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The Effects of Military Service on Children and Families

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The Effects of Military Service on Children and Families

When a service member is deployed or sent on a tour, this has a drastic change in the life of the service member’s family especially the children. Being the family of a military service member is already a difficult and complex lifestyle; deployments don’t make it any easier. Military deployment is a unique experience affecting both service members who make sacrifices for our country, and the loved ones who await their return. The potential for deployment is a constant reality. Today’s military deployments may occur in rapid succession and be extended.
Therefore, military personnel and their families must always be deployment-ready. Deployments are not easy and can create significant stress for U.S. military men and women and their families. In many cases deployments cans create problems in families. It can contribute to marital problems, family dysfunction, and emotional or behavioral disturbance in spouses and children. The primary purpose of this research paper is to describe the effects of military deployments on a families and children. This paper will discuss the effects and they type of effects the military families and children are faced with.

“Deployments in the United States have increased greatly in the past 10 years. Families and children are psychiatrically affected by these deployments and recent studies are clarifying these effects.” (James 2012, p.16) Deployments in military service entails the departing of men and women who leave their families and their homes with a group of other soldiers (Army, Air force, Marines, Navy) and go to another country for a period of 90 days to 15 months. During this time they earn what is called combat pay. This is given because of the danger they are placed in while in these other countries. “A soldier’s life exists on a continual readiness for deployment. The U.S. Army recognizes reentry and reintegration, recovery and reconstitution as a vital part to readiness and getting soldiers ready to deploy and recovered after a deployment.” (Doyle 2005, p362). A soldier that is given orders for deployment spends much of their military time preparing and training for deployments. Being ready for battle at any given time is a requirement in the job of a soldier. Readiness is the key to being prepared for deployment and soldiers are eligible to be deployed at any given time if needed for battle, for service in an emergency disaster, or homeland security issue. This is not the only means for deployments.
The Effects of Wartime and Deployments on Children
When a service member is deployed or sent on a tour, this has a drastic change in the life of the service member’s family especially the children. Being the family of a military service member is already a difficult and complex lifestyle; deployments don’t make it any easier. Deployments can cause a great disturbance or interrupt in the life of families and children. If a service member is going to be deployed for a lengthy time, many families move to be closer to the extended family for support and help. One study of family members, according to Patricia Lester and Lt. Col. Eric Flake in the article found that “47 percent of families of current service members moved at least three times in the past five years due to deployments.” (Lester 2013, p.124)
The Effects of Parental deployments in children.
Being a 14 year military spouse, I know firsthand how difficult being a military family can be. Military families have to battle a lot of stresses even before a deployment is considered. There are stresses with having to move frequently or the parent being on a temporary duty assignment known as TDY or for extra training outside the regular work day. When a parent deploys to an overseas missions, it causes additional stress on the families. It is safe to assume that military families face great challenges before, during and after deployment. Military does for the most part inform families well in advance of an upcoming deployment. Although this news can come months in advance, the emotional phases do occur. You have emotions such as anger, fear, sadness, worry, anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed that take place. These emotions start off strong yet last for a short period of time. When you hear of the news of deployment, fear and anger seem to be the first of the emotions to arrive. As the departure date grows close, fear and withdrawal symptoms do occur. (Lester, 2013) There are various emotional feelings that can be felt during the time of a deployment. The most common ones are: apprehension, worry for the deployed soldier, loneliness, sadness, overwhelmed by added family duties and responsibilities, worry for the soldiers’ safety, financial problems and the feeling of being needed and loved or the lack thereof.
Children's respond to deployments differently and it can vary with each child based on the family foundational status. Emotional and behavioral issues or problems and the extent of these problems can most likely depend on the age of the child, maturity level of the child and any other behavioral, mental health, or emotional issues the child might have. The mental state of the parent that is left to attend to the children can and often times does have an effect on the child's level of. This is especially true for young children. If parents successfully handle the stress of deployment, their children’s level of anxiety or emotional problems can be controlled better. The less likely they are to have mental health or behavior problems. If the at home parent would provide a peaceful and positive environment in the present of the children, they will be able to cope a little better. Children are able to adapt to its environment better by what’s presented to them or by what they see. What parents do or don’t do, say or don’t say, causes the children to believe or interpret into beliefs. What the children believe will determine their behavior and emotional state. It is by what they see around them. If the parent can be positive this will help the children cope better with the news of the deployed parent’s departure. Deployments are very hard and stressful to deal with and at times handle. According to Holly Connor, a military spouse who was interviewed in the article, “Exceptional Parents” stated that “Deployment complicates life because it disrupts the routine that our family has,” “Deployments can consume you and be the focal point of everything that goes on. There is very little positive with a deployment. You are going to get sad, mad, lose your patience and want to give up.” (Aryanitis 2013 p.63). This is an example of how extreme deployments can be on military families. These stressful times can also cause insomnia for the spouse as well as the children. This can be because of the attachment that the children feel. They may get the feeling that something is out of place or a void feeling because of the absence of the parent that is deployed. Attachment is a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space. (Webster Dictionary) Although studies done on the attachment theory proves that children are more prone to be attached to their mothers, they can feel a sense of detachment when the deployed soldier is their father. John Bowlby, a psychiatrist in a child guidance clinic, treated children with emotional disturbance, did a study concerning the attachment theory in the 1950’s. He considered the importance of the child’s relationship to their mother in terms of social, emotional and cognitive development. (McLeod, 2007). Bowlby observed that children experienced intense distress when separated from their mothers. Even when such children were fed by other people this did not reduce the child’s anxiety. (McLeod, 2007). This case study can be held to be true even in the case of deployment. If the mother is a deploying soldier, children will seem to have more distress than it would with the father being deployed.
