While some military families experience difficulties due PTSD, depression, and deployment disruptions, the majority of these families are functioning well. Researchers at the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness at Penn State are examining these thriving military families to better understand what protective factors influence their well-being.
The work appears in the Journal of Family Issues.
Jennifer Karre, assistant research professor at the Clearinghouse and lead author, says the focus of previous research has been on military families who are having difficulties. “By focusing solely on risk factors, we may miss out on other important information can help distressed families.”
The researchers examined over 3,800 active-duty veteran fathers with at least one child younger than 18-years-old from The Veteran Metric Initiative Study (TVMI). The study aims to understand service members’ transition to civilian life during the first three years of discharge.
The researchers identified twelve protective factors related to parenting functioning and satisfaction, including veterans’ financial status, health functioning, resilience, mental health, social support, and positive social functioning with family, friends, and the community.
They also examined three risk factors: deployment, traumatic combat exposure, and emotional numbing, which is the feeling of detachment from people, activities, or surroundings.
The researchers found that fathers who were more financially secure, engaged in healthier behaviors, had more social support, and functioned well within their family, friends and community were more likely to report better parenting functioning. The analysis did suggest that the number of deployments could negatively impact parenting, but fathers who had higher resilience fared better.
Veteran fathers also reported better parenting functioning if they were under 24-years-of-age, were Black non-Hispanic, were junior enlisted as opposed to officers, chose not to re-enlist in the National Guard or Reserve, or if their spouse was serving at the time of assessment.
“Understanding how these factors impact parent behaviors is important,” said Daniel Perkins, principal scientist at the Clearinghouse, professor of family and youth resiliency and policy within the College of Agricultural Sciences who is co-funded by the Social Science Research Institute at Penn State “Positive factors can be promoted as behaviors that can help fathers who may be having difficulty.”
In addition, fathers who engaged in healthier behaviors had resiliency and better social support, and functioned well within their family, friends and community also reported more parenting satisfaction. Parenting satisfaction was also higher among veteran fathers who were junior enlisted, married, and had no mental health symptoms.
For fathers who reported being in a romantic relationship, fathers with higher relationship functioning and relationship satisfaction reported better parenting functioning and satisfaction.
Another finding indicated neither traumatic combat experiences or emotional numbing was related to parenting functioning or satisfaction, leading researchers to believe there may be variability in the way fathers handle those stressors.
“While this study supports previous research that social support, couple adjustment and resilience are related to parenting, more work is needed to understand how other factors are related to parenting behaviors,” Karre stated.
Other Clearinghouse researchers on the project were Nicole Morgan, assistant research professor; and Julia Bleser, research and evaluation associate.
About the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness
The Clearinghouse is an applied research center committed to advancing the health and well-being of service members and their families. The Clearinghouse takes a solution-oriented approach that includes conducting applied research studies, building workforce expertise through training and resource provision, implementing and evaluating evidence-informed programs and practices, and delivering objective data and policy-relevant findings so that decisions are based on the best science and evidence available. The Clearinghouse is located within Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute.
About the TVMI
The Veterans Metrics Initiative research was managed by the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine Inc. (HJF); and collaboratively sponsored by the Bob Woodruff Foundation, Health Net Federal Services, The Heinz Endowments, HJF, Lockheed Martin Corporation, May and Stanley Smith Charitable Trust, National Endowment for the Humanities, Northrop Grumman, Philip and Marge Odeen, Prudential, Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Rumsfeld Foundation, Schultz Family Foundation, Walmart Foundation, Wounded Warrior Project Inc., and the Veterans Health Administration Health Services Research and Development Service.