Even as an adult the only thing I could relate to the word “homecoming” was high school dances and football games, that is until my son went to war at the age of 19. Now when I hear the word “homecoming” the image in my mind is of families reuniting after a long tenuous separation. While I know that the joy is overwhelming, questions fill the hearts and minds of those that remained at home. The unknowns and uncertainties don’t all disappear with the physical return of a loved one. Whether your child is single or married, the questions can be all consuming to the mom of returning troops. What should we expect? How should we act? React? Can we hug them? Do we ask questions or wait for them to share? What’s normal? Not normal? How do we handle our emotions and theirs? These are a few questions cluttering my mind in January 2006 as our son returned from his first deployment to Afghanistan.
My lack of understanding caused me to respond in ways I later regretted. As a mom, regardless of the age of our children, we not only want what’s best for our children, we are sure we know what’s best for them, after all God blessed us with them, right? Wrong! The natural thing for us to want to do is to get them back into the swing of things; back to who they were when we last spent time with them.
However, this is a time when we should not necessarily follow the direction of our maternal instincts. Weeks prior to their homecoming, we need to ask God to rid our minds of any preconceived ideas or expectations we may have when it comes to their return. Our children are no longer who they were. As a result of things we’ll never comprehend, they’ve matured and changed. Our responsibilities as mom shouldn’t be to try to bring back our little boy/girl, but to realize all change isn’t bad. We do this by accepting who they’ve become, then meet them where they are. With God’s love, mercy and grace we can be what they need when they need it, which at times may be just to ‘be’ with them.
Deployments affect not only those that left but also those that remained stateside. There’s no turning back the clock, no return to “normal.” There is now a “new normal” for the entire family and it shouldn’t be up to them to come home feeling they have to fit into our lives. We need to be willing to find where we fit into theirs.
As moms, we need to accept the fact that the buddies our child was with 24/7 are just as much his family now as we are, and in some ways more so. I saw firsthand how my son communicated with his buddies with just a nod, a slight grin or look of anger. They didn’t have to say a word. This camaraderie can easily make a mom feel replaced or unneeded resulting in her pulling away. Instead, we should encourage this contact, especially if they seem to be withdrawing.
During the re-entry phase patience, listening and observing are essential. Moms have a keen sense when it comes to their children and we need to use that to become aware of emotions, small irritants, unhealthy habits, etc. Some Veterans may talk about their experiences freely, while others consider the topic of deployment taboo. Ask if they want your opinion and then be open and honest without judging. Watch for opportunities when just a sentence or two from you can be the gentle nudge they need.
The symbolic umbilical cord that was severed when they deployed must remain severed. We shouldn’t try to re-establish their need for us. Because they’ve been on their own for months constantly taking orders, they may find following strict house rules tough. Keep things simple. Don’t schedule activities for them when they return (however, you may want to ask if a massage and pedicure would be appreciated). Always try to honor their wishes and requests. Don’t assume and don’t demand. If necessary, run interference for family that may be anxious for a visit. Give the returning loved one plenty of time to breathe, to relax.
(to be continued…)