Anyone who’s been through a military deployment knows that it brings with it many changes and emotions. There’s the sadness and apprehension of pre-deployment, the grieving period after the service member has left, the feeling of freedom at being able to accomplish things on your own and the excitement and butterflies of homecoming. While the primary focus of homecoming and reunion is the happiness and pure joy of the occasion, the fact that there is an adjustment period to follow can’t be ignored.
First and foremost, everyone involved must remember that each person has changed. Children have grown and are experiencing new things; the deployed spouse has seen new people, places and things; and the spouse that stayed behind has developed a routine that works for them. Most of the time these changes aren’t drastic changes, they’re simply things like a change in dinner time, or shopping at a different store, or using a different brand of detergent. Other times, families have moved into a new house, or even into a new state, or have experienced some other major life change. Either way, it is important for the returning service member to keep in mind that any changes that were made were done so with the family’s best interests in mind. Some of these changes may be ones they can learn to live with; others may need some compromise.
It’s equally important for the other spouse to remember that the service member has in their mind a picture of what the family was like when they left. It may be difficult for them to return to a house full of changes. Easing them back into things and not dumping every last change on them at one time can help with this.
Spouses should also keep the lines of communication open while renegotiating their roles. One spouse has had to handle most, if not all, household responsibilities during the deployment. The couple should discuss what roles each person will take on now that the service member is back home.
Children can have a wide array of emotions as well. They’re excited, yet anxious, and maybe a little scared. They want to see their parent, but they may worry that they’ll be in trouble for something they did months ago; or they may worry that their parent won’t remember them or won’t want to spend lots of time with them. Whatever the case may be, talk with your children before homecoming and find out what’s on their mind. You may have had no clue what they were thinking! You can then put aside some of their fears and help them cope with their other emotions. At the same time, remind the service member that it may take the children a while to completely warm up to their parent. It’s nothing personal; it’s just their way of getting reacquainted.
Everyone should remember to keep a positive attitude during the readjustment phase. Everyone’s been through a lot during the deployment and worked hard to make things function well. Take that time to enjoy each other’s company, rediscover one another and reinforce strong bonds.