Adjusting to Life After Your Soldier Returns from Deployment

July 25, 2011 · Filed Under Deployment, Health · Comment 

Happy Couple

You’ve waited months, perhaps more than a year, to welcome your soldier home. You’ve shopped for food to make his favorite meal, arranged for his parents to visit upon his return, and helped the kids make signs welcoming him home. But are you really ready for the return?

Sometimes even after all of those sleeplessness nights, counting days until the return, the homecoming doesn’t always lead to sunshine and rainbows. There is often a honeymoon period when you won’t be able to stop looking at each other, and the kids will be stuck like honey to his side. However, some military families are caught off guard by the feelings of resentment that might emerge, the adjustment to new routines, and the fact that somehow life went on during deployment and not everything is just how it used to be.

Possible Threats to the Honeymoon after Homecoming

Even thinking about the idea that there might be negative emotions upon return from deployment might be more than you want to do. However, preparing for the possibilities will help to diminish the likelihood that these situations will occur, and the effects of them won’t have to be so severe. There are bound to be adjustments that need to be made – start thinking early about how things have changed for you during deployment and what those changes might mean to your soldier.

  • The children have an earlier bedtime, necessitated by the fact that you needed an extra 30 minutes alone each night.
  • The kids have had one authority figure in their life and aren’t used to the ramifications of two in the house.
  • You have developed a new weekend routine. On Saturday the kids do their activities, you spend the afternoon working on projects, and in the evening you hang out with other kids and their moms.
  • Your mom spends at least 2 afternoons each week at your house, helping with the kids and household chores.
  • The financial planning has been on your plate and you have developed a method to the madness.
  • You’ve met new friends and enjoy one evening a month going somewhere special with them as a treat for you.

While all of these scenarios are not necessarily negative ones, the effects they might have on your relationship with your soldier upon his return could become negative if you’re not prepared. Make a realistic assessment of how your relationship looked and worked before deployment and make sure that you don’t just assume that it will continue in the new routines without compromise. Your soldier will be facing his own readjustments so it is imperative that you work together as a team to make the homecoming a long lasting positive experience.

Make sure you communicate regularly about daily life. You might be used to independent living and decision making, but you need to remember to include your soldier in the daily routines.

Be watchful for signs of PTSD in your soldier or other stress related issues. Don’t hesitate to encourage him to seek help or talk with someone yourself. Also keep in mind that you might benefit from sharing with a third party how you are adjusting to life after homecoming.

Be aware of changes in the kids’ behaviors, either increased anxiety over your soldier being gone for even a few minutes, or rebellious behavior that tests the waters. Nip this in the bud and work together with your soldier to form a parenting unit. Don’t let the kids create a great divide between you now that you have just gotten him home.

Soon after homecoming sit down and revisit the responsibility list. Maybe you will continue to mow the lawn now, and he wants to take over weekend cooking for the family. Go over the family calendar and get your soldier up to speed on the activities of everyone and how he can participate and help. Just don’t direct the show – form a team. Whatever your decisions are, work on making them together.

Photo credit: Rachel

The Company You Keep

July 16, 2011 · Filed Under Health, This & That · Comment 

Surround Yourself with Positive People Who See Their Glass as Half-full

Glass Half Full

A glass that is half-full is capable of sharing, providing, and giving. Optimism is not only something that can put smiles on faces, but it is something that can make families healthier and stronger. It is imperative that families surround themselves with others who have glasses full enough to give to others, and they will find themselves with lives that are overflowing with positive support.

When it comes to difficult times in our lives, such as when loved ones are deployed overseas, the company we keep at home can be extremely influential, and not always in a good way. No matter which path we find ourselves on as siblings, parents, or friends of soldiers, we need to make sure that we are bringing people into our lives who can lift us up with their words and actions, and to whom we can provide the same sort of positive energy.

How to Know if Someone is Spilling Your Glass of Optimism

Military families need all of the support they can get. The trick is to make sure that they type of support is positive and optimistic. It is all too easy when there is instant access through media to a tragedy overseas to assume the worst for loved ones. If we surround ourselves with friends who tend to let emotions run high and get worked up easily, we can fall into those traps as well. These situations can suck the energy and common sense right out of us.

Look for these signs of relationships that spill your glass:

1. The first reaction is likely negative.

2. The person tends to jump to conclusions easily.

3. If you are concerned and go to this person with your concerns, she builds on those with her own worries.

4. When you have a positive experience, such as a phone call from your soldier, this person diminishes your joy, perhaps by complaining she hasn’t received her own, instead of sharing in your joy.

5. Your own sense of security, well-being, and peacefulness is not increased by this relationship.

Relationships that display these signs can make your efforts to lead a less stressful life while your soldier is serving overseas more difficult. These people can be in your life through personal contacts in your neighborhood, other family members, or even online forums. In order to combat the Negative Nelly in the crowd, keep your distance when there are extreme emotions, no matter if the emotions are sadness or elation. Seek the companionship of others who can help you find a positive balance and see things clearly for what they really are. When loved ones are serving overseas it can be too easy to jump on board with Negative Nelly when you are feeling down. Be careful to search for a more positive relationship so that you can keep afloat through turbulent times and rejoice in the good.

