What Does it Really Mean to Be a Resilient Military Family?

The speaker held an egg delicately in one hand and a fuzzy, lime-green tennis ball in the other.

Addressing the class, she asked us to imagine what would happen to the egg if she let it drop to the floor, and I wrinkled up my nose as I pictured the splat of runny yellow yolk.

Moments later, the tennis ball met the same fate, only, this time, the speaker actually let it fall to the ground. Unlike the egg, the ball hit the tiles with a soft thwack, then gracefully rebounded to her open hand.

We were at a resilience briefing.

My husband had been required to attend the class while processing into his first duty station, and I’d tagged along with our then-five-month-old, mostly to avoid the empty hotel room that had become our temporary home.

This was one of my first experiences of military life.

Clinging to our baby boy extra tightly, I could not help but feel a little out of place and slightly intimidated by the tan and dusty green sea of digi-cam it seemed we had suddenly been swept up in, but I hung on to every word the speaker had to say.

A part of me hoped she would share a top-secret military technique that would somehow help us learn how to harden (or at least numb) our hearts and minds, so we would be able to carry them through the next couple of months of field training, and then my husband’s first year-long deployment, with as little ache, stress, and fear as possible.

Becoming truly resilient, after all, means finding a way to be completely unbreakable, right?

At least, that’s what I thought back then.

What is resilience?

According to Merriam-Webster, resilience can be defined as the ability to “return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, pressed, bent, etc” or “become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens.”

While the tennis ball versus the egg experiment serves to effectively demonstrate the first definition, I would have to agree with the latter in the context of military life, describing resilience as the ability to confront, endure, overcome, and recover from change, stress, and adversity.

As resilient military families, we understand there is more to resilience than simply being able to bounce back like a tennis ball to who and where we were before an event, such as a deployment, PCS, or PTSD diagnosis, made an impact on our lives.

We recognize that we are forever changed by our experiences.

What does it really mean, then, to be a resilient military family?

For military families, working towards resilience does not mean we simply find ways around the valleys and rock bottoms, avoiding them altogether.

Instead, we walk through the stress of frequent moves, the heartache of long separations, the physical and mental pain of war wounds, and the fear of the unknown. We reach out for support when we need it, choosing to persevere, adapt, learn from our experiences, and perhaps even grow stronger – both as families and as individuals – along the way.

We acknowledge that, in some ways, we are more like the egg than the tennis ball. When we come face to face with adversity, we may bruise, we may crack, and sometimes, we may even break – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

We also understand, however, that when we do, it isn’t because we are somehow inferior or broken altogether. We are human beings who have come face to face with exceptional challenges and stressors.

The wonderful thing about our human bodies, minds, and even the relationships we have with others, is they have ability to begin healing after trauma. The only stipulation is we must first be willing to reach out for and accept the support we need.

The stigma attached to asking for help has the potential to do irrevocable harm to our overall well-being, and it has the power to impact those close to us, as well.

While we may never be the same as we were before, crises have a way of presenting opportunities for growth that can one day lead us to helping others who are suffering, too.

Together, we can lend our voices to the silent and let them know they are not alone.

How would you define resilience in the context of military life? 

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About Courtney Woodruff

Courtney Woodruff is a military spouse, mom, writer, editor and web content manager currently living in Germany. She grew up in a small Texas town where she knew nothing but roots until she set off on an unexpected adventure when her husband joined the military. She has a heart for our troops and strives to share what little she has learned from her journey to serve and encourage fellow military families, parents, expats and family travelers.

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