Reunion after deployment can cause mixed emotions. While it is often an exciting time, some stress is also completely normal. Whether this is your family's first or fifth reunion, every reunion is different and change can be difficult. Be patient with yourself, your spouse and your kids, and don't be afraid to ask for help. And when in doubt, follow these eight tips for an easy adjustment.
Tips for preparing your children
The mixed emotions that often come with a deployed parent's return can be especially confusing for children. On one hand, they're excited to have mom or dad home, but they may also feel nervous about the adjustment. You can make the transition smoother with these tips:
- Talk it out. Your children will probably have many questions, especially if this is your family's first reunion. Try to be patient and listen carefully to their concerns. As you explain the situation, make sure you are respectful of your children's feelings and give them space to express their emotions.
- Watch for signs of stress. Children tend to show stress differently than adults. If you start to notice more misbehavior, nightmares, or changes in eating and sleeping habits, your child may be trying to tell you something. Offer as much support as you can and consider talking to your pediatrician if the problem persists.
- Discuss the "new normal." If your household routine or rules have changed considerably while the deployed parent was away, take steps to prepare your child for how the day-to-day schedule may shift now that mom or dad is home. Providing a heads-up for what to expect can help make the transition a bit smoother as your child adapts.
- Plan for reconnection. Prepare both your spouse and child for a potential adjustment period by planning reconnection activities ahead of time. Talk to your child about what schoolwork or new skills to show the returning parent, and suggest a special activity or outing to your spouse for the entire family.
Tips for preparing yourself
Even though you've been counting down the days of your spouse's deployment with anticipation, don't be surprised if you, too, need some time to adjust to the homecoming. Chances are, you've both grown and changed during your time apart, and it's normal to have some growing pains. Here's how you can take care of yourself:
- Accept mixed emotions. It's OK if excitement isn't your only emotion. You may also be nervous, worried or even concerned about what it will be like to have your spouse home. Accept and acknowledge that the way you feel is simply the way you feel.
- Be realistic. Building your reunion up in your head may just be a recipe for disappointment. While it’s certainly OK to daydream, don't let unrealistic expectations get in the way of reality.
- Recognize the changes. Regardless of your situation, the basic passing of time means that things aren't likely to be exactly the same as they were pre-deployment. Focus on creating that new normal for your family rather than striving to return to your old way of life. Keep in mind that it may take a few weeks to work out your new balance of household roles and responsibilities with your spouse. For instance, let's say your partner used to always mow the lawn before deployment, but now he or she would rather help out with the cooking instead. Do your best to be flexible and open to change as you both adapt.
- Don't bottle up your feelings. Even though it's important to be patient during the adjustment period, it's important to avoid suppressing your feelings. Find a trusted confidante — whether it's a friend, close family member or counselor.
Remember, the most important thing is that your loved one is home safe. Becoming a couple and family again takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself and your family members as you navigate the reunion transition. And if you’re concerned about your service member's or family's adjustment, confidential information and support are available 24/7.