Chapter 5 – Social and Family Transitions

As a returned missionary, your transition back into your family is often the most difficult, so we’ll start with it. Sometimes family members just don’t quite understand that you are a different person than you were when you left. But you are a different person. You have grown up. You are independent. You can cook for yourself, clean for yourself, motivate yourself and most importantly think and act for yourself. Still, at times it may feel like your family still sees you as a wide-eyed 19-year-old kid. They have not watched you change and grow up, so they may treat you as if you have not.

“When I came home, my parents still tried to tell me what to do, what to study, what to wear, and even what to eat. They constantly asked me where I was going and what time I would be home. While I appreciated their concern, I felt like a little kid again. Almost like they didn’t trust me.”

“People interacted with me as they had two years before. I may have looked similar to the way I did when I left, but I was a different person. I felt that my family needed me to be my old self. I felt like people kept trying to push me back into a place where they could be comfortable with me.”

Sometimes your family realizes that you’re a different person, and accepts you as such, but you feel out of touch with them, or you don’t take the time to re-establish relationships with them. Having spent a couple of years in working 15 hours per day, driving yourself in missionary work, you may find you’ve developed some “work-a-holism” and find it hard to relax and just spend time with people.

“[My biggest social challenge was] Not having enough work to do when I returned. Instead of spending time with my family, I got 3 jobs-bagging groceries, working nights at restaurant, and stocking shelves. I missed out on spending time with my family and look back and think I should have only had two jobs.”

Sometimes home life isn’t good and relationships with family members are strained. It’s not that they want you to be just like you were before you left. And it’s not that you’re working too hard and don’t have time to bond. Sometimes your family is totally dysfunctional (or certain people in them) and you have to deal with that.

“I hadn’t had a very good relationship with my Dad before I left, but he was as faithful as anyone at writing me while I was away. He said that he wanted me to come live with him when I got home, as a chance for him to make things right. I thought it was the right thing to do, and I pictured us going to church and priesthood meetings together, etc. Instead when I got home, he was strong willed and not interested in any kind of relationship, but had just wanted to ease his mind I suppose. He had me work for him, and charged me rent, so I never really saw any money, what I did just paid for my place to sleep. Returning with no clothes, this wasn’t going to work out . . . I guess I felt a little bit tricked.”

So you may have challenges with your family members. Or, they may have challenges with you!

“One strange emotional challenge I had related to what I perceived as a lack of spirituality in my family. After having spent two years trying to teach and baptize families and preaching family home evening and family prayer and scripture study, I was dissatisfied that my family only held family prayer. I wished deeply that my family would have daily scripture study and regular Family Home Evening, but I could not influence them sufficiently to start the practices. As a result, I think I may have struggled a little with some disrespect for what I perceived as my father’s weakness in family leadership.”

“I was hard on others. I was critical of the entertainment they preferred and about their behavior, which I perceived as apathetic.”

So much for family. But what about friends? You may experience challenges with them too.

“I guess it was hard trying to be friends with some of the people I knew before my mission, especially with those who hadn’t served a mission. They had no idea what I had been through, and they weren’t living how they should.”

“My friends kept telling me to unwind, relax, loosen up. I couldn’t do it. I had worked 80 hours a week for two years and every though that I had about people I met was whether or not they needed a gospel message.”

“I had a tough time at college the year after my mission. I felt lonely and misunderstood by the world. I had non-LDS roommates who were good people, but I shared no real deep connection with them. That first year back was tough.”

Friends you had prior to your mission service who did not serve missions or are not members of the church may be dismayed by the changes you’ve experienced. Your interests may have changed. Your behavior may have changed in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable around you. Just as you have changed over the last year and a half or two years, they have changed too. When people are uncomfortable with one another, they either work it out, or drift apart.

In general, social transitions can be difficult. Mission relationships are friendly, but their primary purpose is not friendship, it is salvation. Salvation is a process through which people change, and become more righteous. It is work. Your love of seeing people embrace righteous behaviors, and your open invitations to others to change their behavior for the better is good. You also “wore the uniform” as you did this and you were sent forth by the church for this very activity. However, after your mission, while you still have your feelings, you’re not in the uniform and you’ve been released from full-time service. If your relationships with others revolve around the same conversations and invitations they did on your mission, you may be misinterpreted, or come off sounding preachy or self-righteous.

“Socially, I found it difficult to avoid sounding self-righteous. Missionary life was so focused, and every decision was easily characterized as either right or wrong. And, the social structure of the mission supported the generally accepted definitions of right and wrong. Therefore, when I came home and realized that the definitions of right and wrong of other members of the church varied widely, and it took some ‘getting used to’ for me to not look or sound surprised when I encountered someone else w/ a different definition of right and wrong.”

“I made my own parents and close family and friends feel like I was judging them when I first arrived home.”

So what’s the answer? The answer is patience. Be patient with others and be patient with yourself. Let your relationships with others find a natural place by easing back into them. Try to have reasonable expectations about your relationships with others and the way they should be. And if others have unreasonable expectations about you, be patient with them too. Knowing that these challenges might be awaiting you will give you the insight you need to just be patient as you work through them.

You might also decide that the best thing for you is to allow yourself to move to a place (physically or metaphorically) where you can “start anew” with your life and/or relationships. You might also try attending a new ward (a singles ward, for example, if you’re currently attending a home ward). New experiences might help you avoid the feeling that you’re falling back into old ones. Institute programs and classes are good too. They are great places to meet people, make new friends, all while doing so in an environment that often is more comfortable to returned missionaries than other environments.

“One of the best things for me was moving away from home. Since I wasn’t in the same situation that I was before my mission, it was easier to redefine my life and who I was. I wasn’t at the same old high school parties.”

“I relied much on the singles’ ward and church institute programs.”

You might also find your living situation to be awkward. Not living with a companion for the first time in years may feel unusual. That will leave with time. If you are like me, you were more than happy to be able to go out on your own and didn’t feel any awkwardness with being alone. However, others of my friends were extremely uncomfortably. Not only were they uncomfortable living alone, they were uncomfortable being alone. One of my friends, in fact, for weeks insisted that a family member accompany him every time he left the house because he felt awkward being alone.