I laid there wide awake at 4:46 am. Couldn’t sleep. I hadn’t seen my service member in over seven months, and now he was in my bed. This is the reality of a service member coming home. My brain and body were in fight or flight mode. I was exhausted preparing for homecoming. I desperately wanted everything to be “just so.”
The homecoming date changed so many times, it ended up being around 2:17 am before he arrived in my arms. After getting home and “settled,” I finally fell asleep to only wake again an hour later. Following every deployment, there is this phase of military family reintegration, or the period of time in which families are reunited and attempt to ease back into everyday life.
As an outsider, a service member coming home may seem like a fun and special time for a family to enjoy a reunion after a long separation. While it is a very special time, there are also many factors at hand. Factors that make seamlessly reintegrating back into a picture perfect life a far reach from reality. Here is a small behind the scenes look at a military service member coming home post deployment…
It is far from a fairy tale.
Reintegration can be a little bit awkward sometimes (okay…a lot a bit). Despite multiple deployments and subsequent reintegrations, it can bring butterflies to even the most seasoned military spouse’s stomach.
It can also bring lots of anxiety and make you wonder, how things will go after a spouse returns home. There is much excitement and happiness as well, but preparing for the return of a spouse is a bag filled with mixed emotions.
The last time my husband returned home from deployment, I was a mess. Even after experiencing multiple homecomings over the years, I was still nervous and wrecked with anxiety. These feelings are totally normal. So if you ask a spouse how things went upon return of her military service member, it’s completely normal and okay if she doesn’t seem filled with abundant joy.
Adjustments. Take. Time.
There is no switch to turn on closeness. Imagine that you work all the time and have set aside an evening with your husband whom you’ve barely seen in the past six months. Does he immediately start baring his soul? Not likely.
In relationships, without quantity, there’s no quality. After reintegration you have to free up time daily to make closeness happen again. Depending on the length of separation, quality of communication during separation, and the level of stress endured by all family members, it may take days or even weeks or months for a family to fully adjust.
Reintegration definitely doesn’t happen overnight. Regardless of how long a couple has been together or married, a period of adjustment is inevitable.
For military kids, adjustments are especially tough sometimes. Some kids are shy and feel unfamiliar with the parent returning home and living in the home full time again. It can be hard to switch from a single parent to a dual parent household.
It’s hard on everyone.
There is no single family member that isn’t affected by reintegration in some way. Each family member experiences their own set of challenges when it comes to becoming a family again.
For some it might be difficulty co-parenting together again after months of parenting solo in military life. Others may feel challenged by simple nuances related to household chores and cooking being done a certain way. Very young children may view mom or dad as a stranger at first and act shy or even scared. Older children may be angry at their parent for being away so long, at least during the initial phase.
Support does help.
It might be hard for people outside of military life to know exactly how they could help during a period of reintegration, but a sense of community makes the world of difference to military families. Simply asking how things are going following the return of a spouse shows that you care.
Listening opens the door for a military spouse or service member to talk and share their experience. Sometimes a military family member is looking for a good listening ear or hug of encouragement. You can also simply say, “How can I support you right now?”
Military families are not always looking for advice, but rather for someone who listens and accepts them as they are.
A family may or may not want visitors.
Some families appreciate visitors right away, but I think for the most part, most families appreciate several days to a week without visitors to just acclimate and adjust to the new situation.
It’s also a great time for a nuclear family just to enjoy being with each other and experience some much needed quality time together. So before you pop on over to visit, it’s best to ask and be conservative with visits.
It does eventually get better.
Reintegration doesn’t last forever, and yes, it is totally possible to return to a happy, healthy, thriving family in a short period of time. It may only take a day or two of subtle adjustments to get back on track. Other times, it takes a long time.
The return of a military service member might not go like the movies or look as pretty as everyone might think. And that’s okay.Read comments