From the time a service member learns that they're going home, there is nothing more important than that military homecoming. Anticipation mounts, as their head fills with scenes of friends and family welcoming them back home. All they can think about is settling back into the good life: the hugs, the kisses, the smiles, and the dog jumping all over them as they open the front door.

But a military homecoming isn’t always as easy as it sounds. I have been both an active duty military member as well as a dependent spouse. I have been on both sides of the military homecoming. My first one was not so easy, and my stress level was up for a while. Not because anyone was thoughtless about my return, but because they thought about it too much. They tried to cram too much into too short a time, and I was overwhelmed. Sometimes we think about what seems like the right thing to do, but not about how it impacts the returning spouse.

Readjustment is a process. It's something that has to happen naturally. It can't be forced or even predicted. It may take time to adjust to being home and to have your loved one back. Everyone involved will have to adjust, consider the others involved, and, above all, be patient.

Managing Expectations for a Military Homecoming

We have compiled some tips and suggestions on dealing with a military homecoming that could make the transition more stress-free for everyone concerned. With over 20 years of service, my spouse and I have enjoyed many military homecoming experiences -- some for ourselves, as well as others involving our close friends. We have seen what makes the transition easier and what can make it more difficult.

While we aren't clinical psychiatrists or family counselors, we have both had experience with family reunions. Both professionally and on a volunteer basis, we have worked with military family groups and organizations. Most of all, we've seen first-hand what usually works well and what tends to trigger problems. We present here some of the most common mistakes and ways to prevent extra anxiety while acclimating to a military homecoming.

Military Homecoming Tips

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Your first impulse may be to immediately work “the tour” of reconnecting with friends and relatives. You may have planned a homecoming party. Some people even stop and visit relatives on the way home from the airport! It's natural to want to reconnect with your family and friends. There is nothing wrong with that. However, please remember that the first few days will be the most uneasy for everyone at home, even the dog.

1. Keep your options open

2. Show interest

3. Show affection

4. Don’t accidentally be overcritical

5. Avoid misconceptions

6. Avoid overindulgence

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Give Your Military Homecoming Plenty of Time and Space

Whether you're a service member returning home or a dependent family member trying to readjust, perhaps the most crucial factor in any military homecoming is giving everyone time to adjust. Your service member needs time to readjust to being back home. Try not to over-burden them with family visits every day or lots of running around on the first week. Also, try not to expect them to just snap back into their old routine. In my case, what took the longest to adjust to after my military homecoming was home-cooked American food.

Welcome Home

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Keep in mind that adjusting to a military homecoming can be stressful for all members of the family. During this process, it's important to allow yourself and your family time to settle in. Make sure they still have plenty of personal space. Under most circumstances, things will get back to normal quickly.

It doesn't always go smoothly, however. Occasionally, a family member develops loss of appetite, prolonged sadness, sleeping difficulty, or other problems adjusting. Should anyone in your family show signs of a negative reaction to the reunion, there are many resources to turn to for assistance. You can utilize the nearest military facility for help. The Family Support Center, Chaplain's Office, and other family organizations are there to help. They have dealt with these issues before and are well-trained in helping you solve them. If more intensive assistance is required, contact your branch's mental health clinic for support; the Family Advocacy Program can also be of service. They will not judge you or place blame. They are there for just this reason -- sometimes, it's hard to adjust after a military homecoming.

Welcome home and thank you for yours and your family's service.

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