Parentification in Military Families

Jay Morse & Heidi Radunovich, PhD

In a recent research article, Hooper, Moore & Smith, (2014) provide a review of the research literature on parentification in the context of military family systems and military culture. Parentification is not unique to military families, but may occur in any family where there is a role reversal between the parent and the child.

What is parentification?

The authors define parentification as the disturbance or lack of appropriate boundaries between family subsystems, resulting in functional or emotional role reversal between parents and children in the family [1]. Recently, the term parentification has been used more widely in the military family literature.

Why this is important:

  • An increasing number of individuals on active duty are supporting families with children.
  • Clinical practice should be informed by the military culture – military families face atypical stressors, such as frequent deployments.

Functional vs. Emotional Parentification

The authors distinguish between two forms of parentification: functional and emotional. Examples of functional parentification would be a child taking on additional household tasks and performing specific functions that the deployed parent might have taken care of previously, such as taking out the trash or babysitting. However, emotional parentification refers to the remaining parent using the child inappropriately for emotional support, which leads to increased emotional burden for the child. While it might be necessary and okay for children to help out in the household, and provide functional support, it is inappropriate and damaging for children to provide emotional support to their parents.

The researchers in this article state that far-reaching effects of parentified children can include poor academic performance, an inability to form positive relationships, and feeling overburdened and overwhelmed. Systematic evaluation should be used to identify the extent of parentification. While a good clinical interview should be able to help clinicians determine whether parentification is occurring, some additional tools are available:

The researchers emphasize that clinicians should consider a strength-based approach to treatment, because the child or adolescent may have experienced parentification as positive. Intervention and treatment strategies should be informed by the context and role adopted during the parentification process, according to the authors.


[1] Hooper, L. M., Moore, H. M., & Smith, A. K. (2014). Parentification in military families: Overlapping constructs and theoretical explorations in family, clinical, and military psychology. Children and Youth Services Review, 39, 123-134. doi: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2014.02.0030190-7409.

[2] Hooper, L. M. (2009). Parentification Inventory. (Available from L. M. Hooper, Department of Educational Studies in Psychology, Research Methodology, and Counseling. The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487).

[3] Jurkovic, G. J. & Thirkield, A. (1998). Parentification Questionaire (Available from G. J. Jurkovic, Department of Psychology, Georgia State University, University Plaza, Atlanta, GA 30303).

This post was written by Jay Morse & Heidi Radunovich, PhD, members of the MFLN Family Development (FD) team which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, You Tube, and on LinkedIn.

Military Caregiving Educational Course NOW Available!

Caregiver CourseNew military caregiving online course entitled, The Unique Challenges of Military Caregivers, is now available. The course was created under the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service – Wounded Warrior Program and provides insight into the life of military caregivers and identifies the many challenges they may face. Emphasis is placed on possible resources and supports that professionals can reference or share when working with military caregivers and families.

To view the course, go to The Unique Challenges of Military Caregivers.

Course Background

Spouses, partners, parents and others become a caregiver of military personnel when they learn their loved one is wounded while serving. These hidden heroes are at the bedside of their service members and with them until they learn to live a “new normal.” Military caregivers focus on their wounded warriors often at the determent of their own health and well-being. Being a military caregiver isn’t easy as they advocate for their warrior, provide medical care and deal with the uncertainty of their future. They do this while also continuing as a parent, employee, spouse or other life roles.

Professionals often don’t recognize the essential role military caregiver’s play in the service member’s healing process. The caregiver provides information to medical staff or other professionals when the wounded warrior can’t remember or doesn’t want to accept the reality of their situation. Since they are a critical part of the service member’s care team, professionals need to understand the trials and tribulations military caregivers face daily.

Upon completion of the course, professionals should be able to recognize a variety of caregiver challenges and identify resources and support services to address each challenge. *The course may take approximately 45-60 minutes to complete.

The Unique Challenges of Military Caregivers course was created by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service – Wounded Warrior Program. Course content was developed by Mary Brintnall-Peterson, Ph.D., owner of MBP Consulting, LLC and Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin-Extension.

This article was originally published Tuesday, August 19, 2014 on the Military Families Learning Network blog, a part of eXtension.

