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Returning From Deployment: Helping Your Family Transition

Daughter at father’s retirement from Marine Corps

While reuniting with your family after a deployment is an exciting time, there are some things to keep in mind that can ease the transition for everyone. Knowing what to expect and being prepared can help you and your family navigate adjustments more easily.

Tips for preparing you and your spouse

Every deployment is different, especially when families are involved. Whether this is your first reunion or you’re a seasoned pro, remember to:

  • Encourage and accept mixed emotions. It’s OK if excitement isn’t your or your partner’s only emotion. Each of you may be nervous, worried or even concerned about what it will be like to have everyone home again. Accept and acknowledge that it’s perfectly OK for everyone to feel whatever they are feeling.
  • Set realistic expectations. Making plans for a grand reunion can sometimes be a recipe for disappointment if it sets up unrealistic expectations. Service members may be tired and jet lagged and need time to rest and regroup. Try to focus on just being together again and give everyone time to get settled.
  • Be patient with your partner, your children and yourself. Sometimes it can take weeks or even months to find a new normal. Try to give everyone the time and space they need to adjust.
  • Don’t bottle up feelings. Even though it’s important to be patient during the adjustment period, it’s also important not to suppress feelings. Try to keep lines of communication open. If you are having trouble talking to each other, find a trusted confidante — whether it’s a friend, close family member or counselor. Learn more about resources for reconnecting and building healthy relationships.
  • Focus on the positive. Time apart can cause changes. Children grow, and responsibilities and routines can change people and relationships. Try to notice and appreciate changes instead of being critical. Be grateful to each other for managing the demanding jobs you each had while you were apart. Try to focus on creating a new normal for your family rather than striving to return to your old way of life. Do your best to be flexible and open to change as you both adapt.
  • Lean on your support network. Reach out if you need assistance — to family, friends or other professionals. Learn more about Military OneSource relationship support for military couples.

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:

  • Plan for reconnection. Try to plan reconnection activities ahead of time that allow the returning parent to spend time with each child. Talk to your child(ren) about what schoolwork or new skills to show the returning parent, and then maybe plan some activities for the entire family.
  • Tread lightly upon your return. The returning parent can help make reunion smoother for the family by staying close to home in the days and weeks after arrival. Be careful about implementing big changes shortly after you return. Maintaining normal routines as much as possible can help give children a sense of stability during times of transition.
  • Discuss the “new normal.” If household routines 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. Letting children know what to expect can help make the transition smoother.
  • Ease back into roles and routines. If you’re the parent who remained home, don’t immediately dump chores and responsibilities on your returning partner. Allow your returning partner to gradually get involved with meals, bedtime routines, play and discipline. If you’re the returning partner, try to be open to new routines and other things that might have changed while you were away. Talk to children about changes and congratulate them for taking on new responsibilities.
  • Watch for signs of stress. Children tend to show stress differently than adults. Anticipate that your children may react to your return by challenging your authority. If you start to notice more misbehavior, nightmares or changes in eating, sleeping or school habits, your child may need help readjusting. Offer as much support as you can, talk to your pediatrician and reach out to your installation for assistance. Your local Military and Family Support Center offers military and family life counseling at no cost to you, and school liaisons are available to help children with education-related issues and more.

Tips for your parents and extended family

  • Know that your parents may have been following your deployment very closely. Thank them for supporting you and your family while you were gone.
  • Work with your partner ahead of time to include your extended family in reunion activities. If you start to feel overwhelmed, communicate that you need some downtime.
  • Realize that your family may never fully understand what you went through on deployment and that’s okay. Understand they love you and want you to be yourself even if it means they have to get to know a new you.

Tips for your friends

  • Expect that your friends will want to hear about your adventures, but give yourself time and space if you’re not quite ready to jump back into your old social life. You may be feeling as though you’ve lived a whole lifetime since you’ve been gone — and your friends have probably changed some too. Allow time to reconnect and get to know each other again.

Preparation, patience and a little effort can help you, your family and friends successfully navigate reunion and reintegration after deployment. If you have questions or need support, reach out to your installation Military and Family Support Center. Military OneSource consultants are also available 24/7 to connect you with the resources you need to thrive. Call 800-342-9647, use OCONUS calling options or start a live chat.

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