Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

17377 Situated Mothering: The Experience and Role Transformation of Non-Deployed Military Mothers

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 8:00 AM
Wilson (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Abigail M. Ross, Doctoral Student, Boston University, Boston, MA
Ellen M. Maynard, MSW, Research Assistant, Boston University, Jamaica Plain, MA
Ruth Paris, PhD, Assistant Professor, Boston University, Boston, MA
Purpose: The cumulative effects of combat-related experiences on service members who've participated in recent conflicts in Afghanistan (OEF) or Iraq (OIF) and their families continue to be an area of intense inquiry for mental health and social work scholars (e.g. Chandra et al., 2010). More recently, research has begun to explore the impact of deployment upon a service member's ability to parent; specifically, upon the experience of being a deployed father (MacDermid, 2005). The impact of OEF/OIF deployments for at-home mothers of young children has yet to be fully explored. However, specific research documents some concerns of at-home parents including, anticipating how to manage the worry of chronic threat to the parent in combat (Boss, 1999; Huebner, et al., 2007) and the practical demands of maintaining a household and caring for children. This study analyzes interview data with spouses of deployed servicemen to determine how their experiences are similar to or different from their partners and posits implications for social work interventions.

Methods: In-depth interviews with were conducted with 30 OEF/OIF female spouses with a child under five as part of a larger intervention development study. Questions focused on participants' experiences of communication with the service member and child(ren), individual parental relationships with child(ren), parenting/co-parenting during all phases of the deployment lifecycle, and transitions related to the service member's return home. Participants were also asked to reflect upon their children's and their own experiences of a father's deployment/ reintegration, their own mental health status, and the effects of these on relationships with their young children and their parenting ability. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed using the six phases of thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Two research assistants generated initial codes, identified themes grounded in MacDermid's (2005) “situated parenting” framework and additional ones, and generated a thematic analysis map. Subsequently, they refined existing themes to those most prominent. All data were coded using the QDA software Atlas.ti. Reliability meetings were held regularly with senior investigators to assure consistent use of codes.

Findings: In addition to main themes consistent with those identified in MacDermid's (2005) descriptive framework of military fathering including, space and time, sociocultural context of deployment, interpersonal context of parenting discourses, and transitional elements of deployment, a fifth theme of role transformation also emerged as salient for at-home mothers. The phenomenon of role transformation emerged as mothers noted their newfound abilities in serving as both mother and father, along with the ensuing empowerment they experienced in their new roles. Mothers also described challenging re-negotiations of parenting roles when the service member parent returned home.

Conclusion: Findings suggest that the addition of role transformation to the framework of “situated parenting” is useful when trying to understanding the experiences of at-home mothers with deployed spouses. Given the juxtaposition of mothers' empowerment and the need for post-deployment role negotiation with spouses, social workers involved with military families must understand the changes that ensue for both partners as a result of deployment not just for the service member.

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