Monday, January 21, 2013

10 Tips for a Great Military Homecoming

For the past nine months or so I have been working with Blue Star Families on a book that will be published very shortly.  The book is a deployment toolkit of sorts and guides families and friends of military members through the stages of deployment.  It is full of good information about mental health, physical health, and just fun facts, checklists, pictures, and information to get you through one of the hardest parts of being a military family.  As soon as it is released, I will share with you how to get one here.
EDITED: Here it is!

A few days ago Blue Star Families asked me to write one last minute checklist about military homecomings.  After almost 10 years as a Navy spouse and three homecomings of my own (not to mention countless homecomings I have celebrated for my friends) I was excited to get started! 

10 Tips for a Great Homecoming

 1.  Semper Gumby - Be Flexible
We know how anxious you are to see your military member .  The thought of adding extra links to your homecoming countdown chain is terrifying.  The truth is, when it comes to deployments and homecoming, things can change a lot at a moment's notice.  Be flexible about the plans you make for the days and hours immediately surrounding homecoming.  It isn't a good idea to book a non refundable cruise for the weekend your spouse is supposed to arrive.  Be fluid, expect change, and then hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised when he or she arrives home right on time.

2.  Communicate
Does your service member want a big party?  Does he want time with just you and your kids?  Does he want his or her parents at homecoming?  Does he want to hang at home for a few weeks or does he want to go travel and do a special homecoming vacation?  There is truly no right or wrong answer to these questions, the only right answer is the one that you and your spouse decide together.  Make sure you voice your concerns and are understanding that his wishes might not be what you were expecting.

When you relay your decisions to friends and family make sure you present a united front.  While there is no universal answer to the question of "should we invite the in-laws to homecoming?", it seems that relaying news that homecoming is going to be a private affair is universally awkward.

3.  Keep your Expectations Low
You have been busy the past several months.  You are mom and dad, you do all the cooking, the cleaning, the chauffeuring.  You are tired.  It is completely natural to want your partner back and to resume the shared duties from before your spouse deployed.   At the same time, you might have built an image in your head of the "perfect spouse" and have very high expectations about your knight in shining armor.

When your spouse returns he or she will likely need a few days to get over the jet lag, to reacclimatize, and  to ease back into the pace of family life.  Give him or her that time and space.  Don't be disappointed when he doesn't immediately resume the home improvement project he was working on pre-deployment.  Your spouse will be ready to conquer the diapers and yard work before you know it!

4.  The Outfit isn't Everything
Yes, I know you have been eyeing the perfect dress or boots for the moment your spouse sees you for the first time in a year.  But as one veteran spouse wisely noted, "don't stress too much about the perfect outfit, he is just picturing you naked anyway". 

The most important thing is to dress for the weather and to be comfortable.  The adage of "hurry up and wait" defines homecomings.  You will be doing a lot of standing around, possibly outside in the elements, for an unknown amount of time.  Now is not the time to break in your 4 inch heels or experiment how long you can stand around in a tube top when it is 30 degrees and windy. 

5.  Don't Sweat the Small Stuff
Spouses tend to get sent into a tizzy the two or three weeks before homecoming.  They have a list a mile long that they feel needs to be accomplished in order to foster the perfect homecoming setting.  Cleaning the house to model standards, waxing the car, landscaping the yard, organizing the office, de-cluttering the pantry, and putting the closet back in order are just a few common tasks.  

While it is understandable to want your service member to come home to a comfortable nest, don't kill yourself over it.  He or she has likely lived in a tent or in a tiny room on a ship for the better part of a year.  They are not going to notice if the car hasn't been detailed the weekend before they get home.  Choose a few things that you know will be meaningful to you or your service member, and relax about the rest of it.

6.  When it Comes to Kids, Expect the Unexpected
It is impossible to predict how a small child is going to react at homecoming.  Make sure you and your service member have realistic expectations and are prepared for a child to be less than thrilled.  Small children in particular might be frightened at homecomings, they are often filled with loud noises and lots of unfamiliar faces.  It may take some time for a child to get reacquainted with their mom or dad.  This is normal and should not be cause for alarm or blame. 

Because homecomings can vary in length and change unexpectedly, pack snacks, drinks, and small toys to keep your children occupied and happy.  Consider bringing a small gift for your service member to present to your child.  Your spouse may have missed the onset of your toddler's Buzz Lightyear obsession, but you can make him a hero by bringing a toy, slipping it in his pocket, and allowing him to give it to your child.

7.  Lean on Your Friends
There is nothing more fun than making homecoming signs while sipping a glass of wine with a good friend.  Friends can help you overcome your pre-homecoming jitters and make sure that you have the prettiest signs out there.
Many spouses also recommend enlisting the help of a friend for homecoming.  They can be your photographer, keep you company, wrangle your kids, and be there in the event of a delay.  The 5 PM homecoming that was perfect for your 3 year old might turn into a 1 AM gig.  In that case, your friend can take your toddler home while you wait.

8.  Avoid "Keeping Up With the Joneses"
Refrain from judging yourself against or comparing yourself to, other spouses. We are not all the same, we do not have the same needs or preferences, and our service members and children also have different needs. Trust yourself to know what's best for your family. That may be to leave the kids home, to wear tennis shoes, not putting up that sign outside your house. We don't all need, or want, or are able to wear the trendiest outfit, highest heels, most plunging neckline, bring all sorts of perfectly creative and homecoming/Americana themed things to keep your toddler occupied, bring your in-laws, and/or make signs at home that look like they were professionally done.  That is okay! 

