Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

The Study Published in JAMA That Looked at Child Maltreatment among U.S. Army Families Shows That Wives Often Are the Perpetrators. What Factors Might Explain Such Violence?

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

The Study Published in JAMA That Looked at Child Maltreatment among U.S. Army Families Shows That Wives Often Are the Perpetrators. What Factors Might Explain Such Violence?

Article excerpt

Rarely do we think about how stressful it is for soldiers' wives who are left behind when their husbands are deployed. The spouse must take on all of the responsibilities that formerly had been handled by both parents. In addition, in most cases, the mother is now totally responsible for all discipline and, in the event that she was the comforter of the children when her husband was the disciplinarian, she might have difficulty switching roles.

Therefore, she might become more rigid and "violent" than she might have been had her soldier husband stayed home.

Such switches in roles also are very hard on the children, who might be accustomed to mom as the soft parent. As a result, the children sometimes become more difficult to control than they are with dad, whose role as the tougher disciplinarian was well understood. This change in family dynamics can exacerbate the children's negative behaviors and mom's exasperation with the children. Yet, this is only one of the wife's frustrations and stressors.

Sexual deprivation also can become a factor. One day her man is at home; the next day he is gone. The greatest problem must be the wife's sense of aloneness, which also might be connected to loneliness.

For those women who had been the more dependent partner to be thrust into control of the house, the money, and the children, many new stressors are added into the equation. Much depends on the predeployment division of labor in the family and the amount of social interaction to which she had grown accustomed before the deployment.

One study that examined these issues in military families found distinct differences between the genders in child abuse potential. The study of 175 fathers (93% active duty) and 590 mothers (16% active duty) in a home visitation program sponsored by the Army found that the unique predictors for child physical abuse potential for mothers included marital dissatisfaction, low social support, and low family cohesion. The only unique predictor found for fathers was low family expressiveness (J. Fam. Violence 2005;20:123-9).

Despite the findings of the JAMA study showing higher rates of child abuse among civilian wives because of added stressors (JAMA 2007;298:528-35), we also need to remember that the stressors on military men also are heightened.

The Army's desire to redeploy young enlisted men three and four times to Iraq or Afghanistan can prove devastating to both the soldier and his wife--and to the entire family, for that matter. The threat of injury or death is increased, and the wife might not be as "patriotic" as her husband, so she might be less enthusiastic than he about his returning again and again to the combat area.

Furthermore, the more combat he sees, the more likely he is to develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or acute stress disorder (ASD), which can be a motivator for his own increasing negative behavior toward his children. It needs to be clear to a psychiatrist that children's vulnerability to being treated badly is increased whenever life's circumstances change--and war does terrible things to people.

For enlisted soldiers, stress is very high. They have to follow orders, join in the common belief regarding their purpose in fighting the war, and endure an increasing number of horrors--especially the loss of friends and companions.

They also acquire a greater propensity for violence. It is not easy to spend weeks and months shooting and killing others, and then turn off all of these violent tendencies after coming home--and act with sweetness and kindness toward the children and spouses in a single day.

Furthermore, PTSD increases this tendency toward rage, impulsivity, acting out, shouting, hitting, and even indiscreet sexual behavior. Often, these soldiers are young, unsophisticated, and given to excessive behavior even before being deployed to combat for the first time. …

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