The process of transitioning out of the military is a life-changing experience for service members whether they served four years or forty. But what isn’t always considered is the impact that transition can have on the service member’s family. After deployments, relocations, and all the other adjustments you make as a successful military family, it can still be difficult to return to civilian life.
According to a study by the Department of Veterans Affairs, at least one million service members will separate from the military and transition to civilian life from 2011 to 2016. These service members will be met with both opportunities and challenges when returning to civilian life.
Whether it’s in adjusting to a new job, new city, or just getting back into the swing of things at home, these are seven things no one tells military families about transition.
1. You can finally settle down and start some family traditions.
One of the hardest parts of military life for families of active-duty service members is the relocation process. An upside to transitioning is that you and your family can finally choose where to live and put down roots. You and your kids can start to make lasting friendships. It’s a chance to settle down and really become a part of your community. This is an opportunity to establish new traditions like setting up weekly Sunday dinners or attending your town’s Friday night football games at the local high school. There’s an added bonus: You no longer have to live in base housing.
2. Sometimes creating your own battle rhythm can be difficult if your family hasn’t had one before.
After years of being given direct orders, freedom from the military can be a challenge. The rigor of someone providing explicit instructions for your daily life, which has been an integral part of your family’s routine, is no longer there. It’s important to set goals and develop a new routine. Additionally, if you’re coming off deployment, it can be hard sometimes for you to take an active role in your family's life. You might not know how the household is run, where the kids need to be at what time, what kind of detergent your spouse buys for the laundry, but that’s all okay. While these bits of knowledge seem minor, they can lead to tension in the home if not addressed as a family. Getting used to a new battle rhythm requires some patience, but if you know this ahead of time, your family can plan to work through it together.
3. Family relationships might go through some growing pains in the beginning.
While as a family, you’re excited to have a lot more time together, it’s common to feel strain in your familial relationships when going through transition. According to Make the Connection, relationship problems can derive from newly transitioned veterans feeling misunderstood or distant from their family and friends; feeling distant from their spouses even if they initially felt very close when first home from deployment; or feeling like a stranger in their own home. Opening up with each other and friends about the difficulties in your relationships is an important first step. It can be difficult, but it is important to be honest about how you are feeling. However, if you find that these discussions or tensions are leading to abuses or violence, as a family you need to seek support.
4. Transition can come with financial hardships if you don’t plan ahead.
Most families will have to make financial adjustments when transitioning. Though you may have been in the military for years, you are essentially starting from the beginning career-wise. There is a chance you may not make the income you anticipated in the job field you expected. Not everything always goes according to plan, so be smart with spending prior to your transition, and make sure you and your family are all on the same page. Sit down together and come up for with a household budget that covers you for at least three months of unemployment. If you don’t have a lot of experience with financial planning, research resources and tools to make it easier on you and your partner to spend less and save more.
You may have difficulty finding meaningful employment right away, or you may just want to take some time to explore what career fields interest you. Just remember, you have been equipped with skills like decision making, persistence, and attention to detail, which will give you a leg up in the civilian world. Additionally, benefits like the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill are available for those who aspire to higher levels of education.
5. Unemployment is hard, but not impossible to navigate.
According to the VA, roughly 53% of separating post-9/11 veterans will face a period of unemployment. While half of active-duty families reported to Blue Star Families that their spouses are unable to work because of service constraints, transition can be a good opportunity for the non-military spouse to seek out a career where they hadn’t before. It’s also important to note that there are tons of programs and organizations that want to help you use your skills to start a second career and keep your family on track. Use them; don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are groups that will help with anything from family counseling to financial planning to resume services.
6. Depression doesn’t only affect combat veterans; it can come from separation too.
Transition out of the military presents a new set of challenges for you and your family. Stress and anxiety doesn’t just impact veterans who saw combat, it can come as a result of the loss of job security and camaraderie supplied by the military for so long. This new phase will present your family with a lot of life choices, like whether or not to go back to school, or what career field is best for your financial needs and lifestyle. You may also miss the order and discipline of military life and wonder if you will be able to adjust. It is normal to have these apprehensions. In order to combat these feelings, come up with a plan of action as a family for your adjustment that includes a list of goals for your transition, your future, and your personal life. That said, if you think you are suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, it will only make your transition that much harder for you and your family, and you should seek support. There is nothing wrong with asking for help even if you don’t think you’re the type of person who is affected by mental health issues.
7. Even though you’re transitioning, military life will always be a part of who you are as a family.
Civilian life will eventually become your new normal, but the lessons and memories you have from your time served will remain. Your family will always be a military family and part of the military community.