Life changes the minute a soldier leaves for deployment. But life doesn’t just change for the soldier; it also completely upends the life of the soldier’s spouse and children. When your military spouse returns, you want to make sure the transition back to home life is as comfortable and easy as possible for all involved. That means communicating to know how your spouse feels, having a normal routine ready when he returns, or hosting a gathering in his name.
Here’s how you can prepare your family for your spouse’s homecoming:
Communication Equals Connection
There are some things you can do while your spouse is serving to make his return much smoother. The most important key to this is to keep communication open, consistent, and as frequent as possible.
While I was doing post-deployment health assessments, I quickly saw a pattern emerge: Soldiers who spoke to their spouses and family members frequently during their deployments were much more likely to easily reintegrate into family life. Writing letters, sending care packages, emailing, creating video logs, and Skyping on a regular basis can make a deployed soldier feel connected to the daily activities of his family. That ensures that when he returns home, he won’t feel like he missed out on important moments or feel confused because he wasn’t aware of a situation. You’ve made him a part of life back home, even if he wasn’t able to be there physically.
During my active duty service with the Army Reserve Medical Corp, my wife and I had to work to talk to one another as often as we could. However, it made my return remarkably easier because, rather than being caught off-guard, I knew of any changes or developments that had occurred with my family while I was away.
This communication can work both ways. Your spouse may not be able to tell you where he is or what he’s doing, but communicating about your emotions can keep you connected. If both you and your spouse remain transparent about feelings during the deployment, neither of you will feel like there is much left unsaid.
Recognize Former Roles and Introduce New Routines
Children will especially appreciate resuming a formerly routine activity with the deployed parent. Think about a favorite routine your family adheres to. Is it a bedtime story? Saturday morning breakfast? Wednesday night board games?
When your spouse returns, reinstate or begin a new routine for your family. If Dad is deployed but always read the kids bedtime stories, then save that activity for him when he returns. This way, children won’t become accustomed to Mom taking over all of Dad’s duties while he’s away.
When the family is back together, there will be some readjusting to be done in less-enjoyable aspects of life, such as chores and other household management duties. Deployed individuals will have to adapt to home life duties, which can be determined before the soldier’s return. You don’t want to smother your spouse with a to-do list, but introducing household routine to him is necessary for readjustment.
Members of the military should be celebrated upon their return. Maybe your spouse doesn’t want a big party with his face on a cake — that’s understandable. However, a family gathering or special dinner lets your spouse know you have been planning for his homecoming. You should also reach out to friends and family members to let them know of your spouse’s return. Encourage them to reach out and offer their support. Transitioning back to “normal” life will be much easier if the soldier is surrounded by loved ones.
When I first returned, I took some time off so I could simply spend time with family and slowly transition back into the swing of our household. My wife didn’t plan a lot for us to do during those first few days, which was very beneficial for both of us.
Life will change for an entire family when a soldier leaves, and the return home doesn’t signal the end of the adjustments. Make this transition easier by preparing for your spouse’s return, and welcome the newness of being a family again.
Dr. Tom Beets is a Major in the Army Reserve Medical Corps. He lives in Overton, Tex., with his wife and three children.
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