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Problems Faced by Military Families

Based on some of the implications of military life stressors, as well as higher rates of deployment and deployment time, Cozza, Chun, and Polo (2005) asserted that, “The general public has become increasingly interested in the health and well-being of the children and families of military service members as the war in Iraq continues” (p. 371). The unique experiences of military families have created the term “military family syndrome” (Horton, 2005).

Deployment aside, military families have to deal with geographic isolation from family members, continuous disorganization, reorganization and reunions, relocations nationally and internationally, and low pay (Horton, 2005). Each of these aspects of military life compound the stress experienced by these families. Recently, new dynamics of military families, such as more dual-career military couples, more women in the military, more service members with children, and more military wives working out of the home, have changed the composition and resiliency of military families (Rotter & Boveja, 1999).

In contemporary context of ongoing military conflicts, military families, adults and children, experience a variety of problems and stressors that should be negated through social support programs and support groups. An important shift has taken place in the composition of the military that causes greater family demands than in the past (Bourg & Segal, 1999). Kelley (2004) stated that, “Paralleling changes in the larger society, the number of these nontraditional military families (i. e, dual-career couples, families in which the woman is the sole military member, single military parents, and so forth) has increased” (p. 94).

Because a military career already involves hectic and changing schedules, separations, deployments with little or no notice, relocations, and threats to the military member’s safety, being a nontraditional military family adds a whole new level of stress. According to Kelley (2004), for this population, “The requirements of a military career may require more complex strategies to meet these demands” (p. 93). These struggles may include a unique demand for parenting and the necessity for the parent to maintain multiple roles.

Childcare, specific job type, income level, and work-related demands and separation are additional stressors for this population. Included in the definition of military family syndrome are not only these more challenging aspects, but also some positive aspects of military life. Cozza et al. (2005) stated that, “In many ways children and military families appear to be a robust and healthy group” (p. 371). One component of this positive state may be the immediate community that is formed on the basis of commonalities and understanding.

Families experience a certain level of support from other families just because they are going through similar experiences. Horton (2005) asserted that this sense of community often contributes to relief of stress and assistance in adaptation. While services that provide psychological support to families of military personnel are available on most bases, there are some barriers to receiving additional services. One major barrier is the stigma attached to asking for outside help within the military context (Horton, 2005).

Although there are services offered on the base, families may be living far from these bases, preventing them from ready access to services (Darwin & Reich, 2006). Also, families that are stationed abroad are further away from the supportive community and may experience cultural differences limiting their access and response to additional help (Horton, 2005). In this situation, cultural differences, including language barriers and limited ability to connect with nationals, often impact a family’s ability to cope with life stressors specific to military families (Horton, 2005).

Due to the transitory nature of being part of a military family, Castro, Adler, and Britt (2004) identified several core principles that impact the lives of these individuals and their family system. First, it is vital to recognize that sacrifices are required for military families. These sacrifices may range from the service member being killed or severely wounded in action to experiencing separation from children and other loved ones for long periods of time.

Second, stressors such as separation, relocation, and fear of service member death or injury are a grouping of stressors that uniquely defines the situation faced by military families. Third, demands of military life can change a family in areas of family functioning and the overall well-being. Specific examples of this may include increased levels of work, family conflict, marital dissatisfaction, and vulnerabilities to military family stressors. Next, successful coping with the demands of military life can be enhanced by personal characteristics and strategies that focus on enhancing resiliency.

This may lead a family to growth and the development of a healthy identity as a military family. Finally, Castro et al. (2004) emphasized that organizational policies and leader actions such as establishing work policies that are family-friendly may reduce negative effects of military family stressors and can increase effective coping skills. Hardaway (2004) categorized stressors affecting children in military families into four groups: routine stressors, acute/severe stressors, chronic/recurring/severe stressors, and complicating factors.

Some of the routine stressors that may affect children in military families include frequent moves, routine separations from military parents, and changes in school and social surroundings. The acute/severe stressors are characterized by wartime deployment of military parents, negative reactions from the community or social surroundings regarding the work his or her parent is doing, and possibly injury or death of the military parent. Chronic/recurring/severe stressors include living in remote, or even hostile, foreign areas and dealing with issues related to terrorism.

The complicating factors are those effects of developmental delays, physical abnormalities, and mental health problems such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, and oppositional defiant disorder (Hardaway, 2004). Stressors and reactions differ in relation to the deployment of a parent. Murray (2002) indicated that “having an important person in a child’s life sent off to war can be among the more stressful events a child experiences” (p. 127). Stress involved in a parent’s deployment often affects a child academically, socially, and emotionally (Horton, 2005).

According to Murray (2002), much of the distress experienced by infants is actually that of their parent or caregiver. Infants may react to sadness, nervousness, or anxiety of the parent or caregiver by becoming irritable, hyperactive, or even unresponsive. For infants, changes may be apparent in eating and sleeping patterns as well as increased levels of crying or inactivity. Murray (2002) pointed out that toddlers, however, experience separation anxiety as a part of their normal development. Therefore, a toddler’s reaction to parental deployment may be heightened experiences of separation anxiety.

Toddlers may appear more clingy than normal or even appear withdrawn or depressed. For toddlers, eating and sleeping patterns may also change. According to Murray (2002), preschool-age children may respond to separation by returning to behaviors they have outgrown, including fussing, bed-wetting, crying for attention, and exhibiting more demanding or aggressive behaviors. It has been shown that being a member of a military family impacts not only the individual, but also the overall well-being of the entire family system.

“Military children are directly impacted by these military lifestyle demands that may transcend their personal control” (Ender, 2004, p. 156). As a society in general, caring for each part of the family system ensures that the family system as a whole will be healthier and more effective. “Taking care of military personnel, sustaining their satisfaction with military life, and supporting combat readiness means the military organization and its leaders must confront, at least to some extent, the issue of children growing up in military families” (Ender, p. 154).

Thus, it is vital to utilize support groups to prepare both adults and children for military life transitions as well as to process related emotions and needs. REFERENCES Bourg, C, & Segal, M. W. (1999). The impact of family supportive policies and practices on organizational commitment to the Army. Armed Forces & Society, 25, 633-652 Castro, C. A. , Adler, A. B. , & Britt, T. W. (2004). The military family: Common themes and future directions. In C. A. Castro, A.

B. Adler, & T. W. Britt (Eds. ), Military life: The psychology of serving in peace and combat (pp. 245-247). Westport, CT: Praeger Security International Cozza S. J. , Chun, R. S. , & Polo, J. A. (2005). Military families and children during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Psychiatric Quarterly, 76(4), 371-378. Darwin, J. L. , & Reich, K. I. (2006). Reaching out to the families of those who serve: The SOFAR Project. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 37(5), 481-484.

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