Parents’ Childhood Exposures to Traumatic Events and Current Functioning in Military Families

  • Allison Flittner O’Grady
  • Shelley MacDermid WadsworthEmail author
  • Patricia Lester
Part of the Risk and Resilience in Military and Veteran Families book series (RRMV)


Our aim in the current study was to examine the role of early life experiences of civilian parents in military families in relation to their exposures to service members’ deployments and their parenting. Parental deployments are associated with elevated levels of a variety of problems in children. One set of pathways through which deployments may affect children travels through parents, such as when deployment disrupts the psychological health and/or parenting behaviors of one or both parents. In addition to the considerable evidence regarding the importance of service members’ exposure to traumatic experiences during deployment, evidence is mounting that both military and civilian parents’ experiences and characteristics prior to deployment can be consequential. We hypothesized that greater early exposure to traumatic life events and dysfunction in the family of origin would be positively related to parenting stress and negatively related to parents’ sense of competence, sensitivity, and to general family functioning. We also hypothesized that civilian parents’ exposures to service members’ deployments would be related to parenting in the same patterns. We tested the possibility that early adversity moderated the relationship between deployment exposure and parenting. Our results showed that, while spouses’ exposures in these military families were similar to those of spouses in the general population in many regards, they appeared to be more likely to have experienced emotional mistreatment and to have witnessed violence between their parents. Of the two indices of early adversity we studied—traumatic life events and dysfunction in the family of origin—only the latter was significantly related to each of the measures of parenting.


Sexual Abuse Posttraumatic Stress Parenting Stress Childhood Experience Service Member 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Preparation of this manuscript was supported in part by contract W91WAW-10-C-0062 issued by the Department of Defense to Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth and Sarah Mustillo, and by grants to the second author from Lilly Endowment. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect official policies or positions of the US Department of Defense or the US Government.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Allison Flittner O’Grady
    • 1
  • Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth
    • 1
    Email author
  • Patricia Lester
    • 2
  1. 1.Military Family Research Institute, Purdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  2. 2.Nathanson Family Resilience Center, University of California Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA

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