Service members and their parents look forward to visits home with great anticipation. Along with the excitement and happiness, what else should parents expect when their son or daughter returns home on a brief leave? Are there special things to consider if your son or daughter is returning home on leave from a war zone? The following information can help you answer those questions.
Making the most of a brief visit home
A service member's visit home is a happy time for most families. But you may also feel nervous and anxious about the homecoming. Here are some ways to prepare for and make the most of a home visit:
- Communicate about how your son or daughter wants to spend the time at home. Keep in mind that you will be sharing your young person's limited time with friends and other family members. Discuss plans and expectations - both yours and your service member's - ahead of time in phone calls, emails, or letters.
- Resist the temptation to plan too many activities. Try to be flexible about any advance plans you make with your son or daughter. It's normal for the returning service member to need space upon return.
- Expect things to be different. If it's the first visit since your daughter or son started basic training, you may notice some real differences. You're likely to see a more focused, disciplined, and perhaps more serious person than you knew before. Remember that young people's needs and priorities evolve as they make the transition to adulthood.
- Respect your service member's need for privacy. This doesn't mean that you should ignore warning signs that your son or daughter may be involved in risky behavior. But it's probably unrealistic for you to expect your son or daughter to want to share many details of his or her life.
What to expect on a Rest and Recuperation (R&R) visit during a deployment
It's normal to want to create the perfect homecoming for your service member's R&R leave, but try to give up any ideas you may have about homecoming and let things happen naturally. Here are some things to expect:
- R&R plans can change. It's not uncommon for the needs of the Service or the unit's mission to override R&R plans. An R&R might be cancelled unexpectedly or delayed for an unknown period of time. As you plan for or anticipate an upcoming R&R, keep in mind that plans can and do change.
- Try to have realistic expectations. You may have emotional ups and downs during your service member's stay at home. You may feel very happy being together again. You may also feel stressed or sad knowing that the leave is short and that your son or daughter will be leaving again, possibly to return to a combat area. Try to remember that anxiety is a natural and normal part of getting back together.
- The service member will need time to adjust and decompress. Your son or daughter may be getting over jet lag, need to catch up on missed sleep, or simply need time alone to get used to being home.
- Your son or daughter may not want to talk much about combat experiences. There may be things he or she is not allowed to talk about. Try to avoid prying or asking too many questions.
- Your service member may have a difficult time with loud noises or a lot of commotion. Try to maintain peace and calm at home as much as possible. Loud noises or commotion may unexpectedly trigger shock reactions or other painful emotions, especially if the person has just returned from a war zone.
- Your service member may experience stress-related symptoms. Traumatic events, such as combat, can trigger nightmares, flashbacks, and feelings of panic, anxiety, nervousness, or irritability. Help is available. Encourage your son or daughter to take advantage of the services and programs available. Free face-to-face non-medical counseling in your community (or the equivalent by phone or online) is also available to service members through the Military OneSource program. Call 1-800-342-9647.
A second goodbye
The hardest part of a home visit is knowing that the visit will end and that another goodbye is just around the corner. Here are some ways to make this time easier:
- Be aware that there is often tension in families before separations and goodbyes. This is normal. But the tension can also taint the joy of being together again. Try to focus on the here and now and the happiness that you're having together instead of the goodbyes to come.
- Encourage and support your son or daughter. Make a point of telling your service member how proud you are of his or her hard work, sacrifice, and achievements.
- Talk with other parents who have been through the same situation. They may have valuable suggestions about how to make the most of an R&R and how to handle the sadness of another goodbye.