Homecoming is one of the most important events for a military family. Months of anxiety and loneliness all build up to the day you can finally reunite as a family.
Because so much pressure is put on this one moment, it is easy for military spouses left at home to dream of the perfect reunion. There’s a push to get in shape, spotlessly clean the house, cook a fantastic meal, get a haircut, go shopping for new clothes and show up at the airport looking like a movie star.
Deciding how extended family, parents and friends can be involved in homecoming can be an additional stressor on both the military spouse at home and deployed service members.
If you’re concerned about integrating your extended family and parent-in-laws into the homecoming festivities, use these tips to build a personal plan of action.
How many is too many?
Because of all the excitement surrounding a homecoming, it’s easy to think that there should be a giant party with everyone you’ve ever met waiting for them after they step off the plane. Before you send out invitations though, think about your spouse.
Think about how you feel after a long trip complete with exhaustion and jet lag, and add to that the stress of being deployed for the past however many months. Talk with your spouse and decide together on how many will be too many and become overwhelming.
For some the big reunion works but you need to evaluate carefully, is it really the time for a massive family reunion at the airport?
The military lifestyle is full of surprises and planning too much is something that can leave you with unfulfilled expectations.
Although you may not be able to plan down to the minute, decide what you generally want to happen. Who will be there at the airport, waiting at home, visiting in the first few days or weeks? Talk together about who your spouse wants to see first, how long they want visits to be, and what type of visits they are (group, individual, over an activity or in a quiet laid back setting).
What is important?
If your spouse is coming back from deployment for an extended period of time, the most important thing should be getting back into a family routine.
This may not include extended family and should really focus on the spouse and children.
As important as the day is to you, it is really all about the returning service member. It is important to ask what they want.
Who will they be comfortable with at the airport or waiting at home right away? Try to keep an open mind for what they want to do. They may want to take things slow or jump right in, and you should try to be okay with that. Remember to discuss all aspects including who, what, when, where and how long for visits.
It also may be helpful to have an exit strategy for you and your spouse if visits become too long or too much. Prepare a signal for each other and have a way to excuse you and your family from the visit early.
Mother in laws & family
Military wives especially struggle with sharing their husbands with their mother-in-law upon homecoming. He is your husband and you miss him very much, but he is also her child and she’s been worried sick.
Don’t judge yourself or think you’re completely selfish when you want to spend time alone with your loved one after deployment. But try to consider and respect the relationship your husband has with other family members and friends that are important to him. He may want to include them in homecoming activities. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Breaking the news: If you and your deployed service member decide that homecoming should be an intimate family event for the first few days, breaking the news to those who would like to be involved can be scary. The fear of a hostile reaction is nerve racking for everyone and the best course of action may be to have the person deployed let people like parents and siblings know the plan. Hearing it directly from the source can ease harsh reactions.
- Take a walk in her shoes: It’s easy to get frustrated with your mother-in-law for controlling too much about the day. However, it’s important to take a step back and decide how you would feel about your own child in the same situation. Remind any upset mother-in-laws that this process is a two way street and she should respect the marital bond and the difficulty of reintegrating. Literature on the importance of reestablishing marital and family bonds after deployment should be available from your FRG or military support, sometimes this information can help you start the conversation.
- Secret operation: Some decide the solution to taking things slow without hurting anyone’s feelings is to not tell anyone. As tempting as this may sound, politely asking for some alone time is a lot easier than conducting a secret CIA operation. The secret operation route has a lot more potential to damage relationships for the long term. If you are discovered, the deception and the hurt associated with not telling extended family members can be hard to overcome.
Keep an open mind
Remember that homecoming is just like every other event and there might be mix-ups, delays and letdowns. The best plan to have is one that rolls with the punches and remains flexible with any last-minute changes.
Photo courtesy U. S. Coast Guard