting to work.

So, what’s behind all this too-ing and fro-ing?

It’s quite simple, really. I want to keep my job.

In the past 5 years, my husband has been posted to 5 different bases in 5 different parts of the country – an incredible amount of upping sticks, even by the military’s standards. So, from the beginning, we decided to make the sacrifices necessary to keep my career on track too.

Sometimes this has meant maintaining two homes in different cities – racking up eight new addresses between us – and seeing each other only at weekends. Sometimes it has meant living together and commuting up to five hours a day to work. Whatever the option, it’s always been tiring and it’s usually been expensive.

Commenting on an earlier blog a few weeks ago, whilst sharing his experience of military life, Darren Clifford added: “Of course, that was in the days when my wife was expected to leave her job… because I’d commissioned.”

Well Darren, I’d love to tell you attitudes have completely changed, and, to be fair, I certainly don’t feel expected to stay at home.

But, at the same time, the structures as they are currently organised hardly expect that I will have a career either. And whilst the military offers a fantastic career pathway for its own personnel, certainly not enough is done to support husbands and wives in achieving their own career aspirations.

And of all the things that give me the hump about being a military wife, this is my absolute number one gripe.

In fact, the example I’m about to give makes me particularly exasperated and probably best highlights just about how far the military has moved in terms of what is often expected of a civilian ‘other-half’.

Upon moving into our current home, lots of neighbours and many of my husband’s new colleagues got in touch and were keen to make sure we were settling in properly. In themselves, these are wonderfully kind and welcoming gestures – the kind of gestures that you wouldn’t expect in many other communities and certainly one of the upsides of military life.

But, during some of these early conversations, I was often irked when it was pointed out that there was an admin job available in the armoury, if I wanted to ‘have something to do’, or be ‘kept busy’.

This was almost certainly well meaning.

But in a nutshell, it exemplifies what is really often really still expected for military husbands and wives – that your other half’s career will take precedence, that you will be willing to up sticks and move around the country at a moment’s notice, and that you’ll be happy to make do with whatever jobs are going when you arrive at the other end.

As women in ordinary life have stormed ahead, making significant gains in the workplace and in public life, policy frameworks are all still running to catch up with the needs of working families. If the military really wants to be a modern, family-friendly, 21st century employer, it’s high time it joined the race too.

For next month’s blog, I’d like to explore some of the solutions to the problem of spouses being able to maintain stable and fulfilling employment. So please post your comments or send me your suggestions and let’s have a proper debate.

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