I had been living in London for nearly ten years when I first met John. I didn’t have much insight into military life other than wearing a poppy every November, and while he was posted to London, we had a dinner night at the Tower of London, theatre tickets and even attended the Queen’s Birthday Parade. It’s fair to say I had a highly positive, if slightly skewed, opinion of the Army.
At that point, I had worked in marketing for a TV personality going on 8 years. It was an incredible job that I absolutely loved. I travelled the World, experienced so much, and worked with a brilliant team of creatives.
When John was posted out of London, we decided to buy a flat together and John would do the weekly commute. Flat buying led to an idyllic French wedding and a couple of years later I was pregnant. By now, John had been posted again, this time to Gloucester, and we made the decision to move into married accommodation and rent our flat out.
I distinctly remember walking back to our flat having started maternity leave. I felt unnerved with leaving somewhere that had been such a huge part of my life for so long but felt baby trumped London life!
Gloucester was a baptism by fire. I was frequently on my own and struggled to fully appreciate the community around me. When my maternity leave finished, I looked to return to the job I loved on a flexible basis. The offer was 4 days in London and 1 working from home. Less flexible and more full time inflexible. Suffice to say, this didn’t work for my current life. I was advised to put my notice in the day before my eligibility for a bonus, and then I wouldn’t have to pay my enhanced maternity pay back. Looking back, I think the bonus would have been more so I should have held on, but I was so angry and felt hugely let down, I just wanted to be away from it all.
Gloucester led to Gutersloh, Germany which led to Bristol and then Dishforth, North Yorkshire. All this time, I didn’t work. International postings, further deployments and a second child meant 7 years passed without anything new on my CV. If someone on the school playground asked if I worked, I had 10 reasons to throw at them to prove I wasn’t lazy or lacking in direction. I volunteered for PTAs because it was something to do, and it made me feel useful – that’s how bad it had become!
Before dinner nights, I would read newspapers to ensure I had something interesting to say or understood what was being talked about. Most of my conversations would start ‘On radio 4 the other day’ or ‘I read an article’. Being called a ‘dependent’ or ‘John’s spouse’ just underpinned the feeling that my independence had well and truly slipped away.
It was when I was in Germany and John was in Afghanistan…or Jordan…or back in the UK, that I started to realise the importance of the military spouse community. Within days of arriving, we had gone on play dates, coffee mornings, walks round the park and the obvious kaffee kuchen. These were ladies who were doctors, lawyers, managers, accountants and more and they were bored. We would have great conversations about life before military and each go quiet as we realised how much we missed our old selves. That’s not to say we didn’t love our families, but our personal careers, direction and verve had taken a wrong turn and we had never really found it again.
But can you have it all? It is hard enough managing work and family but throw in house moves across county/country lines and lots of solo parenting stints, you have an inflexibility which doesn’t align neatly with the traditional ways of working.
Moving up to North Yorkshire, turning a certain age and meeting my next-door neighbour, Heledd, proved a turning point for me. Heledd saw what I had seen in Germany. A glut of hugely passionate, intelligent partners who have married someone in the Services and sacrificed their career as a result. But while I ate the kuchen and drank the kaffee, Heledd stood up and did something about it. Creating RFS – a hub of likeminded military spouses who want to do something for their professional selves despite the barriers from living a military life.
After too many gins, we realised it was a meeting of minds and Heledd offered me a job with Recruit for Spouses. It was like the paper was lit. Working for, with and because of military spouses is something I am hugely passionate about – and I can do it from home, part-time…still here for every drop-off, pick-up and play.
I have struggled with confidence, self-belief and direction but Heledd and RFS changed that and now I want to ensure I am part of the team that changes it for other military spouses. Because no matter what your partner does in the military or how many people tell you ‘you knew what you were getting in to’, you can lose yourself in this world. Absorbed by moves, deployments, being the principal homemaker and large career gaps, can erode some of what makes you you. And RFS’ sole aim is to help people find themselves again. I can’t think of an organisation I would rather work for, and a community I would rather support.
Melanie Miles is Marketing Manger at Recruit for Spouses https://www.linkedin.com/in/melanie-miles-a49a7a13/
Recruit for Spouses is an independent social enterprise dedicated to supporting, championing and finding gainful employment for an untapped talent pool of spouses and partners to members of our Armed Forces. We work to overcome outdated perceptions about mobility and suitability and provide the tools for spouses to return to the workplace and excel in their chosen path.
We provide unparalleled understanding and support of the employment situation of military spouses and provide a supportive community for spouses to get back into the workplace. www.recruitforspouses.co.uk