You've probably seen the videos on your Facebook feed. If not there, in a commercial or on your favorite TV show.
The soldier walks into the room. His family surrounds him. He drops his bags, kisses his wife, and pulls his children close. They laugh. They cry. They hold each other tight. And they don't let go. It's over, and they made it.
They made it.
It's a moment of pure joy and thankfulness, no matter how many times you've lived it.
That, I can say for certain.
(Maybe you can, too.)
But despite the elation that fills our hearts when my husband returns, the transition back to a family together is not an easy one.
My husband's life "over there" is so compartmentalized and distinct from our life at home that he just wants to pick up where he left off.
Here, though, life continued. In the months we were apart, the boys and I made hundreds of tiny tweaks in routine, expectations, and agreements about what's allowed (and what's not), few of which seemed worthy of mention at the time. I mean, our youngest carrying his plate to the dinner table isn’t exactly riveting news, is it? And the extension of our older sons’ nightly reading time was less a decision, than it was an evolution.
This sort of change would happen naturally, even if my husband were home. Giving the boys more independence and responsibility as they grow makes sense. When my husband returns, though, it’s impossible for him to automatically know the new rules.
How could he, right? He’s been away for months!
We all know that, logically, but somehow, knowing it doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
The boys don't understand why he is saying "no," when for weeks, they haven't had to ask; they knew my answer would be "yes."
I become annoyed when, instead of the break I'd been anticipating, I find I'm actually needed more, both to answer questions and help sort out misunderstandings.
And for a hands-on father like my husband, realizing there are so many details he doesn't know is tough to handle. It can feel as if every minute he missed is being shoved in his face, all at once.
But even more challenging for us, I think, is letting go of the communication habits we picked up during his deployment.
While he was away, my husband often gave orders. In response, he received a verbal confirmation and saw an instant reaction to his command. It's a system that's absolutely essential in the military, but a far cry from the way we’ve chosen to parent our kids or interact with each other.
At home, I made countless decisions without needing to explain my thought process or get his consult. Waiting for his input wasn’t always an option, and phone time was far too precious to waste discussing things I could take care of myself. But continuing a habit that had become a necessity during his deployment turns my husband into a 5th wheel when he’s home.
And for months, I stuck to the headlines of our days – short emails he could read and respond to in his limited “free” time. Our phone conversations were brief and, more often than not, shared with the boys. As much as he loved hearing stories from home, on his end, he was unable to offer anything about his life there, other than what he ate for lunch and how much he missed us. It takes practice on both our parts to remember how to really talk to each other when he comes home, but sharing in the details is vital; it's what fuels our connection and makes our marriage ours.
I’ve learned over my years as military spouse that a seamless merge back into life together, after so much time apart, is impossible, no matter how much we love each other. (And we love each other a lot.)
This time is going to be no different. It's going to take a good bit of effort and weeks – maybe months – to come together again as the family we know that we are. And that’s okay. Because one day, in the middle of our morning routine, or at the start of our nightly bedtime ritual, I'll look at my husband and our boys, and I’ll realize, We're us again.
That’s when I’ll know this deployment is over.
That's when I'll know, we made it.
Has your family made it through a deployment?
What did you struggle with as you transitioned
back to a family together?
What helped you reconnect?
|E and W welcoming my husband home, many deployments ago.|