Balancing a unique work-life situation
Serving ADF families have unique work-life pressures that impose many challenges on their personal life. If they’re not on the move to a new posting, they’re coping with the daily routine while one (or both) parents are deployed overseas.
“It’s a great life when you’re young,” explains Navy-wife Danielle. “I was footloose and fancy-free while my husband was deployed for six to nine months each year. I enjoyed my single time and kept busy with my sport and other activities. Then it was just a matter of adjusting to the lifestyle of a couple when he returned.”
“That changes enormously when children come along,” she says. “Suddenly you have to take the lead and be the enforcer, the financial officer and the major decision maker for all aspects of family life.”
“But as my father always says, I knew what I was getting into,” she laughs.
Danielle’s husband has been in the Navy for 17 years and is away at sea for six to nine months every year. The couple has two boys aged 10 and 4 and they’ve just been posted to Canberra after nine years in Sydney.
“My husband trusts the decisions I make on behalf of both of us. I’ve had to move states on my own, choose a house, find schools for the children and make major purchases such as cars. My role doesn’t change that much when he returns from sea, but I do have to allow him time to adapt and fit into our lifestyle.”
Danielle’s husband has spent a significant amount of his career at sea. So she’s had plenty of experience running the show and keeping life as normal as possible for the children.
“I’m fortunate the children have generally always adjusted to having their daddy away for long periods. It’s normal for them. We do FaceTime as a family and I use email to provide him with the important details of our lives.”
Danielle says there are very high expectations on ADF members. She likens the relationship to a “third person in our marriage” and that sometimes it creates conflict with her understanding of “normal employer and employee relationships. At times it’s a fine line between ‘duty’ and what’s ‘right’ for the family.”
“Don’t get me wrong though. As a Defence partner I feel such great pride in the support I provide. I give part of myself to allow him to perform his role. My role is to manage the impact this lifestyle has on the family.”
“We make sure the kids understand their daddy is going away in the lead up to his departure. It can be tricky dealing with their age difference…but we use the Defence Penguin books to help explain it to them. We have a world map on the wall and my husband places his ship route and dates on it. Then I can show them where he is and when we can talk to him.”
Danielle is a stickler for routine. “There are so many school activities, play dates and community events. I must be very organised because they do rely on mummy’s taxi service,” she says. “We’re fortunate to be in a Defence neighbourhood with many great families who have children the same age. It’s a very social area and this has given us the best possible start to our transition to Canberra.”
“When my husband comes home, he observes our routine and how the children have changed and developed. Then we work out any adjustments that need to be made for him to fit in with how the household runs now and the expectations I have of the kids.”
It is certainly a different lifestyle to what most are used to. Danielle says the best part is supporting her husband in his defence of our way of life. “But it can be very isolating at times. I miss my husband and the kids miss their dad.”
“I’m looking forward to him getting home from his current sea time so he can enjoy our new social neighbourhood and the balanced and fulfilling lifestyle of Canberra. It’s a very family-oriented place and it has so much to offer our family.”