What It Means to be a Resilient Family


I love the emails that show what kids say or write, especially in school. I recently saw a response from a child on an essay with the writing prompt “Positive ways our family handles stress.” The essay was only three words, written in what looks to be a third or fourth grade hand. “Suck it up.” Had to be a military child!

Perhaps a more polite way to say it is: “Be resilient.” Resilience is a popular word these days in our military community. I know I don’t always feel resilient, but being resilient isn’t about always feeling good. As military families, our regular routine involves constant change, separations and challenges. That’s just during the week; don’t get me started about what we have to cram into a Saturday!

So how do we build a resilient family? And what does that look like? Resilient families are flexible, joyful and productive. They believe in something greater than themselves, and we build them one day at a time.

Flexible – Get good at this. The one thing that IS certain is that nothing is certain. We need to be ready for anything and capable of juggling everything. A tall order for mere mortals, but I’ve seen enough families over the years not only bend and not break, but do it with an attitude of strength, determination and yes, even joy. This one is not always easy for me. I like a plan. I want to know in January where we might be for Christmas that year. What I’ve discovered is that I’m okay with the plan changing; I just need a plan. Be okay with your plan changing. This is resilience.

We strive for routine, which is important, but not always possible. In our house we don’t have change; we have adventures. We don’t always laugh and have fun during the adventure, but something good is always gained. Discovering strength and skills we never knew we were capable of has been the result. If you are a military spouse and I told you I drove 1,500 miles with three small children, in a rain storm, by myself, I would lay odds that your reaction would be: “Yep, been there, done that.” What we sometimes fail to realize is we are AMAZING! Not everyone does that. We just happen to live surrounded by families where this is the norm. We are a small percentage of a much greater population where this sounds insane! This is resilience.

Productive – We can live anywhere for three years. What we don’t do is live isolated for three years. We can make it through an 18-month deployment. However what we don’t do is spend it in our bedroom eating ice cream every day. Today, more than ever before, the options before us are a smorgasbord of opportunity. Education, careers and personal development are easier than ever to connect with. Each challenge that comes our way might alter what we are doing and how we do it, but it should never snuff out the flame of personal and family progression. It might just take a different path for a time. This is resilience.

Joyful – Even during deployments, challenging times and unpleasant changes, we can be joyful. Wait; don’t throw onions at me yet! It’s not something that just happens. You have to make it happen. Look for joy. It’s there. Help your family find the greater determination we are all capable of to not only face difficulties, but to overcome them, recover and grow! Where do you look for joy? One way is in service. Service to others will pay more in dividends to your family than any amount of money. It doesn’t have to be grandiose. It could be as simple as mowing the neighbor’s yard, taking flowers or cookies to someone who is struggling or doing other small acts of kindness. Service teaches compassion, it pulls us out of our own despair and is one of the main qualities found in the American spirit. A byproduct of selfless service is joy. This is resilience.

Corps Values – We are military families. Honor, courage and commitment are not foreign to us. Help your children be just as familiar with these values as the men and women who wear the uniform are. Believing in something greater than ourselves is not only honorable and good; it sustains us during those times when we are not sure if the sun will ever shine in our lives again. What this looks like for each family is personal and intimate. This is resilience.

When we are in the trenches raising our families, it’s hard to know if we are making any headway or having an impact. I promise; you are.

As my children have begun to leave home, no longer under my direct care, I have seen strength and courage in their lives. I know those seeds were planted in our home, nurtured and challenged by life as a military family. That is resilience.

We live with the possibility of a knock at the door. A chaplain standing with another service member with a message we pray never to receive. We know the potential sacrifice we may be called to make. Injury and even death walk a short distance away as our loved ones train, deploy and execute their missions. However, drive through a military community on a weeknight and see if you find despair and sorrow.

What you’ll see is soccer practice with dads and moms straight from duty coaching, teaching and laughing. You’ll see children running to greet parents at the end of a workday with smiles, hugs and loud exclamations of “I’m hungry” and “What’s for dinner?” Teenagers finishing up after school activities, lingering just a little bit longer in the high school parking lot to see if that special someone comes out and they can catch their eye, a smile or maybe a quick hello. You’ll see lights turning on as darkness closes in and we fix dinners, do homework and share our day’s events with one another. Sometimes we are all home. Sometimes we are not.

We are great Americans; we are resilience.

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