Reintegration isn't like that. It will disappoint many to know that there aren't really any specific, definable goals for reintegration. In fact, more times than not, you're nearly through with it before you even realize it. The thing is, when you are dealing with your marriage and your family, the dynamics are far more complex than a simple set of tasks. Ask yourself: What would you put on your checklist to show your marriage is as strong (if not stronger) as when your spouse deployed? Can you list out A, B, C, and so on as the tasks that you completed to bring you to a strong marriage? Can you point to a "if we do this, this, and this then we'll be finished with reintegration" list that would cover all of the bases? Unlikely in the extreme.
After a year spent apart, military families face the daunting challenge of learning to live together as a whole family once the deployment ends. Many will say "can't you just pick up where you left off?" as if it was some kind of short out of town trip. What many, if not most, don't realize is that so many things in our lives change over the course of a year. While you and your spouse may not have grown apart, you certainly grew separately instead of together. A whole host of deployment survival mechanisms and walls that the military spouse has built up to protect himself/herself now must be dismantled and torn down. While the service member has to learn how to be a parent and spouse again, the military spouse has to unlearn being both mommy and daddy, give up being the sole authority of the house, and learn how to share household responsibilities. (That may surprise you, but milspouses have had to be responsible for EVERYTHING in the household; the urge to handle/fix every problem or issue in the home is not something easily gotten rid of.) Then there is the very basic emotions that go through our minds every day. For instance, it still seems weird to me that my wife is home. Yes, she's been home for nearly 2 months now, but I still haven't quite gotten used to her being here every day. I still have trouble sleeping some nights because there is someone sleeping next to me. Surprised? You shouldn't be. When you have spent a year sleeping in a bed alone, having someone there every night takes some getting used to.
There is also the issue of parenting. For a year my word was law in our house. No one questioned how I raised the kids or the rules I set out for them. Now that my wife is home, some of my "rules" don't make sense to her. Further, many times in the past month and a half I've had to discipline my kids (as all parents do). When one of them is in tears or sad because they're in trouble, she's said something to them like, "it's ok," when, in fact, it isn't. If it was OK, then they wouldn't have gotten in trouble in the first place. Obviously, my wife isn't condoning what they've done wrong, nor is she contradicting my punishment for them. What she's doing is trying to comfort them in their sadness because she hasn't seen them like this in a year. What she doesn't realize, though, is that you simply can't tell a child that it's ok when they've been disciplined. You can forgive them, love them, hold them. But you can't tell them it's ok because what they've done isn't ok. Beyond discipline there are the mundane things like food and clothing that our service member spouses want input on, whereas we're used to just doing as we see fit.
So the inevitable question comes up: how long does reintegration last? As I've said in previous blogs, you should allow AT LEAST 1 week for every month they were gone. For us, that meant there would be no trips, no overnight separations for a minimum of 12 weeks. Further, we decided there would be no out of town guests coming to visit until November, basically meaning a full 3 months. Perhaps that seems like a long time. Let me assure you that a year apart is FAR LONGER. Like a surgery that requires recovery time, a marriage in reintegration requires time as well. You simply can't rush it or not take it seriously. What's more, even if you're feeling like you're back to normal earlier than the time you had set aside, don't assume things are actually back to normal. Learning to live as a family together again takes time, and especially, PATIENCE. If you're going to err, do so on the side of extra time. Friends and family might want to visit early, either of you might want to go off with a friend for a day or so. Say NO. Don't do it. Give your marriage and family the time it needs to become completely whole. Then give it a little extra time. Friends and family are important. Your marriage and family is MORE important. Everyone and everything else can wait. Your marriage can't. Reintegration is absolutely no joke. Take it seriously and cautiously and you'll come out of it with your marriage and family complete and whole again.