If you read The Top 10 Ways You Know it Has Been a Long Deployment, you might have guessed that I am nearing the end of a 12 month stint of having my husband in Afghanistan.
And, you would probably guess that I am elated at the prospect of having him home soon. You would be almost entirely right.
Part of my heart remains in denial so that the walls I have so carefully constructed in the interest of self-preservation won’t come crumbling down before I get to kiss him. Most of you can probably understand, if not relate to that. But, conflicted? It seems nobody ever talks about that. Well, at least not until it is on the verge of being too late.
We both deployed together to Kuwait and then to Iraq in 2003. During his second deployment, I was still working 16+ hour days in the Army and our fist son was only about 8 months old when he returned home. This time around, I am a full-time, stay-at-home Mommy to two busy, young boys and things are very different.Every deployment is different. They each present unique challenges and opportunities. Click To Tweet
For the last year, I have been the sole parental figure, disciplinarian, gardener, mechanic, chef, chauffeur, cheerleader, maid, shopper, teacher’s aide, counselor and physician’s assistant. I even went by myself to file our Taxes. All while enduring the personal sadness of missing my very best friend and confidant. I have used some of my “free time” to grow spiritually, create lasting friendships with other women going through the same thing, conceive of a business plan, begin a blog, and challenge myself physically. I have also, on occasion, neglected piles of clean laundry and dirty dishes, left crumbs on the table overnight, failed to pick up all the toys before bed, fed my children breakfast for dinner, justified a monthly massage in our health and wellness budget, waited to clean until company was coming, cried, bribed my children for good behavior weekly with Frozen Yogurt Fridays, and probably indulged in more wine and sweets than would be considered advisable.
I’m not proud of every moment of it, but I am proud of the year as a whole. We made it! We developed routines and schedules that work for us. I learned the importance of choosing my battles and managed to prioritize a few things on my to-do list every once in a while. Now, my family is faced with the challenge of undoing some of what was done in order to re-incorporate our Soldier into our daily lives.
Please don’t take this to mean I am anything less than thankful that my husband is coming home. I am all too aware that many wives who would give anything to face the struggles of reintegrating their Soldier to family life. And others whose role of caregiver to their Wounded Warrior will forever overshadow any sense of what was once normal. I thank God every day for keeping my husband safe and will rejoice when I am once again in his loving arms, but I think we do Army families a distinct disservice to assume that it will be all joy once they depart from the reunion ceremony.
That is when the hard work begins. The Army has trained spouses to be their most independent selves for 12 months and praised them for doing so. And we did it all so that our Soldier could stay focused on their dangerous mission and come home safe. Now, the “man of the house” is coming home and the situation could go in so many different directions.
Does he want to take everything back over as soon as he sets foot in the house or will he want a grace period to get acquainted with how things work? Will he understand that I did the best I could under the circumstances? Will that be good enough? Will he leave me to carry the burden indefinitely now that I’ve proven myself? Will the kids play Daddy’s guilty conscience in matters of discipline? Will he respect the bond I formed with my own “battle buddy” who likely knows more about what went on under his roof for the last year than he ever will? Do I need to consult his calendar before scheduling a Girls’ Night Out or signing up for a race? Will I remember how to cook a meal worthy of what his mind has been conjuring up while eating in the mess hall? Will the things that I let the kids get away with while he was gone set him off? Will I once again resent and fear when he has to work late or our plans change because of last-minute tasking?
And those are just some of the questions from the home-front perspective. His life has been so different for the last 12 months that I wouldn’t even begin to hazard a guess as to what his questions about coming home might be….and I have been a deployed Soldier. A man who has lived under combat conditions for 12 months may have a variety of expectations and opinions on a clean home, a warm meal and a loving wife and children. I can’t imagine what it would be like for a man to return from a successful combat tour and find that his wife no longer needs him in all the same ways she did before he left. I would imagine reactions to the home life to which we have become accustomed could be as varied as the men themselves.
I can’t answer a single one of those questions today, but I’d like to think that my husband and I have chosen the route of opportunity. We have already begun to identify some of these issues and how we can implement the things each of us has learned this last year into a prioritized family plan. Apparently, he doesn’t expect things quite as neat and tidy as I had previously assumed. I now know that he plans to take a slow approach to re-learning his role as a husband and father, so I will not misinterpret his lack of immediate action as apathy. I’d like to think we can use this year of separation to determine what is critical to our happiness and what we can let slide. But I believe that the only way for any of us to get through it is by honest communication and compromise.Will you take advantage of the opportunity to transform your lives after deployment? Click To Tweet
So, yes I am a little conflicted about my Soldier returning home. I will be giving up this life of independence where I have learned to rely on myself and my battle buddy in order for my husband and I to re-learn how to navigate married life. My prayer for us and for all the other Army families preparing to welcome home their Soldier, is that we will come out on the other side of reintegration stronger as a family for having endured this experience.
I would be honored if you would share this with others who might find it beneficial. If you have words of wisdom about this or any other re-deployment advice, please post your comments below for all of us to learn from and enjoy.