It’s finally time for your service member to come home, and the buildup couldn’t be more exciting – you’ve both been dreaming about this moment for so long. You’ve made it to this point, which means you’ve managed to get through deployment in your own way. Even so, reunion and reintegration may have their challenges. Understanding what’s ahead, being prepared and managing expectations are important for success. Here are some tips for planning a memorable and successful reunion.
Know the difference between reunion and reintegration
Reunion and reintegration is the final phase of deployment, but knowing the difference between them can help your family overcome potential challenges down the road.
- Think of reunion as short-term. This is the homecoming, from the immediate meeting to the first few days of celebration following your service member’s return home. This is a special time of joy, happiness and initial relearning, when everyone is excited to be together again.
- Reintegration is a longer process. This starts after the excitement of reunion has calmed down. Reintegration is the process of everyone returning to old routines and establishing new ones. You may experience friction or frustration during this adjustment period, but it can offer your family an opportunity to reconnect on a new level and find a new normal.
Understand that plans may change
It’s important for both service members and loved ones to understand that plans can change, even at the last minute. Delays, emergencies or scheduling circumstances may prevent your service member from returning at the exact time specified, or keep you from meeting your service member right away. This unpredictable scheduling may affect reunion plans and family travel. Make sure you have backup plans, including how your service member will get home if you or your loved ones are unable to meet them upon arrival.
Stay positive throughout this time, and focus on the things that you can control. Remaining patient and positive, and staying informed will help you through the final hours of deployment.
Discuss the reunion together
Ask your service member who they would like to have present at the initial reunion, and for ideas on what they might like for this event. Knowing their preferences will make for a smoother transition. If your service member wants a small reunion, understand that they may need some space before returning to civilian life. Talk about the reunion plan with family and loved ones, and keep everyone updated on changes to the schedule. With a little planning, patience and support you can make this homecoming as easy and stress-free as possible. Learn more about returning from deployment and helping your family transition.
Set realistic expectations
You’ve probably imagined what you want homecoming to be like, but keep in mind that many changes may have taken place during deployment — for you, your service member and your loved ones. It might take a little time to adjust to being together again, this is completely normal. Try to focus on just being together, and don’t worry too much about the details of the festivities surrounding the event. Manage your expectations, and be patient, flexible and supportive.
If you have children, help control their expectations by talking to them and keeping them involved in the reunion planning. For instance, children can make small gifts, plan special outings, create a welcome home banner or cook a special meal. For more ideas, check out these five tips to support children during reintegration. You can also visit the Sesame Street for Military Families Homecoming page for age-appropriate resources to help ease this transition.
Stick to a budget
It’s been a long time since you’ve been together as a family, and you deserve to celebrate, but be careful to keep finances in check during the celebration. Focus on showing how much you care through time and effort — you’ll thank yourself later.
Keep scheduling light
Agree with your service member on short-term plans and schedules, and allow everyone the appropriate space and time they want. Remember that readjusting is a process, and too many plans can be overwhelming for everyone. Good communication can help you avoid frustrations and misunderstandings.
In the days and weeks leading up to your service member’s arrival, you may be working long hours in order to prepare. It’s common to have concerns about getting everything finished in time and making this day perfect. Remember you owe it to yourself and your service member to get enough rest before the reunion. The homecoming day can be exhausting — so the more you can rest in advance, the easier things are likely to be.
Remember that everyone is adjusting
It’s normal for everyone to feel nervous. Service members may worry about how they’ll fit back in with family, friends and community. You may worry about changes that occurred during the deployment – such as different roles and responsibilities – and what this means for you and your returning service member. Give yourselves time to readjust. Be open and honest with each other about how you’re feeling and what you need help with. Good communication can help make the adjustments easier.
Get help if you need it
If you or others in your household are struggling – either before or during reunion and reintegration – it’s a good idea to seek help. There are a variety of reunion and reintegration resources and services available to support everyone through the reintegration process. Free, confidential, non-medical counseling is available from Military OneSource. Counselors can help with deployment adjustments, marital and parenting issues, stress management, and more. You can also contact your installation Military and Family Support Center for more information about support services.
Sometimes the challenges of deployment become overwhelming and require professional help. For serious mental health issues like depression, suicidal thoughts, child abuse, or domestic violence, call the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and press 1.
Be patient and keep communicating
Even though you’ve reached the stage you’ve been waiting for, and everyone is together again, it can take time for everyone to adjust to a new normal. Try to be patient and give everyone time to get used to any new household roles, routines and responsibilities. Be honest with your feelings, but try to be flexible and open to changes too. With patience, time and a little effort, you’ll find your way to being a tight couple or family again.