Editor’s Note: We are thrilled to present a new, monthly column, The Resilient Homefront by Courtney Woodruff, subject matter expert with a Master’s in Human Services Counseling- Military Resilience. Look for a new post the first Monday of every month!
She was staring back at me blankly, unblinking. Her familiar eyes were swollen, red-rimmed and filled with tears. I barely recognized her– the weary young woman in the mirror who suddenly looked much older than 26– but it was easy to see she was hanging on by a thread.
Too much had happened too quickly, and I had not had time to catch my breath, much less adjust to all of the major changes that had come our way over the course of our first 18 months of military life. I was unprepared and ill equipped to handle it all, and I had slowly come unraveled.
Six months into my husband’s first year-long deployment, and I had already forgotten our reasons for choosing a life of military service together, in the first place. I knew the quick and easy answer; it was for our family.
The truth was we’d only spent four months under one roof together since my husband pledged his life to our country, and he had barely gotten a chance to know our baby boy before he left for the Middle East.
In that seemingly hopeless moment of self-pity, it was difficult to see the big picture. Blinded by hurt and resentment, I could not see past the trials and tribulations right in front of us.
What is a Resilient Military Family Mission Statement?
Resilience is a buzzword in the military community these days for a reason. Service members and their families must learn to adapt and overcome the challenges that come along with frequent moves and lengthy separation due to field training, TDY and deployments on a regular basis. Often, there is just enough time for the dust to settle before the next set of orders come through.
For military families, understanding our mission, our objective or purpose, in military life is an important part of preparing ourselves so we may be ready when duty calls.
Knowing what it is we are called to do with our lives gives us a deep sense of purpose and meaning in times of stress and adversity, when exhaustion and raw emotion tends to cloud our judgment and can encourage us to question our motives.
A Resilient Military Family Mission Statement (RMFMS), then, is a solid testimony of who we are, what we believe and what we are all about. Something real; something we can hold onto– written out in ink on paper– so we are able to refer to it like a compass when times get tough and it feels like we have gotten lost somewhere along the way.
Why Your Military Family Needs One
Even though it may seem obvious, it is imperative we recognize the fact each family member has their own unique perception of events such as a PCS or deployment.
A RMFMS can help us consolidate our experiences and understand one another better. It can help us see we – service member, spouse and children – are members of a team, each doing our indispensable part of working towards a common goal.
Our mission statement connects us, grounds us, directs us where to go and helps us remember why it is all worth the sacrifice.
So, what is yours?
Every military family has a story of their own, and every story has a beginning.
Think back to the start of it all. Whether you made the decision to serve the military community together or you met your significant other sometime after the oath was sworn, why did you choose to walk down this path?
Was it to serve your God, family, and nation? To help provide for your spouse and children? To offer love and unconditional support to your service member? To further your education and/or career? To continue a family legacy?
Next, consider these questions: what is your military family all about? What are your core values and beliefs?
How about your priorities? Your strengths and weaknesses? What individual traits make each of you unique?
Choose adjectives that describe your family culture as a whole.
Now, consider the end. Whether you plan on retiring with the military or transitioning out as soon as you have fulfilled your current commitment, what do you hope to look back on in your family’s years of military service? What do you want to have accomplished? What are your fears? What are your specific life goals?
It is extremely important that you set aside quiet some time to work through these questions with your spouse first. Be honest and open with yourself and each other.
Then, give other family members– older children, included– the opportunity to form their own answers.
Next, share them and work together to draft a mission statement that fits your military family as a whole. Although the wording will likely evolve as your family grows and adapts over time, the heart of your message should be timeless.
Example: We are The ___________ Family. We choose to find joy in every circumstance and to see our life of military service as an adventure; a way to learn more about the people and places of the world; a way to serve our community together. We believe in unconditional love, kindness, faithfulness and forgiveness. We trust the hardships that come our way will teach us and make stronger. We understand home is wherever we are together. Come what may, our family is forever.
It is important to be aware of the fact that no two military family mission statements will look exactly alike; there is no formula. Your family is made up of unique individuals, beliefs, experiences, and strengths. Your final draft should reflect that. Keep it short and sweet, and make it personal.
Once you have finalized your RMFMS, have each family member sign and date it. It might even be fun to have a special dinner or ceremony to commemorate the event.
You may choose to frame it and hang it on a central wall in your home for all to see, or you can keep it somewhere safe so you can refer to it privately anytime you need to.
Simply preparing your RMFMS will not keep stress and doubt from creeping in, but when they do, you will have it at the ready: a weapon for guarding yourself and your family. Reflecting on it, like reciting a creed, can serve to remind you what your military family stands for, equipping you with the right mindset and sense of purpose we all need to persevere through times of trial and hardship.
Willing myself to put one foot in front of the other, taking one day at a time, my husband eventually returned home from that seemingly endless first deployment. We had twelve months of separation, miscommunication, heartache and disillusionment to work through, but we vowed to do it together.
Over time, I watched the girl in the mirror change, grow and, eventually, bloom. The process took a while, with moments of doubt and lots of tears along the way. Throughout it all, a simple pen and piece of scratch paper ended up being two of the most powerful tools we employed; we used them to construct the first draft of our RFMS together, and it has been an invaluable resource for our family ever since.
In the beginning, I supported my husband’s decision to choose a life of military service for our family; now, we understand that we are a military family, choosing to serve our God, our nation and our children together.
Courtney is a military spouse, mom of 2 boys and part-time writer-editor for a travel & lifestyle magazine serving military families stationed in Europe. She has an MA in Human Services Counseling Military Resilience and hopes to share what little she has learned along the way to help others overcome the unique challenges of military life. You can follow her adventures at her blog, Courtney At Home, or through her social media: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.