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Study Seeks Strategies to Help Mothers Maintain Family Relationships During Deployment
WASHINGTON — How are military women who deploy to theater handling separation from their children?
With a grant from DoD’s TriService Nursing Research Program, Janice Griffin Agazio, PhD, CNRP, RN, assistant professor of nursing at The Catholic University of America, Washington, is leading a study to find out. Agazio, who is a mother and formerly served on active duty, said the topic has concerned her over the years as she has seen colleagues deploy.
“For me, it was something that was raising its head throughout the years, because I was still active duty when [Operation] Desert Storm started, and one of the nurses in our hospital had just come back from maternity leave and was gone quickly, with the first wave of folks that went to the theater,” she said.
More women than ever are serving in the military. Women make up nearly 11.5% of OEF/OIF veterans, according to the VA. More than 47% of female OEF/OIF veterans who used VA care during fiscal years 2002-2010 were 30 or younger.
Many of the women who are deploying have children. DoD statistics from 2008 showed 70,969 military women with children on active duty and 54,611 women with children in the selected reserve, Agazio said.
While research often has considered how father separations from the family impact the non-military spouse and children, few studies have considered mother separations for military duty, especially during wartime or for younger children, according to Agazio.
“When I went to the literature, we do a lot on father’s separation, but this is a new phenomenon for women,” she explained.
Women with Children Deploy
For the study, Agazio is interviewing active duty or reserve component women from across the military with at least one child under 12 years old, who have been deployed for at least three months in Iraq or Afghanistan. She is asking these women to describe the effects of the deployment on themselves and their children. So far, she has conducted 29 interviews with mothers and is expecting to complete 40 interviews. She plans to have the study finished this year.
Mothers have told her about missing important milestones in their children’s lives, such as walking, talking or toilet-training.
On the other hand, Agazio explained, while the mothers did not like to be away from their children, they understood their commitment to serve.
“They try and let go to what is going on stateside, so they can focus and do a good job for the folks in the unit and dedicating themselves to doing what they came to do,” she said.
For the children, it is not only separation from their mother that is at issue but also having to readjust to a new home as their mother returns from deployment and is assigned to a new location. In general, Agazio said the children show resilience and, if old enough, understand why their mothers are deployed.
Agazio said she hopes to identify strategies proven to be useful to military mothers in maintaining their relationship with their children during the deployment. In addition, the research will document any health or psychological effects that may require further study. Agazio said she is interested in putting a booklet together for mothers that could be available to them as they deploy and would shed some light on issues of importance to them.
While the qualitative study includes only 40 individuals and may not be as generalizeable to the larger military population as a larger study, Agazio said it should at least illuminate issues on which more research is needed.
“It opens the area of interest a bit, because if 40 people say something and you get the themes, then what you do for the next study is you get more people and go into a quantitative type of direction so that you can validate that [what you see] is not just in these 40 people,” she said.
The deployment of mothers is something that health care providers should keep in mind while caring for a family, Agazio said. “From a health perspective, there is always the psychological and emotional toll that goes on with the families and it is a highly stressful situation,” she said.
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