MilSpouses know that there’s nothing quite like the long-awaited homecoming that occurs after a loved one returns from deployment. Reuniting after having been a part for so long can mean that you’re flooded with feelings of excitement, anxiety, impatience, joy, and everything in between.

Whether you’ve been through four deployments or are experiencing your first, long distance love isn’t easy. As much as you want your spouse back home with you, returning to normal life takes time, patience, and understanding from both parties.

Although there’s no right way to plan a homecoming, you can make this special time easier on both you and your spouse by practicing a few simple steps.

1. Prepare the Kids

If you’re a military wife and mama, you’re well aware that military life can take a toll on the kiddos. Deployment can mean missed milestones, feelings of abandonment, and frankly, a lot of confusion.

According to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, there are three major stages that military families experience as a result of a homecoming: anticipation, readjustment, and stabilization.

“The amount of time it takes families to stabilize during homecoming and reunion varies. Many of them encounter only minor difficulties in adjusting to new routines. For others, however, readjustment may be a longer process that requires additional support.”

Every military mom explains deployment a little differently, and that’s completely okay. When it comes to the homecoming, make sure that your explanation lines up with the discussions you’ve had with your child previously. Some say that dad is on a “work trip,” while others have children who are old enough to know how military life works. However you choose to explain it, make sure that the child understands that it might take a while for dad to adjust to being home again.

On top of preparing the kids, you’ll have to prepare yourself to deal with their rollercoaster ride of emotions and changing behavior. A new dynamic in the home may tempt kids to test their limits. Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page when it comes to any rules that have been set while he’s been away, and try not to stray away from your normal schedule when it comes to things like bedtime, homework, and chores.

2. Formulate a Plan

One of the most important steps you can take to prepare for the homecoming is to communicate with your spouse about the details as much as possible. Ensure that you’re kept abreast of flight times, pickup locations, and any other important details. Having a plan for what happens after the arrival will give you a little peace of mind, too.

Some MilSpouses who have been through multiple deployments have a special tradition, like making a cake or visiting a favorite restaurant. Talk to your spouse prior to his arrival to ask if he has any preferences.

Once you’ve prepared a plan, prepare for it not to go as planned. Yes, you read that correctly. The worst thing you can do is pressure your spouse into following a tight agenda without leaving a little wiggle room or opportunity for spontaneity. There’s always a chance something could go wrong. Planes get delayed, bad weather happens, people get sick. Don’t fret.

MilSpouse blogger Lauren of Military Wife & Mom reiterates the importance of having a Plan B. “We all know plans change, but it’s how we prepare ourselves to respond when plans REALLY do change. As every deployment winds down, ask yourself, ‘When the plan changes (and it will) what will I do?’”

Most importantly, remember that all that matters is that your spouse is back home safe.

3. Treat Yourself

Take the opportunity to treat yourself before the homecoming. Once your spouse gets home, it’s all about him. You’re going to be spending a lot of time making sure he feels comfortable being back home.

First, acknowledge what you have accomplished over the last 3-6 months (or longer!). You alone have managed the finances, run the household, supported your spouse, and maybe even parented multiple children alone. It’s time to give yourself a reward.

Here’s an idea: start a personal “deployment fund” beginning on your spouse’s first day of deployment. Collect loose change and bills and put them into your “piggy bank” whenever you can. When the deployment has come to an end, you can tap into your fund and use the money to treat yourself. Whether you get a deep tissue massage, a mani/pedi, or those Frye boots you’ve been eyeing, you’ve earned it. It’s not just about treating yourself, either. It’s making sure you feel your best when you welcome your servicemember home.

This is also a good time to spend with people who you might not see as much once your spouse returns. It’s a great opportunity to gather the girls for a night out or snag coffee with your MilSpouse buddy.

4. Remove All Expectations

You can’t expect life to go immediately back to the way it was before deployment. This is going to be a new “normal.”

Your relationship dynamic might not be the way it used to or the way you want it to be upon your spouse’s return. This is true for emotional and physical matters.

Let’s face it — it’s really hard to talk about subjects like intimacy. No one wants to admit that it might be awkward or nerve wracking for a while. But guess what, that’s completely normal. Though it’s true that “distance makes the heart grow fonder,” you can’t expect your physical relationship to be 100% right away.

The same goes for your emotional relationship.

“Being honest with your servicemember, allowing those walls to come down, and sharing your heart makes a huge difference, even if your servicemember isn’t ready to reciprocate,” suggests Lauren of Military Wife & Mom.

If you share your feelings with your spouse and take the pressure off, chances are, you’ll both feel more comfortable.

5. Live in the Moment

When the time comes for you to finally reunite, take in every single second. You’ve most likely been imagining this moment since the second you said goodbye.

Don’t let the moment slip away and don’t be afraid let your vulnerability show, either. Cry your eyes out, smile until your face hurts — do whatever you need to do.

Some Military Spouses like to hire a professional photographer to capture the moment so they can relive it in all its glory. Some choose bring a close friend along to commemorate the homecoming, while others just want to enjoy the moment and not worry about “ugly crying” in front of the camera (you know we all do it!).

No matter how you decide to plan the homecoming, choose what works best for you and your servicemember. Then, don’t forget to “go with the flow” and cherish every single moment.

Happy homecoming!

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