March 24, 2020

Access to resources, support is key to easing stress of military families facing deployment

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Military deployments are most often linked to armed conflict and rising tensions. However, with the rapidly increasing number of Americans diagnosed with COVID-19, states have activated the National Guard for local assistance, and federal government officials are deploying military resources for local use.

A Purdue social scientist who studies military families and policies says families finding themselves in the process of deployment should lean on friends, family members and military resources to navigate the pending absence.

“Military service branches – including the National Guard and Reserves – and the Department of Defense together provide a wide variety of resources to inform and assist families, including online, telephone and in-person resources at Military OneSource and family assistance centers,” said Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, director of Purdue University’s Military Family Research Institute and a professor of human development and family studies in the College of Health and Human Sciences.

wadsworth-profile Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, a professor of human development and family studies and director of the Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University. (Purdue University photo) Download image

Deployments can be stressful, not only because separated family members worry about each other, but also because family routines and finances get disrupted. 

“When a parent deploys, family responsibilities are reorganized and roles change. This can be stressful but can also provide opportunities for parents or caregivers and children to develop new aspects to their relationships,” MacDermid Wadsworth said.

One way to ease a child’s anxiety level is for the parent or caregiver to model healthy coping behaviors such as acknowledging and talking about negative feelings and maintaining normal activities.

Communication is key, and family members should all be talking about the various issues they are feeling and facing, which could reduce risk of disruptive behavior, problems at home and other stressors, MacDermid Wadsworth said.

“Children may not always be in the mood to speak with a deployed parent when they are able to call home. It shouldn’t be seen as a serious rejection, even though it may feel that way,” she said.

The same can be said for active-duty service members and their spouses or partners.

“Adult partners can really help each other by giving each other the space to communicate about communicating,” MacDermid Wadsworth said. “For example, a service member may not feel comfortable having a conversation too close to when they leave or return from patrol. Couples may need to negotiate about good times to talk about challenging issues each one is facing.”

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Writer: Matthew Oates, 765-496-2571,, @mo_oates

Source: Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, 765-494-6026,, @MFRIPurdue

Note to Journalists: Images of the faculty member and stock art are available at

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