The Emotional Cycle of Deployment – Stage 5: Anticipation of return

Michigan has over 20,000 military children and youth. It is up to communities to help support our military families by educating themselves about the unique challenges to being a military family.

Deployment can be a very difficult time for both service members and their families. Understanding the different stages of deployment can help provide a supportive environment for children and youth.

The Emotional Cycle of Deployment has seven stages. Each stage is characterized by a general time frame and specific emotional challenges that may be experienced. Failure to successfully negotiate these stages and challenges can lead to family and individual stress and can have lasting consequences on our children, youth and families.

The seven stages of the Emotional Cycle of Deployment include:

  1. Stage one: Anticipation of Departure
  2. Stage two: Detachment and Withdrawal
  3. Stage three: Emotional Disorganization
  4. Stage four: Recovery and Stabilization
  5. Stage five: Anticipation of Return
  6. Stage six: Return Adjustment and Renegotiation
  7. Stage seven: Reintegration and Stabilization

During the article series about the Emotional Cycle of Deployment, it is important to remember that these are general time frames, reactions and challenges that may be experienced by military families during deployment. Each individual and family is unique and will experience each stage in their own unique way.

Stage five is anticipation of return. This stage generally starts about six weeks before the service member returns. During this stage, the family begins to anticipate for their service member’s homecoming. The family will most likely be excited, happy and may have a boost in energy. The family may begin to make preparations for the “perfect” return for their service member. Many times during this stage a mixture of both positive and challenging responses are experienced by youth. They may feel relieved that their service member will finally be coming home, but that may be combined with worries about whether or not they will be the same or what it will be like to have them home.

If the service member came home on leave during the deployment, that experience may be how the family members expect homecoming to be. So, if they had a positive leave experience then they are likely anticipating a positive homecoming experience. If they had a challenging leave experience, then they are likely to anticipate a challenging homecoming experience. It is important for families to understand that their reactions during deployment are very normal and are a response to a very large change in the family’s life.

During this stage there can be many mixed emotions as families adjust to the idea of their service member returning. They can feel a wide range of emotions from happiness, excitement, anticipation and relief to anxiety and worries about changes in their service member and the family. Here are some tips that can support families during the anticipation of return stage:

  • Talk about what is going on within the family and openly listen to what family members are saying. Now is the time for families to openly share how they are feeling related to the upcoming homecoming.
  • Remind family members that there are no “perfect” homecomings. Both the service member and family members will have changed during the deployment and it will take time to adjust to those changes.
  • Think positively!  Use this time to think about what expectations for homecoming each family member and service member may have. Determine which ones are realistic and which ones may need adjusting.
  • Talk with your child’s or youth’s earlychildhood providers or school and let them know of the upcoming change. Make arrangements for children and youth to spend time with their service member to celebrate the homecoming.
  • Plan the homecoming as a family. Talk about what the family wants to do for their service member’s homecoming. Will the family make special banners, decorate the house, cook a favorite meal or go out to a favorite restaurant.
  • Reach out for support. If children and youth are having a difficult time adjusting then reach out for additional support from teachers, child care providers or other important adults that your child interacts with. If you are having a hard time adjusting, be sure to take time to find support for you as well. It is important that parents and caregivers are taken care of during deployment so that you can be at your best for your family during deployment.

If your family is getting ready for the deployment of a service member, check out the article Finding Support for Children and Youth with Deployed Family Members for a helpful checklist on who might support your child or youth during your service member’s deployment.  You can also find additional deployment support information on the Military OneSource website, the Operation: Military Kids website and the 4-H Military Partnerships website.

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