If you’re part of a military family, then you know what it’s like to overcome challenges. Time apart from your loved ones, frequent moves, constant changes, financial strain, and regularly worrying about your family’s health and safety are part of your reality. Everyday. But somehow—despite it all—you get through the tough stuff. And as you get through it together, your family becomes stronger, braver, and more resourceful. So, how do you do it? And how can you do it better?
Optimize your family
There are many different qualities that help a family beat the odds and stay resilient when things go downhill. The “big picture” is about what your family believes, how you build your family bonds, and the ways you communicate with and support each other.
As you learn about the following standout qualities of optimized and resilient families, think about which traits you already see in your family—and which ones you might want to grow.
- Solid worldview
For military families, the key to optimization is to have a strong sense of the values and morals that guide you and provide purpose. For some families, religion or spirituality might offer those values, while others might be guided by patriotism or a sense of duty. Optimized families also have a sense of family identity—or a family story—that they share as a unit.
When facing challenges, optimized families practice optimism with a positive outlook. That doesn’t mean they don’t get down or ignore the realities of tough times. But the upshot is that they have the confidence to change what they can and accept whatever else happens.
The way your family makes meaning of adversity is a big part of your ability to overcome it. Optimized families understand that challenges are a part of life and can be an opportunity to grow. They believe they can control their reactions, manage whatever life throws at them, and learn something positive from challenging experiences.
Military families are all too familiar with the frequent and sometimes unexpected changes that life in the Services can bring. In fact, resilient families are able to adapt and pivot when the dynamics shift. This can include adjusting roles, taking on new responsibilities, or being open to repeated changes—such as those caused by frequent moves or deployments—in the family structure.
Optimized families are able to carry a sense of stability throughout the many changes they face too. One way to get there is to follow certain routines and family traditions. Maintaining consistent and steady relationships also helps. For example, having a reliable, effective parenting style or keeping your couple relationship healthy can create stability in your family.
“Even though there are a lot of moving parts when it comes to family optimization, the good news is that every family can find—and grow—the resilient qualities it takes to get there.”
Connection is about staying emotionally engaged, which means sharing happiness, joy, and humor, as well as sadness, fear, or hurt. Optimized families respect each other, particularly when it comes to feelings and needs. And when issues or conflicts occur, they focus on fixing what’s broken and reconciling.
Optimized families make time for each other—and time to be together. Important aspects of family time include shared experiences and showing interest in each other’s separate pursuits. It’s important to do fun things together to help strengthen family bonds and bring everyone closer, while still giving each other time and space to develop personal interests.
No matter how strong your family is, you can’t do it alone. Resilient families know the value of asking others for help and recognizing social support that can include extended family, friends, local or religious communities, military groups, and others you can rely on.
Clear communication means family members are honest and direct with each other. It shows you’re good listeners too. Being consistent and clear also means your loved ones can trust your words and your actions.
- Emotional expression
Members of resilient families are able and willing to share their feelings with each other. This includes being able to show empathy and validate what others are feeling—even during conflict. It also means you’re able to identify a range of emotions and be accountable when appropriate.
- Joint problem-solving
Resilient families share the responsibility of brainstorming solutions and jointly making decisions when problems, issues, or conflicts happen. They build on success and learn from failures while also looking ahead to the future and preventing things from getting worse.
With an optimized family, Military Service Members can maintain readiness, stay resilient, and perform well. Optimized families make it through life’s challenges and come out stronger on the other side too. Even though there are a lot of moving parts when it comes to family optimization, the good news is that every family can find—and grow—the resilient qualities it takes to get there.
A great first step toward optimization is to talk with your family. Check out HPRC’s “Is your family optimized?” to help start the conversation.
Meadows, S. O., Beckett, M. K., Bowling, K., Golinelli, D., Fisher, M. P., Martin, L. T., . . . Osilla, K. C. (2015). Family resilience in the military: Definitions, models, and policies. Retrieved May 22, 2019 from https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR400/RR470/RAND_RR470.pdf
Saltzman, W. R., Lester, P., Beardslee, W. R., Layne, C. M., Woodward, K., & Nash, W. P. (2011). Mechanisms of risk and resilience in military families: Theoretical and empirical basis of a family-focused resilience enhancement program. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 14(3), 213–230. doi:10.1007/s10567-011-0096-1
Shiffer, C. O., Maury, R. V., Sonethavilay, H., Hurwitz, J. L., Lee, H. C., Linsner, R. K., & Mehta, M. S. (2017). 2017 Blue Star Families Military Family Lifestyle Survey. Retrieved May 22, 2019 from https://bluestarfam.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/MFLS-ComprehensiveReport17-FINAL.pdf
Walsh, F. (2006). Strengthening Family Resilience (Second ed.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.