As the countdown slowly ticks away to homecoming, there’s the standard preparation you would expect.
For some reason, the perfect outfit seems to be at the top of the list. Over the years, and after attending over 50 homecomings, I’ve seen some pretty epic outfits but the one that takes the cake is the spouse who dressed in an inflatable T-rex costume. (That was one I didn’t see personally, but Google can help you witness it.) Besides the outfit, there’s the signs, the kids’ outfits (if applicable), getting the house cleaned up, etc.
There’s a much, much bigger piece to this event that sometimes is not only forgotten, but can cause major conflicts.
For us, this is deployment number four—two in Iraq, three in Afghanistan, one was spent split between the two. Although we have done this a few times, each time is different. Two of those we didn’t have kids and we were dual military and two of those we did have kids. During each one, both of us changed, even though we didn’t realize it.
After having gone through the warm and fuzzy homecomings that everyone sees on TV, we dig in and brace for the reintegration.
In an effort to make your homecoming a little smoother, here’s what I have learned not only from personal experience within my own home, but experience as a rear detachment First Sergeant, an FRG leader, and an Army Family Team Building (AFTB) trainer.
Before the homecoming:
- Talk to your service member about changes that have taken place, such as activities you may be involved in that you weren’t before they left. It could also be hobbies, sports, getting a job, or going to school.
- Schedule activities that you would like them to be involved in. Your child may have started playing soccer and it’s important to them that their soldier is a part of that when they get back. This gives them a chance to be ready for that expectation.
- Don’t set your expectations too high—this carries through every step of the homecoming. Don’t expect to get everything you had planned to get accomplished done. Give yourself a break or you will be stressed out and if you’re like me, caking on the concealer to hide those dreaded zits.
- Let them know your routine. This may seem insignificant, but the more that can be somewhat absorbed ahead of time, the easier their arrival back will be.
- Look at other possible sources of conflict or just simply something to take care of that will alleviate a little stress for both of you. I need to clean out (or complete) my current “projects” that are filling a decent amount of the garage. My husband also doesn’t normally let our kids eat in his truck, but I have been, given the need to drive it. So having it detailed before he gets home is on the to-do list.
- If you have kids, discuss the need for flexibility as your soldier transitions back and look into resources geared directly towards that topic.
- Learn who will be contacting you with the information for homecoming information; the best source would be to get in touch with your family group leader.
- Be prepared for the homecoming to not take place at the original time you were given, or the second time, or probably the third, fourth, or fifth. Flexibility is key here. This is also something to consider when selecting outfits and other preparations.
- The outfit—While three-inch heels might complete your outfit and help you reach your service member better, they will not do you any good if you face plant as you are coming out of the bleachers. Additionally, if the ceremony is held inside, the floors are generally slick and outside it’s going to be on a field where you may be more effective at aerating the lawn than getting to your other half.
- Bring something to drink and snack on. Especially if the time changes, you may be sitting at the homecoming site for hours. There have also been situations where bad weather came in, so the families had to take shelter at the homecoming location for a couple of hours.
- Entertainment for your kids—we all know how quickly boredom sets in.
- Be prepared for changes – Whether in the way they handle themselves, attitude, or maybe a little bit different language. Some don’t show the signs of these changes until a little while after they get back.
- Be patient – For the last “X” months, they have carried a weapon with them on a daily basis. When it comes time to leave to go somewhere, they are going to feel like they are missing something and, most times, not be able to place what it is. We’ve been late a few times because of this.
- Habits – There’s a good possibility that you both picked up habits during the deployment, some good, some bad. Before something drives you to the point of going crazy, mention it. They may not realize they are doing it. And be open if they mention something you are doing.
- Changes in the house – Right now, our furniture is sitting in a different way than it was when my husband left. The setup just seemed to open up the room better. I need to be realistic though and be understanding if I come home one day and he’s moved the furniture back because that’s how it was when he left. It’s a matter of finding a compromise.
- Personal space – While we are happy to have them home, for the last “X” months we have had our own schedule, our own routine, and our own personal space. Now there’s someone in it. Don’t get me wrong, I always look forward to my husband coming home, but I also know that it’s going to take me a little while to get used to not having the “me” time after the boys go to bed to read or sew or watch Mysteries at the Museum (which he is highly not fond of).
- Routines and schedules – It’s important with such a big change to keep other smaller details intact. This is very important when there are kids involved. If you have a set nightly routine of dinner, bath, story, then bed, you need to let your spouse know that. To keep routines like that in line will help both the service member start feeling more integrated, and help the kids with that normalcy.
- Lashing out, degrading, excessive drinking – This is VERY IMPORTANT!! If they return and there are significant issues including violence, substance abuse, excessive drinking, etc., it is not something to just write off because they were deployed. Please help them get help! Trust me on this. I’ve seen careers go down the drain and people get hurt because they’ve tried to take care of themselves and then ended up much worse off.