Without a doubt, deployments are hard. But for our family, it is reintegration once our soldier is home that the hard work starts. After they march in, speeches are made and the band has played, we have to go home and learn to work together again.
Homecomings are like weddings. There’s fanfare, so much planning and anticipation. It’s awesome while it lasts. And then you’re standing there, looking at each other, wondering exactly where we go from here.
Ok, well, we know physically where you go (*snicker*). But the days, weeks, even months following homecoming can be just as challenging as the deployment or separation was.
Why is reintegration hard?
It makes sense that deployment is hard. Your loved one is away with the military, doing potentially dangerous things, maybe in a combat zone. You expect it to be hard. Other people expect it to be hard.
But reintegration? That’s a happy thing.
“Aren’t you do happy he’s home?”
Of course we’re happy he’s home. But being happy/releived/able to breathe again doens’t smooth over all of the getting-reacquainted awkwardness. He’s adjusting to being able to go to the bathroom at night wihtout putting on shoes and learning to curb the swearing in front of our sponge of a 7 year old. I’m getting irritated because he can’t remember where even the smallest things are. Our son is remembering that Mom & Dad have slightly different tolerance levels for different things around the house.
With reintegration, all of those deployment emotions are focused onto each other. The frustration from figuring out how to handle car trouble without my car savvy spouse. His worry when he couldn’t help with things going wrong back home. Our relief at the deployment’s end can turn into disappointment when things don’t go as smoothly as we hope. The rollercoaster doesn’t end with reintegration – it simply turns down a different track.
Making A Reintegration Plan
After 12 years and multiple deployments, we’ve ironed out a strategy. It’s not fool proof and there are still rough spots – but it offers a place to come back to
Before my husband comes home, I type up a daily and weekly outline for all the things that my son and I consistently do as part of our routine. This includes everything from trash day to walking the dogs to Friday spellings and bed time routines. Inevitably, these things have changed while he’s been gone. Our son has grown, is playing different sports and at least once we moved. Without that outline, he feels like an outsider, left behind while he serves overseas.
To back that up, I keep a dry erase board on our fridge with the daily schedule and a calendar in the kitchen with that month’s activities. Having all of that information front and center, and consistently there whatever home we’re in, helps my husband to get back into the home routine.
Before homecoming, we choose a couple things to do as a family. These are always get moving activities that don’t require a whole lot of talking. Getting out of the hosue and doing something together is the best way to bridge that awkwardness that sometimes happen when they first get home, when their head is still partially down range. We do the same for my husband and I – nothing romantic, opting instead to get moving to ease back into being together. Rock climbing at a gym was one of our better ideas – we were together, encouraging each other but not in a way that could be competitive because we were doing different tracks at a rock climbing gym Having something to look forward to, to focus on other than each other, can smooth the way over the initial reintegration bumps.
Before he leaves, I fight the urge to cling as he starts to mentally distance himself from life here at home. Part of my wants to shake him, shock him into staying right here with me until the last possible moment. In a similar way, when he comes he dives back into our family, full of ideas to do things around the house or trips to take or new things to try while I hold onto that independence that got me through months without him
As part of reintegration, we have to build space for each of us to adjust. I plan for tme riding my horse, sometimes going to a horse show or clinic. I need to hold on to a little bit of that me time. Its easier to have something scheduled instead of telling my just-returned husband that I need space. Having that time scheduled avoids hurt feelings while respecting that need.
There is no reintegration timeline
Our first deployment was early enough in this conflict that there were no real family programs to prepare for reintegration and we muddled through. Towards the end of our second, we had a very detailed briefing that outlined a 90 or so day cycle that the returning service member was expected to go through. There were suggestions about delaying visits to/from family for a couple weeks, not making major life decisions like buying a home or car and resources for kids. The unvoiced implication was that the end of this 90 day cycle would be a return to our normal life.
Except it doesn’t happen like that. Every service member and each deployment is different. Some transitions are relatively smooth and others remain on uncertain footing long past that 90 day window. Ironically, it was that 2nd deployment that left the deepest scars on our family. It would be close to three years before I looked around felt that things were really back on an even keel.
Make plans, but make them in pencil knowing that your family will need the flexibility to adjust. GIve yourself the time, and the grace, to regularly take an emotional knee and evaluate how things are going. More than anything else, reintegration is a time to offer ourselves and our loved ones an extra dose of understanding
Here’s the bottom line:
There is no timeline or normal way to get through reintegration. You & your service member will create a new normal – with time, communication, and a generous dose of patience.
Have you run into reintegration blues? What strategies helped your family get back in a good routine?