Your return home after deployment is a time of joy and celebration. It's a wonderful time for you and your family to reconnect. But after months of being away and concentrating on your mission, getting used to being at home can be an adjustment. There are steps you can take to help you reintegrate smoothly back into the family.
Preparing yourself for change
It may seem that a lot happened while you were away, and while both you and your children have changed, you are still a family. It's important to give yourselves time to become reacquainted.
- Recognize that your children may have grown and changed. The baby you left behind may now be a toddler. Your little girl may now look and act like a teenager. You may regret that you didn't see your children reach major milestones, and change like this can be unsettling. It is normal to feel this way; spend some time discovering all the positive changes you see in one another.
- Try not to dwell on what you missed. Instead, enjoy what your children have accomplished. If your baby is now talking, have simple conversations with him or her. Play on the floor, do puzzles, and read together. If your children are older, find out about their new interests.
- Remember how important you are to the family unit. While it can be a relief to know that your family managed just fine without you, you may also feel hurt. We all want to feel needed. Remember, just because the household didn't fall apart while you were deployed doesn't mean that you're not needed as much as ever.
- Be patient. While you were away, your children relied on your spouse or another adult as the primary parent. If your child is a baby or toddler, he or she may appear afraid of you or cry when you approach. As painful as this is, try to be patient. Over time, as you rebuild trust, you and your children will become close again.
- Be sensitive to the changes in your spouse's life too. If your spouse cared for your children during your deployment, your spouse may regret giving up the primary parenting role. Be sensitive to this and be sure to talk openly about ways you can parent as a team.
Returning home when you're a single mother
If you're a single mother, you'll have logistical and emotional matters that need your attention as you re-establish a home for you and your children.
- Give yourself time to settle in. If your children lived with friends or relatives during your deployment, consider waiting a few days before bringing them back home. You'll need this time to settle in, particularly if you'll be living in a new place. Unpack and set up your home. If it's necessary, register your children for childcare or school and take time to relax and unwind. This way everything will be in place and you can focus entirely on reconnecting with your children.
- Stay connected with your children's caregiver. Make an effort to keep the connection strong between your children and the person who cared for them. If the caregiver lives far away, call with updates on how you and your children are doing.
- Expect your children to miss their caregiver. Your children likely developed a strong attachment with their caregiver. If that person lives close enough, visit often. If your children lived in a different community while you were away and made new friends, help them keep up those relationships with phone calls, emails, letters, and pictures.
Reintegrating yourself into the family
While deployed, you had to focus on yourself and your mission. All of that changes when you return home and dive back into a day-to-day parenting role. Be patient with yourself.
- Try not to rush in and make changes when you return home. Your family probably found new ways to do things when you were gone. Maybe they leave the dishes in the sink until the next morning instead of cleaning up after dinner. Maybe bedtime has shifted to an earlier time to give your spouse a much-needed break. Don't try to change things back all at once to the way things were before you deployed.
- Help your children adjust to brief separations from you. Very young children may not understand that now you'll be back in a few hours when you leave for work or to run errands. Young children may not want to let you out of their sight. You can gradually help your children get used to being apart by starting off with brief trips away.
- Enjoy your time together. Don’t get overwhelmed by completing to do lists or getting everything back in order the minute you get home. You and your children are going to be extremely excited to spend time together and catch up. Allow yourselves this special time.
Trying to adjust to being home again
If your deployment was long, dangerous, or both, you're likely to have a more challenging adjustment. Give yourself time to get used to being home again. It's not uncommon for service members who had a difficult deployment to have stress reactions. These may include the following:
- feeling jumpy, easily startled, or generally unsafe
- becoming easily annoyed, irritated, or frustrated
- feeling numb
- feeling disconnected from family and friends
- having difficulty concentrating or remembering things
- experiencing sadness or feelings of guilt
- sleeping too little or too much
- getting into unnecessary conflicts with loved ones
- feeling angry, sometimes with little or no provocation
- being uncomfortable with physical and/or emotional intimacy
- having intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, or nightmares about events you experienced
- self-medicating with alcohol
Here are some things you can do to manage your symptoms of stress:
- Practice relaxation exercises. Deep breathing is an easy and effective way to calm down. Breathe in to a slow count of five; then breathe out to a slow count of five. Repeat this for several minutes.
- Talk with others who have deployed. If you connected with other mothers during your deployment, get in touch with them. They're probably having similar feelings. It can help to know you're not alone.
- Write down your feelings. Keep a journal. Writing can help you sort through your thoughts and help you to feel more in control.
- Address your spiritual needs. If you're a religious or spiritual person, you may find strength through prayer or through discussing your concerns with a clergy member.
If your stress symptoms don't go away after a few weeks and they interfere with daily activities and your ability to parent, it's important to seek professional help. Call Military OneSource at 1-800-342-9647 to speak with a non-medical counselor or to arrange for non-medical counseling in your community or via secure chat. Military OneSource can also put you in touch with medical counseling services and resources should they determine that you might benefit from that kind of support.