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Articles Real Lives Part time Dad

Part time Dad

You are married to a Seaman Officer in the Royal Navy, how long have you been together?

We met the day before my seventeenth birthday, so that makes it twenty years in March 2005. We’ve been married thirteen years.

How many children do you have?

Three: two girls, Charlotte and Joanna aged eleven and nine, one boy, Gregory aged seven.

What were your expectations of being a naval wife with children, and how close is the reality?

I knew bringing up children in a part-time relationship would be reasonably difficult, but I was not very realistic as to how emotionally and physically draining it can be at times. The problems a child can throw at you seem to come from nowhere, and when you haven’t got a partner to share those stresses with, life can be pretty traumatic. For example, when I had Gregory, my eldest Charlotte, had just started school. Joanna was two and a half, with above average intelligence. My husband was at sea a lot, so I spent the vast majority of the time coping with all three on my own. Charlotte hit some snags at school, which were ongoing, and very tricky to sort out. Joanna went through a very clingy stage, which manifested itself in some terribly anti-social and time-consuming ways. Gregory being so young, took a lot of my time also, so I found I had very little time for myself, and spent my days getting up early, and going to bed late totally and utterly shattered. As a result I just got virus after virus, which meant I lost a lot of weight, and it took me over a year to regain it (some might call that a blessing!).

How did you feel about your husband’s absences at such times?

I became very resentful of my husband, because his emails and letters seemed to suggest he was having a great time away from us all. This was the first time in our relationship that I really felt I didn’t want him being in the Navy, but I felt I couldn’t tell him that – he was in the Navy before I met him, albeit only for six months, but I always knew it was his life-long career, and I had no option but to live with that. I was also ashamed that all of a sudden, it appeared I couldn’t cope. We have since had some very frank and productive discussions on this issue.

How well do your children cope with him being away?

They are actually quite brilliant most times and they have varying methods of coping: sometimes they will act up, generally with me, not with school, or anyone else. Sometimes they will be very sad and easily moved to tears without warning. Other times they seem to barely notice his absence. More often than not I will find I have at least one visitor to my bed at some point during the night, which is fine, if it’s not all three of them plus our two cats! Just before this current deployment (six months in total) I was very upset, and for the first time I was unable to keep my emotions in check. So by the time we got back from dropping my husband off at the station, we were all in tears. I’m not even sure that Greg understood what was happening, but he just got caught up in the moment. We all stood in the hallway and howled for a short while, before I pulled myself together and made us all some calming hot chocolate. Apart from that, there hasn’t been much sign of them noticing daddy not being home, I suppose because they had got used to him only being home at weekends (he’s based in Plymouth, and we live in Portsmouth). However, having a weekend Dad can prove to be testing also, because he is generally exhausted from having worked all week and travelled for 5 hours by train, so having to be “Dad” to three children is not easy in itself. We have had problems with getting the balance right, but it is always a work in progress.

What would you say to someone who was considering marrying someone in the armed forces?

It depends on which service their potential husband was in, but as a Seaman Officer, I was aware that my husband would be spending the vast majority of time away at sea: during our first year living together he spent an accumulative total of eight months away. I was happy that I could cope with that, and still have a life of my own. However, adding children into the equation drastically changes things. You are no longer your own boss, and you are no longer able to make the same choices. I always assumed that the longer I stayed in this type of relationship, it would become easier to deal with the separations – I was wrong – very wrong. The longer I have to be on my own with three children, the harder it becomes to cope with. In fact, my husband has also reached the conclusion that we are getting too old to be apart now – each time he goes away, we are all devastated. It is probably fortuitous that this is likely to be his last sea-going job. So, if anyone says to me “You knew what you were getting into.” I have to contradict them as I knew I could cope on my own, but I didn’t know I would find it so difficult once I had had my three gorgeous children. I would also say though, that you can’t choose who you fall in love with!

Would you recommend this type of life-style to your children?

I doubt it, not because I don’t like it at all, but because relationships are complicated enough without the added distraction of enforced separations. I would want my children to experience a relationship where both parties could rely on the other being there for the other, whenever the need arose.

What are the best and worst aspects that your children have experienced?

The best are probably the semi-independence and the trust they have grown up with, the knowledge that just because someone goes away, it doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t come back. The worst? Seeing their mum struggling from time to time, and not being able to do anything about it. Charlotte has been such a fantastic support for me in the past 5 months, but I feel badly that she has had to witness my weaknesses. Also the fact that their Dad misses out on so much of their growing up: they can’t show him their little achievements as they occur, they have to wait for a phone call or let me tell him in an email.

Article by Little