Are Homecoming Surprises a Good Idea?

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Sailors from the USS Leyte Gulf greet their families upon redeployment. (Joshua D. Sheppard/DVIDS)

“Don’t surprise your servicemember with any major lifestyle changes at homecoming,” the family life consultant told us at a meeting before homecoming. “If you have made a major change it is best to give him some warning so he can be prepared.”

I figure that’s good advice. There are already enough changes in our relationship after a year of absence without throwing the poor man through other loops. If he’s expecting to come home to things he recognizes in the places he put them, it’d be a rude awakening to surprise him with a new house.

And so when I saw this news story about a military spouse who lost 100 lbs. and bought a home during her husband’s deployment -- and surprised him with both the day he returned -- I was torn.

On the one hand, healthy weight loss is a very exciting thing that he would be unlikely to be upset about. Of course, she wanted to delight him with it. And of course, she should! As someone who recently had to move heaven and earth (and stop eating all processed food) just to drop 20 lbs. of post-baby weight, I can’t imagine what a relief dropping 100 must be.

On the other hand, she had changed so much, he said in the interview, that he didn’t even recognize her. These were good changes and he doesn’t indicate that he has a problem with them, but not every service member would handle change so well.

The whole thing got me thinking that, when it comes to redeployment, perhaps there is a hierarchy of surprises -- news you should save, and news you should not -- and a good rule of thumb for knowing whether or not a surprise is a good idea.

Categorize Your Surprises

If you were to categorize surprises as “good,” “neutral” and “bad,” you could easily decide which you should clue him into before he gets home.

For example, after having three kids, one blogger friend used her husband’s deployment to get a rather tasteful boob job and tummy tuck -- and surprised him with it when he got home. You better believe he didn’t mind.

But then there are also surprises that could elicit a variety of reactions, and ones that are downright no good.

Your spouse may be elated that you moved into a surprise new house while he was gone. Or, he could be really upset that you relocated his pet rock collection. We'll call that a "neutral."

And there’s no question that, say, totaling his car while he was gone and waiting until he was home to -- surprise! -- tell him about it is a negative surprise.

So how do you decide whether to make it a surprise?

If you’ve determined that your bit of information is good enough to risk a surprise for, it could be that it all comes down to this:

Know thy servicemember.

Is he the kind of guy who likes surprises? Then surprise away. Is he a surprise hater? Then give the fella a little warning.

And hopefully, he'll be just as happy as the one above was.

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