Most military and veteran families thrive, but research largely ignores the role of fathers.
A recent Penn State study with a large sample of post-9/11 veteran fathers examined factors that were associated with positive parenting. Positive parenting includes providing a heathy environment, being a good example, and meeting children’s emotional needs. Parenting satisfaction is achieved when parents are happy with closeness to children, the amount of enjoyment they get from parenting, and how well the children do in life.
The study found post-9/11 veteran fathers reported better parenting functioning when they were 24 years old or younger; came from the most junior enlisted rank; were Black non-Hispanic compared to White non-Hispanic; chose not to re-enlist in the National Guard or Reserve; or had a spouse/partner serving in the military.
Results also revealed that positive social functioning with community members/friends/families, high resilience, better health functioning, social support and secure financial status were all associated with positive parenting and parenting satisfaction. For example, veteran fathers who reported positive social functioning with their community and friends were 61% more likely than those who reported lower social functioning to report engaging in positive parenting.
“These findings highlight the strengths of post-9/11 veteran fathers,” said Jennifer Karre, assistant research professor at the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness at Penn State. “Importantly, many of the factors we identified are, to one degree or another, modifiable and can improve with the right programs and services.”
The study also found that the number of deployments frequently also impacted findings.
“Veteran fathers who reported high resilience and who were not deployed were five times more likely to report better parenting functioning than fathers with average or low resilience and who were deployed three or more times,” stated Daniel Perkins, principal scientist at the Clearinghouse, professor of Family and Youth Resiliency and Policy within the College of Agricultural Sciences, who is a cofunded faculty member of the Social Science Research Institute at Penn State.
Veteran fathers with high relationship satisfaction and more deployments were nearly five times more likely to report better parenting functioning than fathers with low relationship satisfaction and more deployments. Veteran fathers with high relationship satisfaction and fewer deployments were nearly eight times more likely to report better parenting functioning than fathers with low relationship satisfaction and more deployments.
With respect to parenting satisfaction, post-9/11 veteran fathers reported more parenting satisfaction when they were from the most junior enlisted rank or married for the first time, as opposed to single, married for the second time or more, or were separated, widowed, or divorced. Fathers who did not report any mental health problems also reported higher satisfaction.
“Post-9/11 fathers who reported good health functioning, high resilience, social support, positive social functioning with their community and friends, and positive social functioning with relatives were all more likely to report being satisfied as a parent,” said Perkins. “Having good social relationships was particularly associated with parent satisfaction among veteran fathers.”
“This study suggests that there are modifiable factors that can influence the levels of parenting function and satisfaction,” Karre said. “Clearly, interventions or programs that improve relationships and better connect veterans to social networks have a role to play in positively impacting veteran family health and well-being.”