9.  Embrace the Awkward
You probably have imagined your reunion countless times. It is important to remember that the initial hug and kiss may end up being more awkward that the movie-quality scenario you've directed in your head (complete with background music!) throughout the deployment. And that is okay. Embrace the awkwardness of an over-zealous hug that almost knocks down your returning service member or the clanking of teeth during the first kiss. Laugh about your non-Hollywood reunion - chances are, it will be a lot more interesting.

Along those same lines, don't expect intimacy to be completely back to normal once he carries you across the threshold.  While some couples are ready to head straight for the bedroom, others need some time to get reacquainted and reconnected more slowly.

 10.  Enjoy
It has been a long road and you have likely been anticipating homecoming since before your significant other even left.  You have earned this time to enjoy and reconnect.  Homecoming is a very special event, something that the majority of the world does not get to experience or enjoy.  So while there are many things to try and remember, allow yourself to live in the moment.

As one of my military spouse friends once said, "homecoming almost makes deployment worth it.  Almost".


What are your tips for a great homecoming?  Any funny experiences or lessons you have learned over the years?  


Karen @ And Then We Laughed said...

Great list, Jill! :) Blue Star Families sounds like a wonderful organization. Are there volunteer opportunities?

Jill said...

@Karen - yes! I volunteer for BSF and they are always looking for volunteers for many different events and projects. They are actually looking for people to help with special events in Washington, DC if you are interested. Let me know if you want me to pass your name along or visit the volunteer site here:

Sarah S said...

Love this! I can't wait for my SM to return home. 7.5 months to go!

Jill said...

Sarah, good luck with the next 7.5 months! You've got this!

Danielle Bartran said...

This is a really fantastic list! I look at homecomings up there with the birth of a baby or a wedding...something you don't want to miss. I remember being really surprised when my Aunt & Uncle said they didn't plan on going to their {unmarried} daughter's homecoming. She hadn't explicitly invited them, so they didn't think they needed to go, and they didn't think she wanted them there! After I went on and on about how wonderful it is, they finally spoke with her, so later I was thrilled to find out they planned on going all the way from NY to Hawaii....only for the arrival to get pushed back, and back, and back {as in an entire week!} They ALMOST missed her return, but only because they pushed back their flight to the VERY last minute. In the end, they did get to see each other for about 24 hours, but it was really stressful. Any time you hear a date, I'd really expect that date/time to change...if it's possible to wait to the last minute to make travel plans, do. If not, be ready to share your story with whatever airline and hopefully they will be willing to help you out and waive change fees, because they will most likely happen...aside from that...enjoy being together again!

Anonymous said...

Absolutely love your list, Jill! I am the wife of a FA/18 WSO and we completed our third deploment in August. We've had a homecoming as DINKS, one while pregnant and gave birth the next day and this last one was with a one and three year old, all such different experiences but your list seems to cover all aspects, and that is just so wonderful! I love your blog and can't wait for the book that you have been working on to be released as we are beginning another work up cycle and have a deployment soon to come!! :)

Corrina Freels said...

My husband comes back in 2 days from 6 months of being gone... Before reading this list, I thought I was ready. I've done this before. But now I feel more relaxed - I didn't realize how anxious I really was. I don't absolutely need to worry about the extra boxes in the spare room. I need to focus on the moments. The boxes will be there later.

Both of us have had a ton of pressure from friends and family concerning how awesome and wonderful it is that he is coming home. And don't get me wrong it absolutely is. What they don't realize is that it is stressful in its own way.

Thank you for providing this list. It is exactly what I needed... Especially after spending the last hour looking up creative ideas for a welcome home sign. I should be sleeping instead - it's 1am! He will just be happy to be home, and now I realize a sign won't change that. Thank you.

Tanya Rodriguez said...

I've done several homecomings with my mother and my husband (both are active). The ones with my husband were always a bit more 'interesting' to say the least. Our first one my parents picked him up from the bus and brought him straight to the Naval Hospital. I had given birth to our first daughter two days before while he was in Kuwait waiting to return home. To make it even more fun, we didn't know I was pregnant until he had been deployed for a few months, so I got to tell him over the phone. Newlywed to new daddy over that deployment! Our second he returned from Haiti and our daughter was a few months old. She was all over him... cooing, smiling, flirty baby. The third homecoming, he met our second daughter for the first time. She was already 6 months old by that point as he left two weeks before I gave birth to her. She wanted nothing to do with him at 0100 because she had never seen him before, except in pictures. The next day he just sat with her and talked to her. Things were night and day as I suspect she recognized the voice from the phone. The last homecoming we've had as a family was earlier this year in May. Both girls (then 2 and 3) were super excited to see Daddy although it was way past bedtime. They made signs to hold and tackled him as soon as he got off the bus. It was priceless!

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Dave Thompson said...

I remember my dad coming home after a long deployment. It was so good to see him after all that time. These tips are all great ways to make that home coming as awesome as it should be. Thank you for posting these for everyone to read.

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Hi, I'm Jill!

Hi, I'm Jill!
Extrovert. Mom of two. Wife of a cute Naval Aviator. Lover of wine. When I'm not chasing my two kids around town you will find me writing, taking too many photos, and researching the ten future areas the Navy could potentially (but probably won't) PCS us. We are fish out of water, landlocked at 7,000 feet. For now.

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