Meaning making, parenting, and child functioning in military-connected families: a longitudinal study of factors of psychological health
Kritikos, Tessa Katherine
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Military service impacts not just service members but their families as well. In this series of studies, meta-analytic, longitudinal, and qualitative methods were used to examine the impact of post-9/11 military service on family function. Study 1 used meta-analytic methods to (1) examine the relationship between Posttraumatic Stress Disorder/posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSD/PTSS) in service members and three domains of family difficulties: parenting problems, family maladjustment, and child symptoms; and (2) examine the relationship between combat exposure and these domains of family difficulties. Across 22 studies, random effects meta-analytic models revealed positive, small- to medium-sized associations between PTSD/PTSS and all domains of family difficulties. Smaller, positive associations were found between parental combat exposure and the family difficulties listed above. Findings revealed great heterogeneity in the magnitude of associations as well as areas of methodological weakness in the literature, including predominantly cross-sectional designs and failure to include multiple informants. Study 2 used a multi-informant, longitudinal design to evaluate the relationship between parental PTSD/PTSS present during an offspring’s early childhood (ages 0-5) and family difficulties during that same child’s middle childhood (ages 5-12). Families were recruited through their participation in a post-deployment program seven years previously. Thirty military-serving families, including 24 male service member parents, 26 female home-front parents, and 30 children (20 male), completed questionnaires assessing parental PTSD, child symptoms, parenting stress, lack of parental warmth, and external parental locus of control. Consistent with hypotheses, greater parental PTSD during early childhood was associated with more child symptomatology and parenting difficulties during middle childhood. Study 3 used mixed methods in the same sample to explore how home-front mothers find benefit from their spouse’s military service. A qualitative interview and an adapted version of the self-report Benefit Finding Scale (Carver, 2013) were used to examine benefit finding among 26 home-front mothers. Consistent with hypotheses, participants endorsed a range of benefits associated with their family’s military service, including financial, educational, and career benefits, strength, friendships and community, pride, appreciation of time together and good military/life values in their family. Together, these findings reveal both positive and negative effects of military service on families.