“Coming Home”: Love It or Hate It?

If you have even seen the commercials for Lifetime TV’s new show “Coming Home,” you know a large box of tissues is mandatory for viewing.  It’s a reality program that documents surprise homecoming stories of deployed military members.  The show producers don’t just film the homecoming.  They stage an elaborate homecoming event that the service member’s family never saw coming.

If you go to the show’s website, you can read all the viewers’ gushing comments about how wonderful they think the series is.  As of today, there were over 300 comments about how heartwarming the show is and how it is a great tribute to what military members and their families go through.  A few people grumbled about there being too much of one service represented and not enough of another, although no one can seem to agree on which branch is being slighted.  Without exception, those who have commented mention the fact that they cry through every episode.  That’s entertainment??

So how could anyone find fault with such a laudable program?  Leave it to the Uncommonhousewife.

Full disclaimer:  I have not watched any episode in its entirety, though I did see a portion of the first episode.  I will be watching the episode set to air this coming Sunday because SuzyQ will appear in it ever-so-briefly.

When I saw the first commercials for “Coming Home,” I knew I wouldn’t watch or recommend the show.  I find it rather cruel.  As someone who has experienced a number of deployment homecomings, I can tell you that I have never wished that a camera crew would film the event in all of its HD glory for a national viewing audience.  And I would never agree to have the homecoming of their dad sprung on my kids like a surprise birthday party.  I can’t believe there are so many moms and dads who think keeping their other parent’s return date a secret after he or she has been gone for months on end is fair to the child.  Even worse, the same mom or dad then lets this huge drama play out in front of classmates and neighbors, and total strangers.  All I can say is, I hope the glamour of being on TV was worth it.

If you have never experienced the emotional roller coaster of a deployment, you have no idea what goes through a person’s mind about homecoming.  Everyone assumes a child will just be thrilled to see the parent that has been gone, but often there is a grab bag of feelings about the event.  Very young kids frequently get nervous when this person just reappears, and they will hide behind Mommy or even refuse to throw their arms around Daddy like everyone else.  Sometimes, they will be feeling poorly on the big day–tired, hungry, generally cranky– and will just want to get it over with and go home.  A child might be so overwhelmed with emotion at seeing that parent, she will just break down.  You actually see a lot of that on the show.  And that’s all true even when the kid knows about the homecoming in advance.

Now multiply all of that times 50 or so, and watch it all happen in front of the child’s teachers, classmates, fellow symphony-goers, spectators.  It’s definitely dramatic, if not fair to the child.

Imagine a wife or girlfriend in that same position.  She’s going along all unsuspecting.  She didn’t pick out the outfit that really makes her feel great about herself; didn’t color the gray out of her hair; didn’t move her stuff out of his closet.  She figures she has plenty of time to do this later.  Then all of a sudden, there he is.  So what’s the big deal; none of those things are really important, right?  The problem is that these little insignificant details are all part of the process of preparing yourself for your service member’s return.  There is so much more to it than the balloons and hugs of the moment.  What shows like “Coming Home” fail to mention is the anxiety and uncertainty that comes with being apart for 6, 12, 15 months.  People change and adapt to life without the loved one.  It’s not always easy just to go back to the way things were before the deployment.  That’s why there are all kinds of resources provided by the military, like Military One Source and Fleet and Family Services, that address exactly these issues.

I get it that a lot of people, especially military families, think that “Coming Home” will educate the rest of the world about the sacrifices and hardships that are part of military life.  Maybe, after watching the show, people will do more than pay lip service appreciation to the 1% of Americans who risks their lives in defense of the rest of us.  Jacey Eckhart’s latest great piece is about just that.  And I agree that the show does have the potential to give viewers a hint of the pain of separation and some realization of the mortal danger that these men and women repeatedly, and voluntarily, face. 

But I can’t get past the cheap thrill “Coming Home” offers its viewers at the expense of real people: sons, daughters, siblings, spouses, and parents who can’t contain their raw joy at seeing their loved one return alive.  Showing a homecoming in an airport or parade field is one thing.  Staging elaborate spectacles to spring a homecoming on an unsuspecting loved one is entirely different.  Is nothing sacred, private, or personal anymore?


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