Enhancing Parenting Support for Military Fathers with Young Children
Method: Service members deployed within the past 2 years, with at least one child under 6 years of age, were recruited to participate in the study (n=15 military fathers). Data were collected during individual interviews, utilizing the Working Model of the Child Interview format (Zeanah, Benoit & Barton, 1986) to tap into military fathers’ attributions, beliefs, and representations of their preschool aged children. Interviews were recorded and transcribed, and transcripts were analyzed using principles of grounded theory, to identify key, persistent themes related to parenting young children following a military deployment.
Results: Participants reported significant levels of parenting stress, and difficulty managing children’s behavior. Specific challenges that were identified included difficulty reconnecting with their child on reunion, challenges associated with adapting expectations from military life to family life, and difficulties with co-parenting in the context of deployment and reunification. Fathers acknowledged regret about missing an important period in their child’s development while deployed. Additionally, they indicated a strong desire to learn parenting skills in order to become better parents. In general, fathers evidenced high motivation for participation in a parenting intervention. Specifically, they described their needs for support in expressing emotions to their children, providing them with a nurturing environment, and managing their tempers during times of family conflict.
Implications: Results affirm the need for support to military families during reintegration, and demonstrate that military fathers are receptive to opportunities to engage in parenting interventions. Helping parents understand their children's behavior in the context of age-typical responses to separation and reunion may help parents connect with their children. Enhancing positive parenting among military fathers is likely to lead to improved family resiliency, and ultimately, to improved child outcomes.