Your family has endured weeks or months of separation due to training, a temporary duty assignment (TDY) or a hardship tour. Reunion is just around the corner, and, while you cannot wait to have everyone together again, questions lurk about the new balance of control and leadership between spouses. No matter which spouse has been away, both will need to make adjustments in order to ease the transition from independent individuals to a cohesive marital unit once again.
Know What to Expect
As you begin to navigate the “new normal” of your household, recognize where each spouse is coming from. Here’s what to expect:
- The service member needs to know that your family needs him or her, since the family managed for a long time on their own. Assure the service member of his or her vital place in the family.
- The service member will wonder how he or she still fits into the family. The children may go to the parent who has been home for everything and ignore the other.
- The service member may feel hurt if children hold back from him or her. Talk about the best way to approach young children.
- The service member may want to step right back in to handle all of the family’s responsibilities. Talk about how to best divide family duties, and give the transition time to develop.
- It will be hard for the hero at home to give up sole control of the family to share it with the returning soldier.
- The service member may not notice some of the adjustments the family needs to make because he or she is home again.
- The spouse at home will be more independent than before deployment.
- The spouse at home will have new skills gained during the deployment.
Take it Slow
When it’s time to renegotiate household duties, a revised budget plan, etc., first allow time for the service member to adjust to life back home. A few things to keep in mind:
- Eliminate as much stress as possible during the first few days. Make meals ahead or have friends bring food in. You’ll both be more at ease if the house and yard are in order for the reunion. See if you can get some extra help with the kids in that first week home to carve out more time for just the two of you.
- Take time to talk. Communicate about the changes that have taken place in each other, with the kids and in the home. What were your decision-making roles before and during deployment? How do you expect it to change now? Did the spouse at home change his/her childrearing philosophy or habits? How?
- Avoid making a long to-do list right away. You can’t make up for lost time, so move forward at a reasonable pace.
“Once they come home, transfer responsibilities one at a time,” says Army wife Christine Chomos, currently stationed near Ft. Knox, Kentucky. “They have so few choices when deployed, my husband found it hard to decide on things right away. It is important to take it slow for everyone’s sake, especially the kids.”
- Make changes slowly. Don’t be too quick to take over or give up a responsibility. Take time to understand how your family or the circumstances have changed since you were last together. Make changes gradually.
“When Dad comes home, he spends a lot of time watching what I’m doing and our routine, and tries to blend in with what’s already happening,” says Army wife Cathy Hicks of Ft. Richardson, Alaska. “If he sees any changes that need to be made, he waits a few days before we start implementing them. That way, the boys’ lives aren’t shaken up all at once, and he can get a feel for what works and what doesn’t.”
Support Each Other
As parents’ roles and the balance of leadership shift, remember that you are all on the same team. Support each other:
- Communicate appreciation. The service member should look for and comment on positive changes in the family and household. Tell them you are proud of them and appreciate their extra work while you were away.
- Don’t allow kids to pit you against each other. If your children come to you (service member) first, try to find out how things were done while you were gone before you respond to their requests, so you don’t contradict your spouse.
- View changes in each spouse positively. For example, wives who care for the home during a deployment are often much more independent than they were before the separation. When husbands return, wives often feel torn between enjoying their competence and the need to restore their husbands to their former role at home. There is no need for a husband to be threatened by his wife’s new sense of leadership. Appreciate her growth while sorting out how you will share the household responsibilities.
- Make it official. If you had a family “Change of Command” ceremony before Dad left, as Carol Vandesteeg suggests in When Duty Calls, have another one now. This can help sort out the family responsibilities and begin the shift to make the deployed spouse part of the daily activities again. Children can help list responsibilities, plan the event and organize a fun reception for after the ceremony.
- Commit to spiritual leadership. No matter which parent was deployed, now is a good time for the father to continue — or begin — to lead family devotions and provide spiritual guidance. Remember that you cannot impart to your children and family what you do not possess yourself. Read good books, spend time with God and surround yourself with positive influences.