Qualitative Social Work. Advance online publication.
Active-duty military fathers are frequently away from their families throughout their military career and are faced with readjusting to family and garrison life after each separation. For fathers of very young children, reintegration can have unique challenges due to the tremendous developmental progression occurring in early childhood and the impact of lengthy deployment separations. While much of the research on military families focuses on extreme negative experiences (e.g., reactions to war injuries and posttraumatic stress disorder), little is known about the common experiences of military families. This qualitative study explores the reintegration experiences of 15 active-duty U.S. Army fathers with a child under six in their home during the deployment. Homecoming experiences were coded and analyzed to distinguish four adjustment factors and five adaptation challenges. Most fathers described having mixed experiences during reintegration, with 93% referencing at least one factor making adjustment easier (e.g., communication with their spouse during deployment), and 80% referencing at least one factor making adjustment difficult (e.g., child’s initial hesitation or perceived rejection). Adjustment facilitators included: spending quality time with family, individual and family growth, quality communication during deployment, and the service member’s parental perspective taking. Challenges to adjustment included negative postdeployment reactions of children, difficulty readjusting to family and civilian life, and service member psychological changes. These findings expand our understanding of the reintegration experience of active-duty fathers with young children and identify common challenges and facilitators that can be addressed through culturally informed supportive services across the deployment cycle.