At one of our SpouseBUZZ LIVE events, an audience member stood up to tell us the following story: when her husband returned from deployment, his family offered to come down to welcome him home with her. She was perfectly fine with that. What threw her for an absolute loop was when her father-in-law asked if they'd like to share a hotel room to save money.
This is an issue that comes up an almost every Live event, and with unfailing frequency in the comments here on the blog. For the most part, it's merely crossed communication wires; in the years that I've spent as a military spouse meeting military moms and dads, the vast majority of them want only what's best for their service-members (although there are those who seem out to cause trouble), and the vast majority of wives/husbands understand the feelings parents have been going through and need closure for. But let's face it, homecoming is fraught with pitfalls for everyone; which brings us to this letter from J in our mailbag:
Help! My soldier comes home within the week and will be released in 2 weeks. I don't know what to do about the in-laws...they'll be there the night prior to the release AND the ceremony (which isn't a big deal). They then plan to take him out to dinner and have asked us to stay at their home. I'm ready to tear my hair out because the really don't get it. And if I say anything it will undoubtedly come out wrong. I almost want to stay home and wait for him to arrive (300 miles away) so we can have our long anticipated 'moment'. I've worked too hard for this and the light at the end of the tunnel is now clouded...I hate being like this :(Oh dear. I say "Oh, Dear," because it seems like everyone here has only the best of intentions. The spouse isn't bothered by the parents being there for the release and the ceremony, and the parents are being all-inclusive (if you've ever read about my angry mother-in-law, you know that isn't always the case). The returning service-member is coming back from a war zone, and everyone wants to be able to take that deep breath and know without a doubt that they are okay. Unfortunately, the service-member is a finite resource, and homecoming can only be multi-tasked to a certain point.
Further complicating everything is the fact that emotions are running high and even the smallest points can cause family rifts that take forever to heal and are still being brought up at Christmas Dinner 20 years later as the gravy boat is being passed.
And of course, since this is really an unpleasant discussion for such an amazingly happy event, no one wants to lay out the rules ahead of time. You would think with all the ridiculous reams of paperwork that our loved ones fill out before they leave, there would be something like this included, but not usually - no. There's nothing called "Final Directive on Homecoming Procedures," although there probably should be. We have to approach it gently from both sides, and discuss the options.
First: If you have enough time before homecoming, discuss the situation with the service-member first. It may be that their idea of what would be great for homecoming is vastly different from what everyone else is planning. Get an idea of what their expectations are. Depending on the relationships of everyone involved, the service-member might have to be the pro-active one who informs one person or another about preferences. I know that my mother-in-law won't agree with me if I say grass is green, my husband has to let her know what his preferences are personally.
Second: Talk respectfully and politely with the other side involved, whether they are parents, siblings, or spouses. It might be tremendously difficult, and you might need to keep from responding to some things that seem very inflammatory (note: name-calling is never okay. Neither is biting - FYI to my mother-in-law). However, it might be as simple as saying, "I'd love to have you at the homecoming ceremony with us, but then my service-member and I need some time alone to talk and act like married people. We haven't had that for months. We'd be happy to meet you for breakfast the next morning, but we need that night together."
Third: Find a place to safely vent. It's a guarantee in the military life that things won't go as planned. The last time we thought we were moving to the UK, we ended up in New Jersey. Things happen. You don't want to cause an epic family rift the size of Charlie Sheen's ego by screaming out your frustration in the wrong place. Our service-members have battle-buddies to help them through, and battle-buddies are just as indispensable for spouses. Military spouses in particular know what we are going through and have suggestions to help, they know how to listen, and know when to tell us we've cried enough - it's time to put the Big Girl Panties on. And besides, you might feel the need to say that Auntie Mildred has gone too far and you'd like nothing better than to secretly replace her hair spray with doe urine, but Auntie Mildred probably doesn't need to hear that. Unless you really mean it, and aren't just venting - then it might be best if someone gives her a heads up.
So J, I hope that helps at least a little! All homecomings are different, and what works once might not work twice. Things may not be what we envisioned at first, but the best we can do is to keep moving forward. And, once in a while, to stop for some wine and chocolate along the way. Maybe even with the in-laws...