I love this time of year. I love seeing friends and family. I love watching my young children get excited about Santa and Elf on the Shelf (yes, I got sucked into that).
I also love watching other people and other families enjoy this time of the year. Thanks to social media, the once-a-year holiday card has expanded into regular “updates” from those we follow. We are invited into the homes and moments of people who we know, or know of. For military families, this is especially important, especially this time of year. It connects us to people we miss, to our social media family, and to our support systems.
The photos I see this time of the year are remarkable. Beautiful families, delicious-looking meals, and homes that are carefully decorated for the season. I love these posts, but I also know (from experience) that there are things happening behind the scenes, and elements that don’t make it into the Instagram shot.
I am certainly guilty of combing through photos and carefully selecting those I want to share. I, like many others, want to portray a certain life.
I want it to look like I have my act together, when in reality, I often don’t.
Perfect example: a few weeks ago I shared a picture of what looked like a “perfect turkey.” In reality, the turkey was NOT good. It was dried out and way under-seasoned. My husband tried to fake it, “Mmmm… this is good.” My toddler was less discreet and offered hers up to our dog.
Our lives are full of these moments, and sometimes when we are able to share what is really happening behind the scenes, we learn more about others, and we certainly are more authentic.
This year, military families let me and my colleagues into their lives in ways I never expected. They were brave, and they shared their realities. They trusted MFAN with stories of horrendous housing situations, difficulty paying bills, struggles to get enough healthy food for themselves and their families, concerns about alcohol and intimate partner violence. They were brave. They trusted us. And we are beyond honored.
Telling the story of military families is no easy feat. At the Military Family Advisory Network, we take our role in this space seriously.
Time and again, we have seen bloggers, social media influencers, and the news media focus only on the good parts of military life. They love to show the moments that make your heart overflow with pride.
Sure, I’ve watched my fair share of surprise homecoming videos and cried every time the service member scoops up the waiting toddler or surprises a child at school. But you and I know these videos don’t share the whole story – the struggles that come with reintegration, and the heartache that can follow a long separation just don’t give the same warm fuzzy feelings – but the conversation is no less important.
In our experience, most of the people we speak with want to support service members and their families. Many businesses have pledged support, and organizations are working on many issues with the intention of improving the day-to-day reality of military life. It’s hard for them to do this important work without seeing the bigger picture.
MFAN is dedicated to sharing the whole story — and not just the pretty picture — because we don’t want military families to have to be resilient in all things.
We know military families are tired. Our research tells us that they’ve been struggling for a long time with issues we know are fixable. Things like housing struggles, budget shortfalls, food insecurity, and employment issues are fixable if only we stop saying “military families are resilient” and instead ask the hard questions:
What is the root cause of this problem?
How many people are facing this challenge?
What solutions are we offering?
Where are we falling short?
When we ask and answer these questions through carefully conducted research, we can create solutions that tackle the heart of the problem. We can ensure that no problem is brushed under the rug. And, we can change the narrative so no military family feels like they are alone.
Because, after all, we believe in this life. We believe in service.
This holiday season, please consider supporting our research with a donation so we can continue to share the stories of military families.
Military Family Advisory Network