Regular Quest contributor Ralph Straw reports once more from the resettlement frontline. This month he muses on the difficulties of fitting back in to civilian home life following a long stint in the Forces. It’s important to remember, he says, that resettlement is not all about you – your nearest and dearest will also be facing significant upheaval and change as a result of your decision to leave. You could be in for a bumpy ride, but Ralph has some tips to help you (and your partner/family) hang in there!
Today was to be the day - it had to be. I wanted to sign off, but I was hundreds of miles away from my home unit. ëIíve come to sign off, 'I said, driving up to the MPGS man, who looked almost disgusted. 'What do you want to go and do that for?' he replied with a hint of sideburn envy. Why? Because I want to get out! I mean I really don't want to do this any more.
But it wasn't a rhetorical question he was asking - he was waiting for an answer. What could I say to this obvious former Warrant Officer, now at the same rank he had started at, guarding a gate? I couldnít tell him the truth - he had a rifle after all. More importantly, he would decide whether or not I got to click the button today!
'I've just had enough. It's time to move on, 'I said. He raised an eyebrow before removing his nose from my window and opening the gate. When I reached the guardroom I found that my reputation had arrived ahead of me and all the uniformed staff were staring at me. 'What are you getting out for?' another MPGS chap asked me. I hate it - that's why. I hate it and I want to get out.
'Just time to move on, thatís all,' I replied. He pulled up the sagging belt buckle on his 95s, 'Yeah' I was going to get out when I was about your age, but I'm glad I didn't,'he said. You really shouldnít be'
I just nodded and rested my arm on the counter, hoping to add another car pass to my collection and hurry things along. 'You married? Kids?' he continued. I see where this is going. Iíve heard this before: 'You canít get out, youíve got a family'
'Yeah' yeah, I have.'I was impatient' all I wanted to do was sign off; the longer this takes the harder it will be to do, and my courage was dripping away.
'It puts a lot of pressure on relationships you know,' he went on. 'Less money'' you're suddenly around all the time 'in fact a lot of people end up breaking up.'
I didnít have time to consider all of this in the sincerity that I perhaps should have done. I didnít consider what he was telling me until about 18 months later, when my wife and I argued over the lack of money and nearly broke up. It was almost like she had never noticed these things before, when I spent nine months of the year overseas Ö what was different? And why did I have that niggling feeling that someone somewhere would be saying ëI told you soí?
So this is what I have found out about leaving the Forces: it is a challenging transition, like all changes. I sincerely hope that you are making things happen for yourself and arenít relying on ëitís not what you know, itís who you knowí. Finding employment is a full-time job, particularly if youíre aiming at, or above, your weight. In fact, that is a resettlement rule: only apply for jobs that you really want!
But, back to the story: it turns out that the MPGS man was quite correct and I was foolish to dismiss him (although I had other things on my mind at the time). Having less money was a choice I made, as the sector I went on to work in after leaving (teaching) is the most rewarding in the world, but the pay isnít very high. For a while I had a sense of guilt towards my wife and family for not earning enough ñ my youngest son was still a baby and, while I was based in Germany, she was able to stay off work and care for our oldest son. But, as a civilian trying to carve my own detail, I wasnít earning enough for her to have that ëluxuryí (as I foolishly saw it), so she went back to work in the evenings.
- didnít realise how hard this was for her to do ñ or I did, but I was selfish. The boys wanted their mum at home Ö and so did I.
Living in a garrison can often feel like being in a bubble, but there are lots of activities that bring people together that arenít so easy to access in civvy street. Remember that your partner will be leaving their friends ñ the people who have supported them while you have been away over the years. It may take a while for you to fit in to your new role as a fully present partner ñ and for them to accept it! They will have routines and boundaries around the home and in their lives that have served them well up to this point.
There will be arguments about money, jobs ñ and perhaps you may both feel that it was better the way things were before. Maybe it was, but you wonít know until you try.
- encourage you to not make my mistakes ñ although itís always a good way to learn, if you can avoid it you will save yourself and your family a lot of strain.
Forget the doníts, reading Quest is all about the dos. Itís up to you in the end, but here are some suggestions Ö
- Fully involve your partner in every decision; it will be down to you in the end, but other people always want to feel included and a fresh perspective rarely injures a cause.
- Encourage and support your partnerís resettlement; if they have to work then they would do well to either re-train or ensure that theyíre current and in date. This may cost money, so include it in your resettlement budget. (Perhaps thereís a case for MoD funding of spousesí resettlement? Let me know what you think.)
- What new duties are you going to have at home? As I now spend more time at home, I do more housework and errands. Can anyone guess what the source of friction was before?
- Most importantly: like your work and love your wife (or significant other). Be well and donít panic!
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