Reintegration: the period of time after a soldier returns from a deployment during which family members relearn what it’s like to live together.
We have relished this time. It’s often referred to as another honeymoon, which is quite accurate. There is a honeymoon period where everything just works. And then it’s over and you realize that life has gone back to normal. Trouble arises when the transition between honeymoon and real life is rocky.
Maybe because Matt’s a counselor; maybe because we’ve seen others do this right/poorly; maybe because we were very very intentional about our reintegration, we’ve had a very smooth transition. We are technically still within the window of reintegration, so I don’t want to speak too soon, but I think things are going well.
There are a few specific things we do to help this process. First, we talk about it. We say out loud that things have changed. The boys have aged; we have different rules; things they weren’t allowed to do before the deployment are now allowed; things I used to allow are no longer allowed. We talk about the fact that we had both gotten used to our independence. I was used to grading Math in bed; he was used to staying up really late and sleeping in a bit. (Pilots schedules are wonky, so pilot’s Chaplain’s schedules are wonky.) I was used to seeing my girlfriends several times a week, if not daily in some form or fashion. He was used to being with the guys at all times. Talking about these changes in our lives helped us to understand one another and gave us the freedom to say what was on our minds.
Another process we set in place is that for two weeks after Matt gets back from a deployment he’s on vacation. He does absolutely no household chores or discipline. (He was more than happy to let me handle all disciplinary issues or questions that start with, “Dad, can I…?” He wasn’t sure if I let them walk to the shoppette after they’ve finished school each day or whether or not they were allowed to eat ice cream after lunch. Those are the details that he was able to learn during the two weeks of his vacation. It was harder, though, to keep him from jumping into the household chores. He is a man of action and if he saw a need, he wanted to jump in. But as I mentioned above, many of the jobs he’s used to doing are now assigned to someone. I had to stop him several times and call in the appropriate son. After two months, now he’s better about calling one in to do a job that they “were going to get to” but then got sidetracked.
Finally, we frequently remind ourselves that we are in a reintegration period. That we are going to get to a normal, though it may not ever look exactly like the normal before the deployment. We remind ourselves that I hate riding in the car, but would rather drive. And he lets me! I’m not a good passenger, and our marriage is strongest if I’m not freaking out in the passenger’s seat. We do our best to go with the flow and allow each other the growing pains that we feel: anxiety over upcoming job changes; the stories that we thought we had told each other but had somehow gotten lost over the airwaves; the massive changes in the boys’ (they’re now teens and preteens) over the past six months. (Can anyone say HORMONAL?!?)
Reintegration can be the best of times and the worst of times. Communicating clearly with each other about the changes each person is experiencing; allowing a vacation period just after a soldier’s return; setting realistic yet positive expectations regarding the changes that have taken place; all of these very intentional actions can help reintegration be the best of times.