In another research based on attachment theory it has been established that parent and child relationships are essential to social and emotional wellbeing throughout childhood. In this attachment theory it describes how children develop a sense of security from their earliest experiences with a caregiving parent. Most of the time the caregiving parent is the mother as stated in the Bowlby’s concept of attachment. “From their earliest interactions with a parent, children develop their capacity for behavioral and emotional self-regulation, and the parents ‘ability to act as an external source of emotional regulation for the young child is a primary predictor of attachment security.” (Lester 2013 p.126) Case study has proven that a child’s confidence that a parent can provide emotional support enhances his or her ability to experience new environments and develop social skills (Lester, 2013).
Military families and children face many hardships. It is a tough duty of being a military family and even tougher when the soldier deploys especially to a war zone. There are many challenges in common with other families, like finding child care due to the change of responsibility, financial struggles, education and discipline of their children.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder-(PTSD)
Another challenge or effect of Military service is the disorder called Post Traumatic Stress. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is “an extreme traumatic stressor involving direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury or witnessing an event that involves death, injury or a threat to the physical integrity of another person.” (Griffith 2012 p. 453) Post-traumatic stress disorder may not be avoidable in every individual who goes to war or reside in a combat zone; however, measures can be taken to lessen the number of cases which occur after deployment. These measures can be as the army does by undergoing a tough and rigorous yet realistic training. The Army trains their soldiers during peacetime as if they were actually in a combat zone. They do this by have exercises at the firing ranges where live fire is used along with tough and realistic training. These types of exercises have helped soldiers prepare for combat and this has assisted in the cause of many stress disorders. The exercises allow the soldier to adapt and become familiar with possible war reducing the stress of combat. A possibility to help lower the amount of PTSD cases related to intense combat situations would be allowing soldiers to use live fire ranges more often.
Before, during, and after deployment, service members are given counseling sessions to prepare them for intense situations as well as teaching them about the possibility of mental health damage. Another possible solution to PTSD would be to brief soldiers throughout their entire career. If soldiers are given briefings on the possibility of mental health damage after combat, training for combat and counseling throughout their career, there is a chance they will be more prepared to deal with combat situations, therefore reducing possible PTSD. (Griffith, 2012)
Co-parenting from a Distance
“Since most military service members must deploy, many parents feel as though they are co-parents at least some of the time. Parents must make decisions about the well-being of their children while they are separated and sometimes these decisions don't come easily. Like all parents, they often make important and difficult decisions and compromises, but over a distance. Instituting a parenting plan before a service member deploys can help resolve many of the decision-making issues that may come up during deployments.” (Lester 2013 p.126) This type of parenting must involve both parents and the children. Although co-parenting while one is away can be hard, it can be done by having an understanding and be in mutual agreement with each other. It’s going to require the parents trusting each other while the deployment is in effect. Having an understanding on what’s best for the family and a level of trust from the deployed parent this co-parenting can be successful. (Lester, 2013) Many factors come into play when dealing with deployed soldiers and co-parenting. Many issues can arise that will bring about stressors on the family. These issues are if the parent comes home wounded, or injured; this can have an effect on the responsibilities that rest on the main parent. It can cause a great disruption in the co-parenting of the parents. Even reintegration or the return of the deployed soldier, can have a shift in the responsibilities of the parents and this can cause great stress on parenting. Co-parenting will require team work, whether deployed, separated or not. Parents must reach a common ground when it comes to the raising of the children. Trust factors are very important in raising children while one parent is away and communication must be evident in the relationship.
The Model of Being Resilient “Resilience is defined as a phenomenon or process reflecting relatively positive adaptation despite experiences of significant adversity or trauma. Resilience is a superordinate construct subsuming two distinct dimensions – significant adversity and positive adaptation – and thus never directly measured, but is indirectly inferred based on evidence of the two subsumed constructs In other words, one cannot be deemed “resilient” in the absence of a significant stressor.” (Luthar 2006, p. 742)
The Military teaches its soldiers and holds training frequently for them in order that they might be ready and resilient. These two characteristics hold different meanings. When a soldier is ready, they hold the ability to complete tasks or missions given to them as an individual or a battalion as a whole. In being resilient the soldier has a mental, physical, behavioral and emotional ability to face and handle all manner of adversity. They are able to conform to change, accept and grow from setbacks and be mentally ready to recover from adversity (Luthar, 2006).
In this manner families of military soldiers should be resilient in times of deployment. Families who are resilient see crisis in a as challenging but find a way to manage and make it meaningful and positive in some manner. They see their emotions as human and believe in their ability to learn from their experiences and move forward. Resilient families have an optimistic rather than pessimistic view of life. Members see each other's strengths and offer encouragement to overcome difficulties or accept what can't be changed. They have beliefs and values that offer meaning and purpose beyond their personal life. They find strength and comfort in their cultural and religious beliefs and experience spiritual inspiration by attending church, vacationing including nature, the arts, helping others in the same manner and by resting on their faith of their God or higher power. When a family is resilient they adapt to change and try to find the positive and strength in the battle. Military families must be resilient in order to survive the stressors of a military life and service. (Luthar, 2006)
The demands of military service on families and children and even its service members can have numerous effects on their lives. Studies have been proven that military service does indeed have significant effects on children and families. Spousal support plays an important role in the well-being of military soldiers and it requires much resilience in maintaining and making the best of the family times especially in deployments and separations. The results suggest that it is vital to take advantage of all the social support and the various psychological supports during times of deployment and military services. Stressful life events must be handled so that it will lessen the adverse effect it may have on the quality of one’s cognitive perspective and well-being. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop following a traumatic event that threatens your safety or makes you feel helpless. Most people associate PTSD with soldiers who have been in a battle and/or military combat.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can affect those who personally experience the tragedy or for those who witness it, and those who pick up the pieces afterwards. Although military service is proven to be difficult and offers great stressors, it can be maintained and if treated successfully can have less effect of hardship. The main key is to remain resilient through it all.

