Saturday, January 14, 2012: 8:00 AM-9:45 AM
Wilson (Grand Hyatt Washington)
Cluster: Work, Family, and Family Policy
Ruth Paris, PhD, Boston University
Gary L. Bowen, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Symposium Theme: This symposium offers an in-depth look at how members of military families cope with and are challenged by preparations for deployments to combat zones, the actual separation, and the eventual return home. Presentations incorporate the results of three different qualitative studies drawn from a larger multi-phase project to develop an intervention for military families with young children. The first paper reports research findings from a study using interview data from non-deployed military spouses to examine their unique experiences during their partner's deployment. MacDermid's (2005) framework for military fathers was used to understand at-home mothers' and determine similarities and differences. Unique to the at-home mothers was the experience of role transformation and subsequent empowerment, as they managed all aspects of family life. The second paper focuses on the challenges of parenting an infant alone when a spouse is deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. Given the higher rate of postpartum depression in military mothers, the researchers interviewed women who had given birth shortly before or during a partners' deployment. Findings showed how stressful the experience was for most mothers, leading to PPD for some, but also demonstrated the creative ways military parents of infants maintain important communication during deployments. Strategies for supporting military mothers of infants are discussed. The third and final paper reports findings from a study of military couples using Renshaw's (2010) concept of perceived emotional attunement. Given the research stating that the strains of military life can negatively impact couples communication and interactions, the researchers analyzed interview data from 19 married couples where the male service member had been deployed overseas at least once. The analysis focused on the mechanisms of couple attunement in order to best understand the range of stressors and functioning for military couples. Findings illustrated the continuum of couple attunement with half of them being rated as highly attuned. Implications for building support programs for military couples are discussed. After the presentations an expert on military families and support services will serve as a discussant.
Importance: In January of 2011, President Obama issued a strong statement of commitment to support military families (Strengthening Our Military Families, 2011). He and Mrs. Obama declared the care and support of US military families to be a top national security policy priority. The document details a government-wide effort in a number of areas, but at the top of the list is the enhancement of well-being and psychological health for military families. Given that social work practitioners are involved in the provision of mental health and social services for military members, veterans and families, it is important for social work researchers to lead the field in understanding the functioning of military families given the challenges of combat deployments, which include separations, injuries, and sometimes death. Detailed qualitative studies that seek to understand the lived experiences of the participants, offer a window into individual and family lives and the opportunity to inform prevention and treatment programs which will be optimally effective.
* noted as presenting author