The sisters who left for their missions shortly after the October 2012 announcement lowering the minimum age for missionary service are on their way home. The boys will follow soon behind. It’s an exciting time for parents, siblings, friends and Church leaders everywhere.
But the efforts of well-meaning admirers can quickly become tiresome to recently returned missionaries, who might not adjust to post-mission life the way their loved ones expect. Every missionary is different, but here are 10 suggestions for ways you can help make the transition from missionary life to living at home as seamless as possible.
1. Let them talk about their missions — but don’t force it.
Sure, endless mission stories can be boring. But think about it: What if you couldn’t talk about anything you’d done for the last two years? Everything your recently returned missionary has to talk about happened either on his mission or months ago.
But mission experiences have to come up in conversation naturally. Listen to your missionary talk, but don’t bombard him with questions that put him on the spot. Pay attention to your missionary and follow his lead.
2. Reintroduce pop culture gradually.
Yes, that movie that came out last year was so great! But a newly returned missionary might not share your enthusiasm for pop culture. Let her unpack her suitcase, figure out how to speak English and overcome jetlag before having a movie marathon. Your returned missionary will thank you.
3. Fill them in.
As your returned missionary looks for a job, registers for classes, gets a phone or buys a car, he’ll probably notice things have changed since he left. Be aware of what he was expecting and explain how things have changed. Is your family on the same phone plan? Can he have his old room back? Was your bishop released? Telling him what he needs to know before it becomes an issue will help give your missionary a softer landing.
4. Serve with them.
Missionaries generally spend their time doing one of four things: teaching, serving, eating or sleeping. Some missionaries struggle to feel useful in the first days and weeks after their mission when free time is so abundant. Giving meaningful service will help your missionary overcome feelings of uselessness and can help lift their spirits during a challenging time. Hard work is good for everyone—especially recently returned missionaries who miss the feelings that come with selfless service.
Your returned missionary may also be excited to be near a temple and to have the time to go. Attend with her and talk to her about the gospel. A lot of things are changing in your returned missionary’s life, but their love of the gospel doesn’t have to.
5. Let them have some spare time.
As difficult as it is, remembering how to manage spare time is a necessary part of the adjustment from mission life. It’s great for friends and family to make plans, but don’t try to babysit your returned missionary. The sooner she learns to manage her time without a daily missionary planner, the sooner she can start reaching all her new goals. Ask her how she wants to spend her time and let her make decisions, but don’t insist she “just relax.” She’s used to working hard all the time—and that’s a good thing!
6. Encourage good habits.
Sure, two hours of scripture study every day is a bit much for the average person. And your missionary asking you to join him for an hour of it might seem extreme. But old habits die hard, and as strange as they are, missionary habits are good ones. Give your missionary time to ease out of his old schedule, and encourage him to keep up the good habits he learned as a missionary.
7. Give them responsibility.
If you’re a Church leader, involve recently returned missionaries in your ward as much as possible. They may be leaving soon for school or other reasons, but every member needs a responsibility in the Church to be fully engaged. This is especially true for recently returned missionaries, who may be feeling lost and might struggle to find their new place in the Church.
8. Recognize the positive ways they’ve changed.
Especially with the younger minimum age requirement, many missionaries are leaving home as teenagers. But they have plenty of time to grow up on their missions, where they cook for themselves, do their own shopping, pack for themselves and become spiritually self-reliant. Don’t fall into old habits of cleaning up after them, reminding them to take care of their things or scheduling their time for them. Let your missionary utilize the important life skills he learned now that he’s home.
9. Don’t rush them into dating.
Your recently returned missionary is keenly aware of what others expect to come after full-time missionary service. Some will be ready to go to school, declare a major and date the minute they get off the plane, but some won’t. Take some time with your missionary to celebrate the accomplishment of serving a full-time mission. Everything else will come soon enough and, more importantly, when your missionary is ready.
Every person is different, and that includes returned missionaries. Some will want space; others will want you to spend time with them. Some will thrive in changing circumstances; others will struggle. Listen to your returned missionary and pay attention to what they need, even if it isn’t what you expected.