Kudler, H., & Porter, R. I. (2013). Building communities of care for military children and families. Future of Children, 23(2), 163-185.
Ann Easterbrooks, M. M., Ginsburg, K., & Lerner, R. M. (2013). Resilience among military youth. Future of Children, 23(2), 99-120.
Chandra, A., & London, A. S. (2013). Unlocking insights about military children and families.
Future Of Children, 23(2), 187-198.
Laser, J., & Stephens, P. (2011). Working with military families through deployment and beyond. Clinical Social Work Journal, 39(1), 28-38. doi:10.1007/s10615-010-0310-5
Osofsky, J. D., & Chartrand, M. M. (2013). Military children from birth to five years. Future Of Children, 23(2), 61-77.
Andres, M. (2014). Distress, support, and relationship satisfaction during military-induced separations: A longitudinal study among spouses of Dutch deployed military personnel. Psychological Services, 11(1), 22-30. doi:10.1037/a0033750
Aryanitis, H. (2013). How deployments affect military families. Exceptional Parent, 43(4), 59-63.
Masten, A. S. (2013). Afterword: What we can learn from military children and families. Future of Children, 23(2), 199-212.
Lester, P., & Flake, E. (2013). How wartime military service affects children and families Future Of Children, 23(2), 121-141.
Doyle, M. E., & Peterson, K. A. (2005). Re-entry and reintegration: Returning home after combat. Psychiatric Quarterly, 76(4), 361-370. doi:10.1007/s11126-005-4972-z
Skomorovsky, A. (2014). Deployment stress and well-being among military spouses: The role of social support. Military Psychology, 26(1), 44-54. doi:10.1037/mil0000029
James, T., & Countryman, J. (2012). Psychiatric effects of military deployment on children and families: The use of play therapy for assessment and treatment. Innovations In Clinical Neuroscience, 9(2), 16-20.
Griffith, J. (2012). Suicide and war: The mediating effects of negative mood, posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, and social support among Army National Guard soldiers. Suicide & Life-Threatening Behavior, 42(4), 453-469. doi:10.1111/j.1943-278X.2012.00104.x
McLeod, S. A. (2007). Bowlby's Attachment Theory. Retrieved from

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Women in the Military

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