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.