Parenting is a tough job, even under the best circumstances. And for all parents, there are days when the job is really hard. Many parents report that the deployment experience changes their approach to parenting, at least temporarily.
Just as is the case within your relationship with your partner, it is unrealistic for the family to assume things can go back to the way they were before deployment. Children grow and change so quickly; they are bound to be different individuals after deployment. When one parent has been away, the remaining parent and the children have adjusted to a solo-parent situation. The experience of being away has also changed the deployed parent. When the family is reunited, nearly all aspects of day-to-day life have to be reconfigured.
Parenting after deployment is a unique experience that can be both stressful and very rewarding. If the family experienced problems prior to deployment, those issues are likely to reappear when the family is together again. But your reaction to them does not necessarily have to be the same. This is a fresh start with your family; you have an opportunity to be the kind of parent you most want to be.
Common post-deployment reactions
- Both parents and children experience a "honeymoon" period.
- Role re-negotiation may take place between parents, older children and other family members who were closely involved with the family during deployment.
- Confusion may arise about the rules and routines. Do we do things the way we used to do them? What's changed?
- Irritations and frustrations may surface between family members.
- Family members may think, "this should be easier."
- With time, family members adjust to a "new normal."
Strategies for the returning parent
- Go slowly. Your partner has had a significant burden running the family alone, and the family has changed to some degree while you were gone.
- Give your partner credit for the job he/she did running the household while you were away. Even if you don't agree with some of the choices made, your partner did the best he/she could. Try not to criticize.
- Work with your family to re-establish a routine at home.
- Be present. Make time for your family.
Strategies for the parent who remained
- Go slowly. Your partner has been living a different life, and needs time to adjust.
- Explain to your partner any changes in routines or household rules.
- Make opportunities for your partner to reintegrate into day-to-day life.
- Take time for yourself. You don't have to do it all alone anymore.
- Strategies for both parents
- Use more encouraging than discouraging words when speaking to your children. He/she needs to feel valued in the family.
- Say what you mean and mean what you say. Be consistent!
- For young children, "the two I's" (Isolate, Ignore) can be more helpful in managing misbehaviors than "the two S's" (Shouting and Spanking).
- For older children, logical and reasonable consequences are more effective than yelling or "tough love." Make sure the punishment fits the crime. For example, if he/she arrives home after curfew, set an earlier curfew next time; when he/she overuses the telephone, telephone privileges are lost for a set period of time.
- Spend individual time with your child, doing something you both enjoy.
- Stay involved in school and connect with your child's friends and teachers.
Strategies for the whole family
- Partners are encouraged to have date nights. Rejuvenating the relationship with your partner will help you both be better parents.
- The relationship you have with your children is invaluable. Finding a way to connect with each child individually makes parenting a much easier job.
- Provide personal space for everyone in the family, including your children.
- Encourage an open discussion about the expectations, thoughts, and feelings of each family member.
- Focus on determining the goals of the family. How do you want things to be in your family? How can you get there together?
- Continue family traditions, and perhaps even start some new ones.
- Accept that most families will change. Your family would have had some changes even without deployment.
- Give everyone in the family time and patience.