For deployments lasting a year or longer, service members are often granted a week or two of leave near the middle of deployment. This R&R visit is a great opportunity to come home, rest and reconnect with family. But it can also be difficult to cram a year’s worth of celebrations and memories into such a short break. Military families worry about how to make the best use of the limited days of the R&R visit.
Here are your tips for a successful R&R visit during deployment:
- Focus on refueling. While R&R usually stands for rest and relaxation, during deployment it should mean refuel and recharge. You and your spouse are both stressed and exhausted from the challenges of deployment. Use this time to refuel physically, mentally and emotionally. The needs will be different for each couple, so take time to discuss this in advance and determine what each of you needs most.
- Make plans, but not too many. R&R visits will always feel like they fly by too quickly. If there are essential activities — like a date night, celebrating a holiday or making a large purchase — then plan those out in advance as much as possible. Don’t let logistics get in the way of important events by waiting until the last minute. However, be careful that the visit isn’t too busy and structured. It’s supposed to be down time, with some lazy days and relaxing afternoons.
- Make it a vacation to remember. Many families use R&R visits to enjoy a big vacation together. You’ve both worked hard, so this is your time to reward yourselves with a trip to Disney, or a beach or a cruise. If you have kids, this big event can give them something to look forward to during the first half of deployment. It can be a combined celebration for all the missed birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. Depending on your budget, a once-in-a-lifetime trip might be a great use of your extra deployment funds.
- Relax at home. Sometimes, quiet days at home are exactly what everyone needs. Don’t feel like the R&R trip has to be filled with big, expensive events. If your service member just flew halfway around the world to see you, they probably don’t want to travel anymore during this short visit. For couples who try to align R&R with the birth of a baby (always a frustrating challenge!), the focus should be on resting, recovering and supporting each other with household chores or projects.
- Pull kids out of school. Yes, military kids are allowed to miss school during their deployed parent’s visit! Check with the school in advance, but most districts have clauses for excusing absences for family events. If children miss five days, schools are often required to provide a packet for makeup work. Communicate with teachers ahead of time to make sure kids won’t miss any important grades. Skipping school can be a memorable way to soak up family time.
- Get some alone time. If you have kids, it’s natural that the service member has missed them and wants to spend as much time with them as possible. But it’s also important to get time alone as a couple. Plan ahead to get a babysitter or call-in favors so you and your spouse can go out a few times during their visit. Whether you have dinner at your favorite place, go hiking together or dress up for a show, make some time to date each other again. You might even want to arrange a night away at a local hotel or B&B.
- Don’t try to visit family. Perhaps an unpopular opinion, but R&R is not the time for the service member to drive for days and visit their hometown. They should be resting and reconnecting with their immediate family. If their parents or relatives want to visit, make sure you both discuss this in advance and get everyone on the same page. It’s important to agree to boundaries and ground rules for visitors, so everyone can have an enjoyable time.
- Practice ways to connect. Finally, remember that R&R is a chance to build skills that will get you through the remainder of deployment. Discuss whether the communication so far has been working. What do you each want to do or receive more often? Can the service member pick up a new piece of technology or download an app that will help you both feel more connected when they are gone? Practice the connections together, so there will be fewer technical glitches when you’re apart. Think about the traditions you share now and brainstorm creative ways to enjoy them together during the rest of deployment.
However you choose to spend the R&R visit, I’m so glad you get one, and I hope it’s a refreshing break for you!