The news this week that all troops will be leaving Iraq is a happy headline. The military community hopes Obama is right, and that Iraq can continue the hard-won progress for which so many Americans gave life and limb. And there are so many soldiers who've been deployed there for too long, there will happy families this Christmas.
But our military families understand this does not mean war and deployments are now behind us. We are an all-volunteer force, and so unless your contract is up, there will always be detachments and deployments, and duty to serve.
While this may seem like the end of the war for many Americans, that’s just not so for military families. We know service members and their families will keep serving, sacrificing, and dealing with deployments to dangerous places. Many service members—almost 100,000—are still fighting in Afghanistan. Many are away from home in other operations. Others are working long hours at their home stations in support of those in harm’s way. Those returning may soon be leaving for other assignments.
As a military wife of 14 years, who's weathered 7 deployments and homecomings, I am thrilled to think of all the joyous homecomings there will be this fall. I love to watch them on TV and on Youtube with a box of kleenex.
I also know the stress couples will feel as they try to return to normal daily life together.
It's a common joke among my Navy wife friends that at some point after a homecoming, about 3 weeks for me, that you think to yourself "Doesn't he have a boat to go to already!?"
And that thought is usually followed by guilt, because you know how much you longed for him while he was gone. How desperately you wanted him home every day.
But sharing and compromise is not easy to jump back into when you've been running a household, raising kids, living your life singly for many months on end. At first you're happy to compromise on what movie to watch, you don't care that he never does his dishes, it feels good to see him safely on the sofa watching NASCAR all weekend long, and it's not a big deal keeping the kids up late to have dinner with Dad when he comes home from work at 7 pm.
But after a couple weeks, it's irritating that his dirty clothes are everywhere, he still hasn't unpacked two seabags, and every time you try to coordinate your plans with him he's noncommittal. Then suddeny he's arguing with you over finances and how to discipline the children, and that's when you think, "Don't you have a boat to go to!?"
Most of us do it. There can be some big fights between couples about three weeks after a homecoming. Because it is hard for two independent adults who have gotten used to making independent decisions to compromise. Not about big things, but about little things, like what time to eat dinner, and where to toss your dirty socks. It wears you down and makes you cranky.
You just gotta figure it out. For us, I just have to accept that he has a right to change some of our routines, he is the Dad and my partner, and it's his house, too. He has to acknowledge that I've been running things my way for a reason, and I know what I'm doing. Messing with the routine has consequences.
Of course the answer is compromise and patience. The troops coming home this fall will probably be counseled on "transitioning" back to family life. In the initial Homecoming Honeymoon, compromise and patience will come pretty easily. But when the honeymoon's over, they'll have to take a deep breath and work at it.
I just hope they know it's normal. It gets better. It helps if you get off the couch and wash some dishes at halftime.