When mom or dad comes home from a deployment, everything changes. In some cases, families adapt to their role reassignment relatively easily, while for others it can be a little—or a lot—more challenging. Depending on the couple and family dynamic when the soldier deployed, a number of issues may come up when you or a loved one returns. Striking a balance, avoiding power struggles, and learning how to relinquish some of the responsibility can be quite difficult on the military spouse, regardless of gender.
Readjusting to the Family Unit
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the adjustments a formerly deployed soldier may face at home require, more than anything else, patience. Of course, the returning servicemember needs to take his or her time easing back into the “new normal.” But everyone else in the family needs to be patient too.
For the Servicemember
Everyone, including your spouse, your parents, your children, friends, and others, will want to know about your experiences while you were deployed. You, however, may not want to talk about it. At the other end of the spectrum, you may be anxious to share your experiences, but in some cases, the stories may scare or overwhelm the people who hear them. Other times, you may feel that no one understands what you’ve been through. You’ll need to be careful to find the right balance.
For the Spouse and Children
You've gotten used to being the one in charge, the one who makes all the decisions involving child care, finances, chores, school, and everything else. Giving up that control isn’t going to be easy. In some cases, your spouse may want to jump in and take over the responsibilities he or she had before the deployment.
In other cases, he or she may be perfectly happy with you staying in charge.
At the same time, it’s important to give your returning spouse plenty of time to readjust to family life. Be patient, understanding, and compassionate, regardless of how often or how infrequently your spouse wants to share his or her experiences.
There’s usually a "honeymoon period” right after the deployment, when everyone is delighted to be a family again. But once the honeymoon’s over, having mom or dad back home again can be confusing and stressful for children. Toddlers, for example, may not recognize the returning parent and may be afraid. Grade-schoolers may want the returning parent to spend every second with them or may resent being told what to do by someone who hasn’t been around for months. And teens may want nothing more than to get back to their usual routines with school, extracurricular activities, and friends.
Smoothing the Transition
Homecoming is a time of joy, challenges, and readjustment for servicemembers and their family. Here are a few tips that will help take some of the bumps out of the path towards your new—and different—life.
- Reestablish and maintain open and honest communication with your returning loved one.
- Be open to discussing options and making changes in the way you've done things while your soldier was deployed.
- Be willing to adapt and share responsibilities.
- Be willing to compromise.
- Hold weekly family meetings to discuss everyone’s concerns over rules, expectations, chores, curfews, and so on.
- Access on-base military or other support resources to help with readjustment issues and challenges. Military bases provide Family Support Services or Family Assistance Centers and provide assistance for all aspects of family life. These programs are free of charge for military personnel and military families. Check your base directory for phone numbers of all on-base services.