Journal of Child and Family Studies, 30, 1763–1775.
Little research regarding the influence of parental knowledge and attitudes about child development on parenting practices includes fathers. The wartime military provides a specific context for fathering with frequent separations, which may impact soldiers’ knowledge and attitudes about their young children’s development. The purpose of the current study is to explore how military fathers’ knowledge and attitudes about their young children’s development influence their parenting behaviors across the deployment cycle. Fifteen active duty U.S. Army fathers with young children completed qualitative interviews, which were coded and analyzed to identify major themes. Many fathers had accurate knowledge of typical development and adapted their parenting responsively. Some knew less and were unsure how to respond to their children’s behavior. Many believed separations did not negatively affect young children. This attitude may reduce concern about deployment’s impact and keep these fathers mission-focused, but may also lead to missed opportunities to prepare young children for transitions. Overall, these fathers wanted to be involved, responsive parents. While many faced challenges navigating parenting throughout the deployment cycle, nearly all described positive adaptation, often with support from the homefront parent. These findings suggest that efforts to enhance military fathers’ knowledge should be tied to their children’s developmental stages and needs, focusing on parenting within the military context. Practitioners can respect Army families’ cultural values by aligning family readiness as necessary to mission readiness.