During the Project Insight: The Joys and challenges of Reintegration after Deployment webinar (transcript available), military family service providers collaboratively uncovered insights about the joys and challenges of reintegration that military service members and families often encounter.
As a result of this previous session, we are pleased to announce that together we now have new insights, ideas, and resources which speak to the unique reintegration circumstances of both military families and military family service professionals. We welcome your feedback (on this blog post) so that we can collaboratively grow this list of insights and resources to support military families around the topic of reintegration after deployment. So what did we learn and what can we share?
Common themes of reintegration after deployment
During Project In Sight, several military spouses shared their reintegration experiences and stories with webinar participants. During the session, participants found several common themes around their stories:
Reintegration Joys– time together, relief that the SM is home, having help with the children and daily tasks/chores, excitement
Reintegration Challenges– communication, changes in family routine, income changes, partner isn’t the same after return, parenting challenges, newness, change, expectations, prior relationship problems don’t disappear after deployment
How do knowing these themes help? We think that understanding common themes can assist us in being more prepared in our work with military families, but perhaps you have a specific idea in mind. What are some of your suggestions?
Unique reintegration challenges
Along with common themes, we learned of a few unique situations and challenges military families face. We also uncovered some unique situations military family service providers encounter when supporting military families during reintegration.
Unique Reintegration Challenges for Military Families
- Challenge: Relationship problems did not go away during deployment; problems are put on a shelf. Many families may not continue to seek help or resources after the SM comes home.
- Suggested Strategy: Work on communication with the couples both before the deployment and after they return. (This challenge was discussed during the session, but there were few suggested strategies mentioned. If you have suggestions, please let us know in the blog comments).
- Challenge: The process of reintegration can be difficult for children, as well as the family. Oftentimes, the difficulties that the children are experiencing can be overlooked.
- Suggested Strategy: Connect military children with each other for support. Hold monthly small group meetings during a deployment. Do a craft with all of the children to create something to send to the SM. Continue to provide opportunities for the military children to come together during the reintegration phase for continued support.
- Challenge: Partners may play “one-upmanship” about who had it worse while the SM was deployed.
- Suggested Strategy: Help partners communicate with one another and empathize with the other for the struggles they EACH endured during that time. The one-upping can sometimes be born out of feeling unappreciated or misunderstood by the difficulties each person faced. Once a partner feels understood and if the other has empathized, they can stop the one-upping because they feel heard.
Do these situations military families encounter after reintegration seem familiar to you? Are there other reintegration challenges and strategies you would recommend including?
Unique Reintegration Challenges for Military Family Service Professionals
- Challenge: When hosting pre-deployment events, families are not focusing on the resources being offered. Since they are primarily focused on spending these last hours with their family, they hate the idea of being stuck at a deployment event instead. And, when they return, they are so excited to see each other, it is so hard for them to focus on the resources again.
- Suggested Strategies:
- Make resources available in the early days following the departure and then in the weeks that follow.
- Provide ongoing classes or materials long before deployments happen that can be before, during, and after deployments.
- Reach out to families once a month or more when their SM is deployed to check in and see how things are going. As one service professional shared, “This has been the most effective for having them accept and utilize resources I give them.”
- Suggested Strategies:
- Challenge: Preparing a family for a first reintegration is a lot like trying to prepare the first-time mom for her baby… it’s hard to prep someone for the reality when they are so excited.
- Suggested Strategy: Empower couples despite a lack of control over what the future looks like around deployment, develop a plan or strategy of what each family member would like to see and then set goals on how to get there, improve communication skills and make expectations realistic, help families understand that reintegration is not perfect.
Are these situations that military family service providers encounter after reintegration familiar to you? Are there other challenges and strategies you would recommend including?
Resources addressing unique reintegration situations
Project In Sight participants also alerted us to helpful resources that addressed several unique reintegration situations.
Helping military children use language when addressing sensitive topics
Maybe Days- http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/114426.Maybe_Days
The language from the book Maybe Days can be helpful in working with children around deployment and is helpful in teaching children about self-soothing, healthy coping strategies, and ways to express their disappointments, loss, etc. Although this is a resource created specifically for foster children, our participants recommended this book for military children as well since they oftentimes can’t and won’t have definitive answers about deployment.
Using play therapy to help children rebuild their attachments with parents
Rebuilding Attachments with Military Children Utilizing Play Therapy [recorded webinar] This 1.5-hour recorded webinar is sponsored by MFLN Family Development. It offers valuable information on the utilization of play therapy in the effort to rebuild attachment with children in military families. The unique strengths of and risk factors for military children and families will be described along with the ways in which play therapy can assist in rebuilding attachment. The adaptation and application of techniques for working with trauma and grief to military children and families will also be presented.
A book for both spouses seeking help with deployment challenges
Once a Warrior: Wired for Life by Cantrell & Dean. This book illustrates how to turn negatives into positives and assists our highly trained military personnel in utilizing their tremendous potential in achieving success and happiness after their release from military service. This book highlights the path along the way to transitioning from warrior to civilian.
Looking for something on self-development and self-efficacy?
Brene Brown books: http://brenebrown.com/. Brene Brown’s resources were recommended because of the focus on self -development and self- efficacy, in addition to ways to deal with stress.
Have you recommended other resources that are helpful for sharing with military families during reintegration? If so, what other suggestions would you add to this list?
This post was written by Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT and Sara Croymans, M. Ed. of Military Families Learning Network. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network on our website, Facebook, and Twitter.