When you think about deploying, there are some things that are obviously difficult. It’s incredibly painful to leave your family for long stretches of time. The hours are long and the work is hard. Weeks of frantic activity can be followed by days of sheer boredom. Then, of course, there’s the danger element that’s involved. I’m relatively safe in the Navy, but that’s certainly not the case for everyone, and even ships have their dangers. If you’re curious what the worst part is for me, feel free to read this post from a few months ago.
There’s one part, however, that is incredibly difficult, and you would never expect it to be: coming home to your family. Don’t misunderstand me. From the moment that ship leaves the pier, my #1 goal is see my wife and kids again. They are the reason for everything that I do, and I miss them horribly when I’m away. Coming home can put a huge amount of stress on a family though.
Logically, this may not make sense. Homecomings are one of the happiest moments in the world. Everyone is back together. The family has been reunited, and the mission is complete. It should be the greatest moment of the entire deployment, and it is, but there are still some dangers associated with it.
First of all, while you were away, your family was forced to move on without you. They can’t just hit the pause button and then start back up when you get home. The kids continue to grow and even your wife (or husband) changes over time. By the time you get back, they may be entirely different. You don’t expect that, and the changes can be incredibly shocking, depressing, and stressful.
Second, your family has had to get into a steady rhythm while you were away. Your significant other was, for all intents and purposes, a single parent. She had to get the kids to school, feed them, put them to bed, and all the other little things that go into raising children. She also had to constantly worry about you and take care of herself. The best way to do that is just get into a constant routine. It keeps everyone productive and sane. She has a lot of time to get used to the rhythm. It becomes comfortable and any changes to it can be stressful. Now, all of a sudden, you’re home. The routine has to change and you need to be inserted into it. You’ve been gone for 6 months (or longer), and you don’t want to be part of a schedule. You want to play it by ear. You want to go crazy with the wife and kids that you haven’t seen in a long time. That can become incredibly stressful for everyone involved.
This biggest dangers are probably unreal expectations by both parties. You’ve been picturing your homecoming for so long. The kids are going to want to climb over you all day, and your wife won’t be able to keep her hands off you. You’re going to go on a family vacation to Disney World, and everyone is going to be so happy together. There won’t be any fighting, and everything will be perfect. You’ve worked so hard for so long, and now you finally get to relax with your family.
On the other end, your wife has had different dreams. Now that you’re home, she doesn’t have to do the dishes every day. She has someone to help with the diapers and cooking. She can now take a nap in the middle of the day without worrying about the kids waking up without her knowing. She can sleep past 5:30 in the morning. She has worked so hard for so long, and now she can finally get some downtime to herself.
Do you see how those sets of expectations don’t line up very well? A lot of stress can be added to the family when you have unreal dreams for the reunion.
Coming home can absolutely be the happiest moment of your life, but it’s not going to be that way automatically. Just like everything else, it takes work and planning to make it perfect.