Parenting after deployment

When a Service Member transitions back from a deployment, stress levels can spike in military families. It can be hard to reintegrate back into your family, and reconnecting with children and shifting into a parenting role is sometimes an additional challenge.

As a military spouse, if you find your partner returns from a deployment and is easily annoyed by your children, some strong emotions might be at play. For example, maybe your spouse tries to tell the kids what to do and then becomes irritable when they don’t respond well. While this can happen to all parents, a Service Member recently returned from deployment is in a unique position. Attempts to take control at home might happen because your spouse is overwhelmed as she or he readjusts to parenthood.

Ease the transition

  • Set up a code word that your spouse can say to signal when he or she is irritable with the children and needs time to regroup. Encourage your spouse to quietly excuse himself or herself to a different area and take some deep breaths before reengaging.
  • Relaxation exercises can be very helpful and are easy to do as a couple. Find a quiet area in your home and ask your partner to sit with you and complete a breathing exercise together.
  • Encourage your spouse to practice mindfulness to learn to slow down reactions that might negatively impact interactions with your children. Recognizing a surge of feelings before it spills over into your communication with your kids is key to reestablishing a healthy connection.
  • Help your Service Member have realistic expectations of himself or herself and your children. Some military moms might need a confidence boost as they readjust to parenting. And some military dads might need reassurance as they recognize the strengths and obstacles they face upon returning from deployment. Your spouse also might need to be reacquainted with effective discipline strategies that align with your children’ ages and skill levels.
  • Take the reins and schedule time for family fun. Spend time together outside playing a sport. Go to a local park together. Or visit a zoo, garden, or museum. Planning some quality family time where all are engaged and interested will improve everyone’s mood and strengthen your family.
  • Consider organizing structured activities for your returned spouse and each of your kids. This is a terrific opportunity for special “Mom-and-me” or “Dad-and-me” time. While the emphasis should be on your returned spouse interacting directly with your kids, stay close by to provide comfort and security. And make sure your spouse knows it’s okay to ask for a “timeout” if needed.
    • If you have younger children, consider planning “play time” for your spouse and your child. The focus should be on simply playing and letting the child lead. Encourage your spouse to give your daughter or son full attention and offer praise and affection as much as possible.
    • If you have older children, encourage your spouse to engage in activities they enjoy. Older kids like being able to “teach” their parents about what they’re interested in. Set aside time for your returned spouse to learn about new hobbies, activities, and interests your older kids might have.

The transition from “mission mode” to “parent mode” doesn’t always happen automatically, but with some anticipation and encouragement from a prepared spouse, it can happen smoothly.

Resources

Bowling, U. B., & Sherman, M. D. (2008). Welcoming them home: Supporting Service Members and their families in navigating the tasks of reintegration. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 39(4), 451–458. doi:10.1037/0735-7028.39.4.451

Doyle, M. E., & Peterson, K. A. (2005). Re-entry and reintegration: Returning home after combat. Psychiatric Quarterly, 76(4), 361–370. doi:10.1007/s11126-005-4972-z

Sandoz, E. K., Moyer, D. N., & Armelie, A. P. (2015). Psychological flexibility as a framework for understanding and improving family reintegration following military deployment. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 41(4), 495–507. doi:10.1111/jmft.12086