Photo credit: Kalyan

Suicide prevention – for all.

January 18, 2010 · Filed Under Gold Star Mom, Military Parents · Comment 

A friend of mine, who blogs at Gold Star Mom Speaks Out wrote this and graciously allowed me to post it here.

When the military talks out loud about suicides in the military, it’s a good thing. This week in Washington DC 1,000 people are attending a four-day Suicide Prevention Conference sponsored by the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki were among many military leaders and medical experts in attendance. The highest level of leadership and the array of experts should indicate that the military is looking for solutions to solve this terrible trending problem of suicides in the military.

I have attended numerous meetings discussing veterans issues where one of the topics is military suicides. I have always been amazed that a military representative always acknowledges military suicides as an pressing issue but cannot figure out why. I’m no expert, but let’s try this short list. Repeated deployments, shortened dwell times, or time at home, stop loss, PTSD. I could go on, but that’s a whole other story. So, I was glad to read that Admiral Mullen told the audience at the conference “I know at this point in time, there does not appear to be any scientific correlation between the number of deployments and those who are at risk, but I’m just hard-pressed to believe that’s not the case,” Admiral Mullen said. “I know we are and hope to continue to look (at deployments) first to peel back the causes to get to the root of this.”

Deborah Mullen, Admiral Mullen’s wife, accompanies him to many events that are military family related. I met both the Admiral & Mrs Mullen at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2009 where I was makring the 5th anniversary of my son’s death. They were both walking through Section 60, where more than 800 members of the military who were killed in Iraq & Afghanistan are buried. They were offering condolences to family members and friends, they offered hugs or a hand in friendship, so it was no surprise that Mrs Mullen attended the Suicide Prevention Conference. SFGate reports her message to the attendees:

Don’t forget the spouses.
Deborah Mullen said Army leaders told her that they lack the ability to track suicide attempts by family members of Army personnel. “I was stunned when I was told there are too many to track,” Mullen said, speaking on stage at a military suicide prevention conference next to her husband, Adm. Mike Mullen.
She urged the military to get a better handle on the problem and implement prevention measures with spouses in mind.

“There’s another side to this and that’s family members who commit suicide,” Mrs. Mullen said. “It’s our responsibility. These are our family members.”
Military-wide, she said, it’s not clear exactly how many military family members killed themselves last year. Some military spouses, Mrs. Mullen said, are reluctant to seek mental health help because it still carries an unfortunate stigma.
“Spouses tell me all the time that they want to get mental health assistance,” she said. “As incorrect as this is, they really do believe if they seek help it will have a negative impact on their spouse’s military career.”

Mrs Mullen’s message is spot on altough I would add one more thing. Don’t forget the parents.

I’m pretty sure that most parents who get that knock on the door consider suicide as one of their options, if only briefly, during those difficult days after they receive the terrible news of the death of their child. I know of too many parents who want to crawl inside at the first view of the flag covered coffin. One more hug, one more embrace. If only they could trade their life for their child’s.

Please do not forget the Gold Star parents!

The Bonds That Tie

Over at PBS.org I have written a post about the meaningful bonds that are forged during military service… among soldiers… among wives… among parents…

Throughout the course of our lifetimes, we make and break bonds with people. Some bonds are formed in friendship: schoolmates, neighbors, fellow workers. I have close friends from each of those groups. I maintain, however, that the bonds forged in military service are perhaps the strongest of all bonds. Stronger than steel. Stronger than adversity. Stronger than time.

We all know the story of veterans sittin’ around and one says, “No shit!! There I was…” followed by a story of improbability or hilarity, typically punctuated with profanity, irreverent phrases and sordid images. It will end with much backslapping and hearty handshakes. The circle might contain members of a single unit or a single war, or it might contain an assortment of veterans from many of this nation’s conflicts. But they are bonded and tied to each other by the commonality of their service. Some are bonded by the mettle and the blood of battle. You need look no further than the Illiad or the St. Crispen’s Day speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V for evidence of the emotional connection these men share.

[snip]

Some of my closest friends today are people I didn’t know before my son deployed. We met via military blogs (including my own) and private online Internet forums established by parents of soldiers — one by a Third Infantry Division parent, another established by military moms for military moms. These were places to share information, to share worry, to celebrate good news and to commiserate when the news was bad. These were places that let us share this bond, hammered and shaped by our worry for our sons and daughters.

These relationships are equal parts ethereal and practical; as much emotional as they are physical. It involves both the spiritual and the material worlds — prayers and novena candles as well as care packages and cookie recipes. It is an inclusive sisterhood for which we did not volunteer, but in which we are now forever members.


You can read it all at PBS/POV: Conversations on Coming Home

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