He stepped onto the grass outside the prison...
The day Jose came home he was feeling nervo-cited—both nervous and excited at the same time. He had looked forward to his freedom for so long. His wife and children had stayed connected to him so he was wondering why he was feeling so nervous. The first thought he had was, “the grass really is greener on this side of the fence.” He stepped onto the grass outside of the prison fence and smiled.
Once he arrived at his family’s home—his new home—he slowly got out of the car. So, this is it. This is where he lived. It didn’t feel like home when he walked in; he felt like a guest in someone else’s house. He walked through the small entry way and into the house. His daughter grabbed his arm and held him back. “Dad!! Stop!! You cannot walk through the house with your shoes on! You have to take them off here at the door before you can go in.” In that moment, embarrassment, pride, and shame rose up. He didn’t want to take off his shoes. It felt wrong to walk around with only his socks on. He felt vulnerable without his shoes on. He wondered if he even belonged there.
Everything is different
Jose’s experience is so common for men returning back home after serving more than a year. Everything is different. The family routines and rules are strange to them. Even if the house is the same place he lived before prison, it is still different. They need time to adjust to the new rules and their freedom. If you aren’t deliberate about making your husband feel at home, the transition will be rough. The fear of being rejected, unnecessary, or unwanted by their partner and children can become a huge barrier in the transition between prison and home.
Adjusting as a family
In order to help you adjust as a family, I am sharing my tips for making your family stronger as your husband comes home. In preparation for the adjustments you need to make, you must understand the experience from your partner’s perspective. When you look at the transition through his eyes, your adjustments become easier to navigate.
Dreaming of a better life is just the beginning. You must also begin to create the life you want. The bigger the dream, the harder you will have to work for it. Remember, there is no such thing as a fairy godmother who is going to magically make all of your dreams come true.
The three best tips I have for you are:
1. Be flexible
2. Keep a routine
3. Change your routine
I know—numbers 2 and 3 seem like they contradict each other. Trust me, they do not. But I will get to those after we talk about being flexible.
Flexibility is a must! The real-life example I gave about Jose is a perfect illustration of an opportunity to be flexible. Rather than enforcing all of the house rules, set the top priority as making your husband feel comfortable in his own home. Chances are, when you let him acclimate at his own pace, he will adopt most of the habits your family has developed. If he doesn’t, so what? Walking around with his shoes on in your house is so much better than not having him home! Keep your perspective right, and you will not sweat the small stuff.
How to set routines
Next, routines will make or break your relationship. If you completely toss your routines out the window, your entire family will feel the chaos. The disruption of every area of your life will create more stress – and eventually resentment. Do your best to keep as much of your family’s routine in place as possible. Consistency will provide peace and a sense of safety and control for each of you.
Flexibility is your best friend
However, if your routine does not include your husband, you need to revisit number one. Flexibility is your best friend during this transition time. Changing your routine to accommodate your husband is not as simple as it sounds. His needs will conflict with your routine. If you get frustrated or irritated by having to make room for him in your schedule, you are missing out on the best part of having him home—he is a part of your life. Schedules and routines are hard to change when you feel inconvenienced. Decide to keep your focus on the importance of connecting as a family and the joy of having him back.
One more important word about changing your routines
Don’t make him feel like you are making a huge sacrifice to include him. All of you are making changes to adapt to life as a family. It is a team effort to move beyond transition and into a new routine together as a family.
I am rooting for you!