Military dads’ strengths and obstacles

Your skills as a Service Member can work in your favor as a parent, but they sometimes can make fatherhood challenging as well. When fathers are involved in their kids’ lives, children do better in school and they’re good at problem-solving. They’re more socially and emotionally steady too.

Your military training and experiences likely impact your role as a father in ways that strengthen your family and yourself. However, there are potential vulnerabilities you’ll have to actively work to overcome—just like other parents.

Separation during deployments

Strength. Deployments are a chance for Service Members to exercise their tactical skills, protect, and serve. Missions can be grueling and satisfying as you perform well and build cohesion with your teammates. Your kids can benefit during deployments too. They can become more independent and responsible at home, and they learn to adapt to new things.

Vulnerability. You might feel a sense of loss or sadness because of missed chances to bond with your children. You also might wonder if your kids get used to life without you, they won’t need you as much when you return. Thinking this way could end up changing the way you interact with them. Still, they’re excited to see you, and your attention is important. So, take the time you need to effectively transition back home and spend time with them.

Structure and discipline

Strength. Military culture has likely conditioned you to value structure. Your self-discipline keeps you focused, and it drives your success and efficiency. Children tend to copy their dads, so teach them why the military values these traits.

Vulnerability. Kids are spontaneous and unpredictable by nature. They’re still learning to control their bodies and minds, so it’s natural for them to be impulsive and push limits too. And they won’t always abide by the structure and discipline that’s ingrained in you. So, strive to be patient with them. Understand their limitations and remember they need age-appropriate discipline.

Emotions boost connections

Strength. The nature of the military might require you to adjust how you display your emotions. You might dampen some emotions (such as fear and worry) and display others in abundance (such as determination and anger). You also might focus on emotions that efficiently fuel your mission and build cohesion with your unit. This can serve you well as a Warfighter.

Vulnerability. What helps you connect with your military buddies isn’t likely to work with your children. For example, little ones might struggle to understand sarcasm, and they can be sensitive to loud voices and teasing. So, teach them how to manage their emotions. Switch off your “emotion-autopilot” to show a full range of feelings and connect with your kids.

Mental-health challenges

Strength. Take on any opportunity to display resilience to your kids. Set a good example and take care of yourself by practicing “good” coping skills or seeking mental health treatment. It’s a chance to teach your children how to ask for help when needed.

Vulnerability. The harder your deployment, the more you're likely to experience “parenting stress” at home. This can lead to negative outcomes (such as yelling) with your kids. If you struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it might impact the quality of your interactions and your relationship with them. So, focus on getting the help you need to be a better Service Member and a loving father.

Debrief

As a Service Member, you’re armed with strengths that can benefit your relationship with your children. And you might have to overcome some obstacles as you adapt yourself to meet your kids’ needs. Your children will benefit from having a father who serves his country and his family.


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References

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Samper, R. E., Taft, C. T., King, D. W., & King, L. A. (2004). Posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms and parenting satisfaction among a national sample of male Vietnam veterans. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 17(4), 311–315. doi:10.1023/B:JOTS.0000038479.30903.ed

Tomassetti-Long, V. J., Nicholson, B. C., Madson, M. B., & Dahlen, E. R. (2015). Hardiness, parenting stress, and PTSD symptomatology in U.S. Afghanistan/Iraq era veteran fathers. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 16(3), 239–245. doi:10.1037/a0037307

Walsh, T. B., Dayton, C. J., Erwin, M. S., Muzik, M., Busuito, A., & Rosenblum, K. L. (2014). Fathering after military deployment: Parenting challenges and goals of fathers of young children. Health & Social Work, 39(1), 35–44. doi:10.1093/hsw/hlu005