The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Enhancing Parenting Support for Military Fathers with Young Children

Friday, January 18, 2013: 8:00 AM
Seabreeze 1 and 2 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Tova B. Neugut, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Carolyn J. Dayton, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Katherine L. Rosenblum, PhD, Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry & Associate Research Scientist, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Purpose: The steep rise in rates of child abuse, divorce, and suicide in the families of military personnel during and following deployment speaks clearly to the need for increases in the support we provide to these families.  In particular, separation from the deployed parent (often the father), coupled with heightened distress and psychiatric symptoms in the at-home parent, places young children at particular risk for problems in psychosocial functioning.  Indeed, research indicates that deployment is linked to a range of deleterious child outcomes.  Although often eagerly anticipated, reunification also poses challenges, including adjusting to the parent-soldier’s return, reestablishing roles and routines, and the potentially necessary accommodation to combat-related injuries or psychological impacts (e.g., brain injuries, psychological trauma symptoms). The current study is embedded in a larger project to test the STRoNG Families parenting intervention which is aimed at enhancing positive parenting of preschool aged children in military families. The specific aim of the current study is to learn about how military fathers of preschool aged children adjust to their return to family life following deployment in order to more effectively engage military fathers in a parenting intervention.   We are particularly interested in understanding the challenges these parents face and the types of support they need to re-engage in optimal parenting of their 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.