Navigating the R&Rs can be a source of both excitement and stress to the unaccompanied family. For non foreign service people, R&R means what it means in normal life, a break, a rest, a vacation. Depending on the post (location) and the length of the assignment, the employee gets one to three R&Rs during their time apart. We actually had one when we were in Kuwait and took a trip to Scotland for Noah's baptism and to visit some friends. For this assignment Gman had three.
While it is exciting to see the person who has been gone, an R&R is also a reality check on relationships, and a really stressful adjustment to the family dynamic. Gman teases me about messing with my routine every time but that's a serious sticking point for me. I'm a creature of intense habit. I got mad at him one time he was home because he did the laundry. It sounds ridiculous but it was something I was used to doing and something so little was magnified by the stress of reuniting.
When we finished our last R&R (praise God!) I took some time to reflect on it. I want to share with you some thoughts, observations, suggestions that we have learned along our almost year and a half of separation in regards to reuniting on R&R.
We found it difficult to pretend "normal life" as if Gman lived there when he came home. Everyone wanted to visit with him and the time slipped from our fingers. After trying to cram our entire lives into an emotional two weeks we decided the best route was to make the time off (usually 2 weeks) a vacation for everyone. It was actually really nice that way, even if Gman came home and we took day trips or just laid around at the beach all day. This way I was off the clock too and we spent more time together instead of me worried about the to-do list while Gman spent time with everyone else. It also helped the dynamic between Noah and us, as children tend to push the boundaries and act up when the separated parent returns. Being on vacation changed the rules anyways and he was less likely to push us.
Dealing with extended family can also be difficult at times. Of course everyone wants to visit with the person who has been away and they're only home a few short weeks. But the reality is connecting with one's children is really the most important thing. Adults understand how to use a telephone and can maintain a relationship most of the time through that and FaceTime, etc. It's more difficult for children, especially little ones and they really need that physical touch to maintain a connection. We found it helpful to arrange special time with our parents and sisters so everyone felt like they got one on one but it didn't take away from time with Noah. We also had a special happy hour for friends and family who wanted to see us.
Another thing that really helped us reconnect in such a short time was to make lists of things we wanted to be sure to talk about. We didn't really talk over the phone too much or even in email when he was away so if I wanted to be sure and ask about something financial or mention a cute story that happened I wrote it down. It sounds excessive but, again, the time goes by quickly and there are a lot of distractions. Having a list helps ensure you talk about the things you had been waiting to talk about for a few months of separation.
I hope this is helpful to you!