Barracks to Backyard
Jul 15, 2009

A very wise woman once said, “Homecoming isn’t all balloons and parties.” How right she was, but that’s where it begins. Many military families struggle with both the joys and challenges of the reintegration process. During a tour of duty things changed… as they had to. Now, as a family together again, it’s time to adjust to those changes, find your “new normal” and settle back into your life together. You may feel nervous about acclimating back to the stresses of home, family (“will they still need me?”) and even chores like laundry and lawn care. Family members who have handled the homefront may also be anxious about the job they’ve done, their finances, childcare, and much more. Even the dog may seem stressed out! Here are some tried-and-true ways to transition smoothly so everyone involved can relax and enjoy being back together again.

Keep lines of communication open throughout the entire deployment. Even though you are going home soon, that doesn’t mean you should stop communicating with family. Keep writing to each other on a regular basis and don’t forget the phone calls too. It’s important to keep the lines of communication as open as possible and to keep nurturing the relationship, even if you plan to see each other in just a few weeks.

Record the homecoming ceremony. There is nothing like the energy you will feel in that gymnasium, hangar or ­airfield as you walk through that door. If possible, arrange to have a photographer at the ceremony to record the moment... someone who knows you, but doesn’t feel the need to participate in the hugging, such as a co-worker or a neighbour. Let them just “hang back” and photograph the event as it happens. That will allow you to focus on your family and also be in the photos.
Have realistic expectations. There is no quicker path to hurt feelings than to expect that family will want to do everything exactly as you have planned. Involve each other in decisions so there are no surprises. Parents: please don’t be too disappointed if your returning son or daughter isn’t at your house all the time, or even as much as you think they should be. You missed them more than you can say, but know that even though they are your children, they are also grown adults.

Be protective body armour. In the beginning, your family can act as a buffer between you and the outside world. You may not feel like entertaining extended family members or dealing with nosey neighbours. Take some time to adjust while your close family runs interference. You may occasionally need a break even from your own children. Understanding friends and family that can help enable such a break will see you back in the swing of things sooner.

Spend time together … but take time apart as well. Moderation is the key. At first you won’t want to let each other out of your sight, and that’s wonderful. However, you may soon realize you miss your alone time. Take a break when you need one and allow your partner to do the same. Neither one of you is accustomed to spending every waking moment together, so respect each other’s need for time to read, exercise or sleep!

Work together on resuming home roles… or not. Military members conduct what they call a “left seat, right seat” ride with their incoming counterpart as they prepare to depart the theatre of operations and redeploy home. This allows a specific amount of time for the outgoing person to show the incoming person what is expected of him in this particular job. Then the roles are reversed, and while the outgoing person is still in theatre, the incoming person starts to conduct business as if she was now in charge. This allows time for questions to be asked while the outgoing person is still available.

Your family can adopt a similar scenario at home. Instead of taking back all the responsibilities you had prior to the deployment, it might be useful to establish a timeline for the switchback. Resuming chores such as finances, housework, auto maintenance and so forth, in smaller doses will be a more comfortable way to return to the normal routine or allow for some change. By being patient and communicating with each other, you can create a system that works and makes things run very smoothly. This method works especially well with disciplining the children.

Utilize resources.  Just because you are home doesn’t mean your  ombudsmen or family assistance center has disappeared. Of course, some may be focusing on their own reunions but they are still there to ­provide help, guidance and reassurance. Don’t be afraid to make contact if needed.
Remember your friends. The at-home support buddies will be experiencing the same  feelings throughout the reunion and reintegration process. Do not sever these ties. They will want to stay in touch, whether it’s to talk, laugh or even cry. The sense of normalcy gained by being their buddy during deployment will carry over during the reintegration phase.

Take a long-term approach to reintegration. Things might be rocky at first but over time your family life will be normal again… just a “new” normal.

Remember, time frames are different for everyone, so don’t judge your own reintegration process by how others are doing. Go slowly, and take it one day at a time.

Remember, while the reunion ceremony is all about the balloons and parties, life goes on quickly after that. Change has happened on all  sides. Treat reintegration as a process that will require acceptance, change, compromise, flexibility, tears, and especially laughter. Enjoy the journey together. The Road Home may not always be a smooth one, but together you can make it through.  
Elaine Dumler is an author, speaker and “separations expert” who helps military families stay connected throughout the deployment process. Through her current book, “I’m Already Home…Again,” and her newest release “The Road Home,” she provides resources and connection strategies for deployments and reunions, and shows how communities and companies can help. For more information on her books, or to find out about sponsorships and training, call 303-430-0592 or visit this web site.
© FrontLine Defence Magazine 2009