Helping Family Transition After Deployment

Returning From Deployment: Helping Your Family Transition

Armed with the right information and understanding, reuniting with your family after a deployment can go more smoothly for everyone. Educate yourself on what to expect upon reintegration, and be patient with yourself, your spouse and your kids. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Follow these eight tips to ease your adjustment.

Tips for preparing your children

Children can often have mixed emotions about a deployed parent's return. You can make the transition smoother for them if you follow these tips:

  • Talk it out. Your children will probably have many questions, especially if this is your family's first reunion. Try to be patient and listen carefully to their concerns. As you explain the situation, make sure you are respectful of your children's feelings and give them space to express their emotions.
  • Watch for signs of stress. Children tend to show stress differently than adults. If you start to notice more misbehavior, nightmares, or changes in eating and sleeping habits, your child may be trying to tell you something. Offer as much support as you can and consider talking to your pediatrician if the problem persists. Military and Family Support Centers are found on most military installations and Military Kids Connect is an online site that helps children and teens communicate and cope with deployment issues.
  • Discuss the "new normal." If your household routine or rules have changed considerably while the deployed parent was away, take steps to prepare your child for how the day-to-day schedule may shift now that mom or dad is home. Providing a heads-up for what to expect can help make the transition a bit smoother as your child adapts.
  • Plan for reconnection. Prepare both your spouse and child for a potential adjustment period by planning reconnection activities ahead of time. Talk to your child about what schoolwork or new skills to show the returning parent, and suggest a special activity or outing to your spouse for the entire family.

Tips for preparing your spouse

Chances are, you and your spouse both grown and changed during your time apart, and it's normal to have some growing pains. Here's how you can help your spouse with the transition:

  • Encourage your spouse to accept mixed emotions. It's OK if excitement isn't her or his only emotion. Your spouse may also be nervous, worried or even concerned about what it will be like to have you home. Accept and acknowledge that the way she or he feels is perfectly ok.
  • Be realistic. Building your reunion up in your head may just be a recipe for disappointment. While it’s certainly OK to daydream, don't let unrealistic expectations get in the way of reality.
  • Recognize the changes. Regardless of your situation, the basic passing of time means that things aren't likely to be exactly the same as they were pre-deployment. Focus on creating that new normal for your family rather than striving to return to your old way of life. Keep in mind that it may take a few weeks to work out your new balance of household roles and responsibilities with your spouse. Do your best to be flexible and open to change as you both adapt.
  • Don't bottle up your feelings. Even though it's important to be patient during the adjustment period, it's important for your spouse to avoid suppressing her or his feelings. Encourage your spouse to find a trusted confidante — whether it's a friend, close family member or counselor.

With patience, time, and a little effort, you will become a tight couple and family again. Be accepting of yourself and your family members as all of you navigate the reunion transition. Reach out for confidential information and support through Military OneSource if you need it.