Advocating for Defence families

Our ADF Families: Mhanda, Ryan and their family

Mhanda and Ryan told us how two of their children love tearing around the driveway on their bikes. Their son was also keen to show off his skills by riding on a neighbourhood BMX track.  It was great to see the family enjoying their time together which also included the family dog who did not want to miss out on any of the high-speed action.

Mhanda served on patrol boats and was the CO of a survey ship in the Royal Australian Navy before relocating on posting from Far North Queensland to Canberra where she met Ryan, a former United States Marine. Mhanda spoke passionately about her work in the Navy, reflecting on her years of training, dedication to service, and experience at sea. However, Mhanda candidly admits all of this served little to prepare her for becoming a parent as she could not predict how fundamentally that experience would affect her.

Mhanda: I spent effectively 12 years straight posted sea going vessels and was often younger than many people on my ship that had kids. I thought I understood how they felt about being away from their families, but in hindsight, I really had no idea. There are a myriad of challenges faced by families when a parent is away for months at a time – especially on ships where even getting regular emails was a bit hit-and-miss.  I used to feel it was mildly unfair when the Watchbill coordinator would always roster the single members to be duty last night before sailing and first night back on return from deployment.  Now that I have children I realised… no one is going to hold me back from seeing my kids a minute longer! I get it. But at the time I thought ‘Why do they get special preference?’

Being able to take additional leave during pregnancy, Mhanda was grateful for bosses and workplaces who were understanding and able to accommodate flexible working arrangements.

Mhanda: I’ve always known that treating people equally doesn’t always mean treating everyone the same, but now that I have children of my own, that statement means a lot more than I had previously realised. We can’t just view the people we work with based only on who they are at work – if we can’t take in to account the needs of their families as well – we risk losing some very valuable people. In that respect –seeing both men and women embracing flexible working arrangements has been a fantastic step forward.

20180507: Defence Families Australia: Photographs of Mhanda and Ryan van Engelen. Mhanda is in the Navy and they have three chirldren, Jet, Heidi and Annika.

When their son starts school next year the family is looking forward to connecting with the Defence School Mentor (Previously DSTA or DTM. They first learnt about the assistance Defence Community Organisation (DCO) can provide to schools with Defence students when Ryan’s daughter, Mhanda’s step-daughter, attended a secondary school with a Defence Transition Mentor.

Mhanda feels very fortunate that her parents have now relocated closer and can assist with the children. Mhanda states it is important to know that this is an exception rather than the norm, as many Defence families are not able to receive this kind of help. Mhanda and Ryan expressed gratitude as they described how this support has improved their quality of life when compared to the first years where they did not have such assistance.

Mhanda: With three young children, I’m very fortunate to have posting location stability right now and not be required to go to sea while they are so young – but not all families have that luxury. Many of my friends have returned to sea with young children at home in order to further their career and gain additional experience and qualifications. I almost wish I could go back in time to my seagoing days knowing what it’s like to be separated from your children. I would have been a lot more sympathetic to members with children at home and maybe have done something a bit differently.

20180507: Defence Families Australia: Photographs of Mhanda and Ryan van Engelen. Mhanda is in the Navy and they have three chirldren, Jet, Heidi and Annika.

Thank you to Mhanda and Ryan for sharing your story with DFA.

Find out more information on Defence School Aides and Mentors.

Read our recent article where we talk to a Defence School Mentor

For 24/7 Defence family assistance please contact:

Defence Family Helpine (DCO) 1800 624 608 or

Open Arms (formerly VVCS) 1800 011 046

#OurADFfamilies #DefenceFamilies

With special thanks to Sean Davey Photographer

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