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Reintegrating into Family Life After Deployment
Returning Home from Deployment
Now that you've been home a few weeks, the joyful reunion is over and the rush of excitement has begun to fade. The flags have been put away and the welcoming ceremonies and celebrations with friends are over. Although returning home after deployment is often a time of incredible happiness, the transition back to your life at home can be difficult and stressful. This stress is a common reaction to situations faced by members of the military. Here are some tips to help you reintegrate into family life1:
Don't Forget To Take Time for Yourself
- Be patient. The process of reintegration and stabilization can take several months as you rebuild your relationships.
- Take care of yourself. Manage your stress as much as possible; eat a healthy diet and exercise.
- Make time to rest. Negotiate the number of social events you and your family attend.
- Limit your use of alcohol. If you choose to drink, ease back into a responsible pattern that doesn't interfere with the process of renewing important relationships. Avoid using alcohol as a crutch if you're having problems since this doesn't make the problems go away, and can actually make them worse.
- Go slowly in getting back into the swing of things. Depend on family, your unit and friends for support.
- Watch your spending. It's tempting to celebrate your return with dinners out or special gifts, but it's important to stay within your budget and continue to save for the future.
- Know when to seek help. If you, your spouse or other family members are feeling signs of stress, physical or emotional, it's important to seek expert help, the earlier the better. Your military service Family Support Center on the installation offers groups, classes and counseling for a variety of issues.
Reconnecting with your Spouse/Significant Other
- Understand that it's normal to feel out of sync with your spouse at first. Both of you have grown and changed during the separation. It takes time to reconnect. Be patient and be flexible.
- Spend time talking with each other. Make your partner your priority. Time spent with your partner is an investment in your future.
- Ease back into intimacy. It's not easy to regain physical and emotional closeness after stressful situations.
- Listen to your partner's experience. Learn how he or she has been living while you were gone. Let go of your expectations of how your partner should have behaved while you were away and accept reality.
- Rebuild a routine. Your partner has developed a way of life while you were gone. Learn his or her routine and build a new routine together.
- Celebrate! Your partner ran a tough marathon of stress, anxiety and loneliness while you were gone, and managed and succeeded with a lot of responsibilities. Celebrate these victories and let your partner know you are proud of him or her.
- Work to resolve conflict. Yes, you will have disagreements. That is normal. Work the conflicts through to a healthy resolution.
- Get help if you need it. Attend a Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program marriage enrichment weekend if you are married. The program teaches couples effective communication skills and successful problem resolution strategies, and reveals how to discover the hidden issues in a relationship.
Reconnecting with your Children
- Learn all you can about your children's lives while you were gone. Let them share pictures, crafts, stories and memories.
- Be patient with your children and yourself. You can't make up the time missed overnight. It will take time for your children to reconnect with you, trust you and bond again with you.
- Expect your children to test the rules now that both parents are home. Set aside time with your spouse to come up with an approach you both agree on.
- Make time in your schedule for family activities. Include one-on-one time with each of your children.
- Negotiate your role as a parent. While you were gone, your spouse or your child's guardian set the pace as a parent. You can't take over all at once. Work your way back into the parent role one step at a time. Respect what was done while you were gone.
- Remember this is your child, not a member of the military. Learn the developmental stage your child is in and use age-appropriate parenting techniques. One size doesn't fit all. Some ideal resources include:
- The "So Far" Guide for Helping Children and Youth Cope with the Deployment and Return of a Parent in the National Guard and Other Reserve Components [PDF 7.93MB]
- Talk, Listen, Connect, Sesame Street publication; A Special Magazine for Parents and Caregivers [PDF 3.40MB]
- These guides provide age-appropriate parenting suggestions and tips for service members and spouses:
- Accept guidance from your spouse or your child's guardian. Your most recent job has been as a member of the military. You need some retraining. Listen to the person with the most experience with your child.
Reconnecting with Your Parents
- Be patient with your parents. They want to reconnect with you, but may not know how.
- Negotiate new roles/responsibilities. Your parents may want you to be the way you were before you left and you probably don't feel the same. Let them know, up front and patiently, the new relationship you want to have with them. Help them define new boundaries and new ways to relate to you.
- Share with them what is appropriate. Try not to shut your parents out of your life. Share what you can with them about your combat duty. Let them know your plans and your whereabouts.
- If you have younger siblings, be respectful of your parents' rules for them and be aware that you are a role model for your siblings. Remember, your military "language" may not be appropriate for your siblings.
- Celebrate! Realize your parents sacrificed a lot while you were gone. They worried about you and supported you. Celebrate their accomplishments and thank them for their support.
- Anticipate that your parents may want to celebrate your return and reconnect you with your relatives and their friends. This may be overwhelming for you. Make your parents aware of what you are comfortable with and negotiate with them regarding their intentions for you.2
- Post Deployment Resources for Service Members
- Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program
- Military Deployment and Family Reintegration
1"Returning to Family Life After Deployment," Military OneSource. Last accessed April 25, 2014.
2"Beyond The Yellow Ribbon": Bringing Soldiers and Their Families All The Way Home," Minnesota National Guard. Last accessed April 25, 2014.