“Everything is different.”
That’s what my neighbor told me a couple of weeks ago after I welcomed him home from an 8-month deployment. I don’t know him very well, but when I stopped to say "hello" on the street as he helped his young daughter ride her scooter, my heart when out to him. The poor man looked completely lost.
The next day, he confided even more in my husband. “My wife treats me like a child,” he said. “I feel like I’m just in the way.”
When my husband replayed the conversation, I couldn’t help but wonder how his wife could treat him that way. Why, after 8 months of missing each other, wouldn’t she do everything in her power to reacquaint him to the daily routines he was no longer accustomed to, to make him feel like a part of the family again, to include him rather than making him feel like an outsider invading on her turf?
But I knew why. Because I’d been there before. And I know that reintegration is way more complicated than sharing a romantic kiss and then automatically resuming all that was once normal.
When our husbands are gone for extended periods of time, we military spouses have no choice but to move on with our lives. We create new routines. We form new patterns of behavior. We figure out how to get through the day-to-day on our own. We don’t do these things because we want to, because we’d like to live without our husbands. No, we do these things because we have to, because life doesn’t stop for a deployment.
But in a way, life at home does stop for our husbands during deployments. In their eyes, the baby they left behind is still a baby, not the walking toddler he grew into. The house is still decorated for Easter, not Thanksgiving. The cereal is still stored in the top left cabinet, not the bottom right. Life for them is frozen in time like a snapshot. And when they come home, they suddenly realize that snapshot they’d been carrying around in their back pocket for months and months is no longer reality.
My neighbor really was lost that day I ran into him on the street. He had returned to a world he no longer recognized. His toddler was potty-trained and speaking in complete sentences. His three sons were all in different grades at school. He even felt strange driving a car. Everything truly was different than he remembered.
My neighbor is far from the only servicemember returning from a deployment and struggling with the feeling that he’s “just in the way.” So, how can we help our spouses feel like part of the family again? I’m certainly no expert, but here are a few things I had to remind myself when my husband returned from deployment and we headed into military reintegration:
Remember how to share. Somewhere along the deployment road, you realize that everything you once shared with your husband now belongs solely to you. The bed. The yard work. The television remote. The kids’ homework. The daily responsibilities. But when he comes home, those things aren’t just yours anymore. Learn to share them with your husband again.
Replace routines. Remember those new routines you created while your husband was gone? Well, guess what? He doesn’t know them. So don’t expect him to. Did you change the kids’ bedtimes? Don’t forget to tell him as you hand him their new favorite bedtime story so he can do the nighttime snuggle with them. Did you curl up on the sofa every night and watch “Friends” reruns while he was gone? Well, he might prefer to play Scrabble. So break out the game board before visiting with Ross and Rachel. If you can’t include him in your deployment routines, create new ones that do include him.
Give yourselves a break. You’re both tired and disoriented. He’s not used to kids climbing all over him. You’re not used to having to explain everything, especially when sometimes it’s just easier to do it yourself. This reintegration business is no joke. But don’t be so hard on yourselves. You can’t expect the puzzle pieces of your family life to fall neatly into place again. After all, those pieces don’t look the same as they once did. While you’re trying to figure out how those pieces can fit in a new way, cut yourselves some slack and take a break every now and then to simply enjoy the fact that you’re together again.
What are some ways you have helped your servicemember reconnect with your family after a deployment?
Want more tips? Click here for more ways to help your spouse reconnect with your children.