Families: An Essential Part of Military Life

June 13, 2018

Families are at the heart of MFAN. We strive to represent their interests in everything we do. So, as part of our Military Family Support Programming Survey, we asked military families across the nation about the challenges and opportunities that come with military life. They sounded off on marriage, divorce, and issues that affect children, parents, and the LGBTQ community.


Military Children

Of those military families surveyed, 85 percent have children or stepchildren. And as far as support programming, families appreciate base amenities the most (20 percent). This includes MWR programming and child and youth services. Other appreciated support programs include health care (14 percent), family life support (13.8 percent), and youth programs (9.5 percent).


Military families appreciate child care as well, but they said they wish it was easier to find — 69 percent reported difficulty finding child care. The biggest obstacle to child care is cost (19 percent), but long waitlists also come into play.


Families said that they could use more support when it comes to activities and youth programs and that they desire a greater sense of community. They suggested that deployment support groups or other similar groups be created to help families and children feel more connected.


Military Life

Military life can put strains on families. The No. 1 downside that military families reported is distance from family and friends (18 percent). One respondent said, “It has greatly distanced us, both emotionally and physically, from our families. It’s hard to be as close when you’re not around for all the little things.”


Families did note, however, that in facing and overcoming obstacles together, the family unit becomes even stronger.


Effects on Marriage

Respondents said the strains of military life are the biggest causes of marital stress. Spouses find themselves having to make family decisions on their own, without their partner. And frequent absences sometimes make it tough to stay connected. But just as the stresses of military life can have a positive impact on families, many married couples find resilience in going through these hard times, allowing them to grow together. As one spouse said, “It has made us stronger and closer as a family.”


Divorce in the Military

Divorced respondents — 10 percent of the entire population surveyed — said that the biggest hardship, including depleted savings, mortgage defaults, and lower credit scores. Divorced participants also reported being shut out of the military support community. One respondent shared: “I’m not receiving any support from the service member and attempting to do so is not made easy. His chain of command is trying to ‘protect’ their soldier over the family’s well-being.”


Parents of Military Members

Parents of service members made up 15 percent of all survey respondents. Many parents said they do not receive a lot of support from the military, but they also said that they don’t need any.


Of those parents who do want support, 37 percent desired more communication. This includes knowing more about their children’s deployment and what comes next. One mother said, “I would like to be informed, the same as a spouse, of information until the day he has a spouse because until then I am his next of kin and feel very left out of the activities in his life with him being deployed and not always able to make contact easily.”


The LGBTQ Military Experience

LGBTQ respondents made up 3 percent of participants, and they rated their military experience as generally positive. One respondent shared, “Things are much better now. We lived under DADT [Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell] and it was awful. Now I am able to share in family events and things are so much better.”


Those with negative experiences described issues that lessened their quality of life. One participant said, “We have to [be] consistently conscious of our level of affection towards each other in public or at military functions.”


Of note is that LGBTQ respondents reported feeling more supported by the civilian community than by the military community: 72 percent said they felt supported by the civilian community whereas 55 percent could say the same for the military community.


Transgender Troops

The Military Family Support Programming Survey included a question on whether transgender individuals should be allowed to serve in the military. Although most respondents were supportive of this (62 percent), others were not (31 percent). The other 7 percent expressed no opinion.


Supportive respondents said that they don’t think the matter is relevant to military life. One service member said, “I only care about soldiers who carry their own load and contribute to the mission.”


Those who don’t support transgender individuals serving in the military said so based on their own beliefs, for the most part. One respondent expressed another opinion: “If it negatively affects unit cohesion it should not be allowed. There should be no extended shore tours for surgery. There should be no additional time off.”


Our Recommendations

To lessen the strains of military life, and for families to keep recommending service to those they know, military families need support programming that fills these gaps. Per our survey, 77 percent of respondents would recommend military service to others, but this percentage could drop if families feel their needs are not being addressed. It’s up to all of us — in the military and communities across the country — to come together to support military families through tough transitions so that they can thrive.


One of the major transitions families go through is moving, which we will be talking about in our next blog post. Can’t wait? You can read the full survey report, which includes information on military families’ experiences with moving, here!