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Military Dads May Have to Relearn Parenting Skills

Military Dads May Have to Relearn Parenting Skills Return from active duty is a big adjustment for military parents. So much so that some fathers may need to learn how to reconnect with children who may not remember them.

In a new study, researchers found that while fathers in the study had eagerly anticipated reuniting with their families, they reported significant stress, especially around issues of reconnecting with children, adapting expectations from military to family life and co-parenting.

“A service member who deploys when his child is an infant and returns home when the child is a toddler may find an entirely different child,” said lead author Tova Walsh, Ph.D.

“Under these circumstances, fathers find that it takes substantial effort to rebuild their relationship with their child.”

The study was published in a special issue of the journal Health & Social Work devoted to the needs of military families. About 37 percent of the 2 million U.S. children of service members are under age six.

For the study, Walsh and colleagues interviewed 14 fathers of children ages six and under who were returning from combat deployment. Most were members of the Michigan Army National Guard. The small group was part of a larger study that is evaluating a group parenting class called STRoNG Military Families.

For some, the reunion with their children didn’t go as anticipated.

One father told the researchers of coming home to a toddler gripping onto his mother’s leg: “He (was) looking at me like, ‘Who’s that?’ She had to tell him, ‘That’s Daddy.’ I have no idea what our relationship would be like if there was no Iraq war.”

The fathers reported they wanted to improve their parenting skills, learn to better express emotion and manage their tempers.

Half of the fathers met the clinical definition of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and most of the rest had subclinical symptoms of trauma.

Several reported having difficulty staying calm when their young children acted up, or said they were stressed by their children’s behavior.

“The results show that we need to support military families during reintegration,” said Walsh.

“Military fathers are receptive to information and support that will help them understand and respond to their children’s age-typical responses to separation and reunion. They all hope to renew their relationships with their young children.”

Source: University of Wisconsin
Soldier returning to his family photo by shutterstock.

Military Dads May Have to Relearn Parenting Skills

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Military Dads May Have to Relearn Parenting Skills. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 5 Mar 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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