First of all, I really loathe the word “reintegration” for after deployment, returning to routine, family, normal life. The only instance I could find for the use of the word outside the military world is in rehab.
I guess it could feel a little as if a loved one left either way.
Of course, the first few days, even weeks, back from a deployment can be stressful and difficult for a married couple and for a parent and children.
Holidays have to be extra special to make up for the missing family member.
As homeschoolers, we keep on doing our thing, but sometimes, we take breaks when we become sad and miss Dad or just need mental health days or to go do something somewhere that’s not home with all its memories.
Successful Reintegration for Families:
It helps to take a few days or even weeks during the countdown to homecoming to get the family ready!
I’ve spent many months on my own, doing things my way.
Organized, efficient, routine.
I’m an introvert and I’m pretty strong on my own.
I know I need to prepare myself and the kids for a new arrival after so much time alone.
We’ve been doing things without him for so long that he will feel almost like a stranger in his own home.
We need to have conversations and list pros and cons to our lifestyles and how we don’t want to irritate Dad when he returns home and adjusts to living with family members who have grown so much he doesn’t even know now.
We may have to adjust schedules and have earlier quiet time since Dad goes to bed earlier to get up to go to the gym and then work. No more late night dance parties on a Tuesday or snacks loudly prepared in the kitchen after bedtime.
We’ll have a family meeting to discuss how things were, how things are, and how things could and should be upon his return.
It’s a lot more work and effort than just showing off the new sofas and bathroom rugs, discussing how much taller the kids are, asking for help putting together the robot Christmas present.
We can’t and don’t want to just go back to the way things were before.
I hate the airport reunion.
I hate the waiting for the plane with anxious kids. I hate the witnesses, judging our affection. Is it right? Enough? Too much?
I hate standing aside in baggage claim while his commander and coworkers fawn over him and everyone ignores us.
We fake smiles and attempt to make small talk with people who don’t even know us as anything other than an issued accessory.
We get through it somehow and sit awkwardly for the car ride home from the airport.
The anticipation for the first few hours home seem bursting with embarrassment as there’s not much really to look forward to anymore.
There will be lots of unpacking, laundry, jet lag.
There’s no possible way he can catch up on months that he missed.
We’ll go through photos and by bits and pieces, he can develop memories of this time.
I got a scrapbook album last time he deployed and I think those are a great idea.
It’s confusing and maybe scary for young kids to welcome home a parent who seems so different from when he left, from their fond memory of him.
He’ll smell different. The cats and kids will surely notice. Months of eating poor quality food and being in the desert changes his familiar scent.
He may look different. His eyes might be shadowed with anything he may have seen over there. Months of loneliness without anything soft or caring takes its toll.
He may talk differently. He’s used to barking orders or talking to other service members. He’s almost forgotten what it’s like to speak in a tone appropriate for wife and kids.
Loud, sudden noises may be startling after months of listening to warfare.
It’s an adjustment for all of us to get used to each other again.
I need to communicate the changes that have occurred so he is up to speed and doesn’t feel too left out.
The kids and I have evolved and changed as a family, without him.
We have just grown. Physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually.
There is bound to be some friction when he doesn’t realize we’re not the same as we were last year when he left.
The transition he will go through will be hard with the kids’ confusion and struggle for us all to be respectful of his loss.
He will have to make a big effort to catch up on all he can so he can feel a part of our family again.
Everyone will have to be patient and understanding.
I will do what I can to gently remind him of favorites and preferences – dishes, colors, seating arrangements, the one child who dislikes black pepper on her scrambled eggs.
And also gentle reminders for all of us to speak kindly, carefully, and softly.
I’ve gone to bed whenever I’ve wanted, reading or watching shows, alone.
My schedule has revolved around the kids and our natural rhythms.
We will have to discover new rhythms, to include him in our lives again.
The kids will either want to overwhelm him by making up for all the lost time or ignore him completely because they learned to cope without him.
It will be very awkward at first, and maybe for a good long while as our schedules adjust.
Dinnertime will be different. I have to remember to make enough food, consider his preferences, and have it at an appropriate time for his schedule too.
The bed will suddenly get so much smaller, with two cats, my son who falls asleep as I read to him, and then – suddenly after a long absence – my husband. The cats are gonna be so mad. I’ll have to stay on my side again.
After the initial excitement of his return wears off, we have to make constant adjustments over the next few weeks.
We’ll get irritated with each other.
We can assume we’re just going to fall back into old patterns but that might not be best or desired. We may have forgotten each other’s bad habits during that rosy “heart grows fonder while he’s away” thing.
I’ll learn to rely on him again. I’ll ask him to take out the trash. I’ll expect him to help with the dishes and put his clothes in the laundry. I’ll want him to take the kids to events or accompany me.
We’ll try to slowly introduce him to our lives and interests. He will probably be exhausted from all the new information.
We need to take time to realize and decide who we want to be as a couple and family. We don’t necessarily want to fall into old patterns.
After a few weeks, we predict our lives will have improved due to this deployment as we all grew personally during this time apart.
He gets a little time off work to reintegrate and we all can take that time to get to know one another again.
There are mental health services for returning service members and their families who struggle with reintegration.