Passwords and online safety


In early August, the New York Times reported that Russian hackers had “amassed the largest known collection of stolen Internet credentials, including 1.2 billion username and password combinations and more than 500 million email addresses” This report is but the latest in a string of news stories about the credentials of Internet users being compromised. In the past year, there have been many data breaches including Target, Adobe, Michaels and others.

Typically, when a single site is breached, the advice is to change your credentials for that one site, and any others where you use the same credentials. However, in this instance the stolen passwords and usernames were from many websites, and a detailed list of the affected sites is not available.

This incident and similar ones should be the impetus for you to consider how you secure your identity when using websites for communication, banking, purchasing, social networking, and all the activities we do online. Good security requires sacrificing a bit of convenience, but the peace of mind is worth it.

Password Security
 – your responsibility

Most sites require you to login with a username (often an email address) and a password. Since your email address is most likely public, your password is the “secret” that you are using to prove to the website that you are who you say you are. Creating a good password and keeping it secret are vital to online security.

This article about passwords, from the Network Literacy area of the eXtension site provides information on password usage, choosing a good password, remembering passwords, and two-factor authentication.

Some key takeaways

  • Passwords should be long, complex, and different for each site you use
  • Keeping track of passwords is a key barrier to people adopting a strong password policy for themselves
  • Two-factor authentication adds another component to security, making the compromise of a password less harmful

The World Wide Web was originally developed without much thought given to security – it was a model built on trust. Incidents like this make clear that security is necessary, and that each of us is responsible for protecting our identities and credentials.

Authors: Stephen Judd (@sjudd) and Terrence Wolfork (+Terrence Wolfork, @trwolfork )

This article (Passwords and online safety) was originally published Thursday August 14, 2014 on the Military Families Learning Network blog, a part of eXtension.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Resource Discovery: NCTIC’s Manual on Trauma-Informed Care

By Jay Morse & Kacy Mixon, PhD, LMFT

As we’ve highlighted in previous posts, trauma can have adverse effects on the developing brain and can permeate many aspects of personal, work and school life. We’ve also discussed how military personnel and their families are particularly vulnerable to this issue in previous posts. The impact of trauma has also been found to have devastating effects on communities and organizations leading to an increased interest in trauma-informed care [1].

Today’s Resource Discovery features information provided by SAMHSA’s National Center for Trauma-Informed Care (NCTIC) and the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS). This 2012 manual introduces readers to trauma-informed care by outlining the history, key principles and NCTIC’s role in shaping this treatment approach. Trauma-informed care was first defined and developed by Maxine Harris and Roger Fallot [2]. Developers of this treatment approach believe that everyone can benefit from learning about trauma [1].

Did You Know?

The trauma-informed services movement has its roots in early research on survivors of captivity and war during the 1960’s and 70’s. During the 1080’s, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnosis and treatment were pioneered and the Victims of Crime Act was passed by Congress.  Also in the 1990’s, the Adverse Childhood Experience study documented the prevalence and impact of childhood trauma. During the last two decades, neurological research has documented pathways through which trauma affects the brain, SAMHSA established centers on trauma-specific issues (e.g. child trauma, community disasters) , and national professional associations and media have increased their focus on trauma. [2]

Since their founding in 2005, NCTIC has worked within a wide range of service systems including health and behavioral health, military, justice, housing and homelessness, education and child welfare, women’s services, developmental disabilities, and various advocacy and governmental agencies to help prepare professionals who work with individuals and families affected by trauma.  More detailed information on NCTIC activities, consultants, and products can be found at this webpage.

Professionals working with military families can find this manual especially helpful for providing key principles of trauma-informed care as well as a brief summary of the history of trauma-informed services and key facts about trauma. Below we’ve listed more information on our previous blogs and webinars on trauma.



1. National Center for Trauma-Informed Care (2012). SAMHSA’s National Center for Trauma-Informed Care: changing communities, changing lives. VA: Author.

2. Harris, M. & Fallot, R. (2001) Using Trauma Theory to Design Service Systems, New Directions for Mental Health Services, 89 Spring.

This post was written by Jay Morse and Kacy Mixon, PhD, LMFT. Both are members of the MFLN Family Development (FD) that aims to support the development of professionals working with military families.  Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network  FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.








cover_fatigueMark your calendars for Wednesday, August 20th at 11:00 a.m. EDT as we host our FREE monthly professional development webinar entitled, Caregiver Compassion Fatigue, presented by Brian Bride, Ph.D.

*No registration is required; simply go to the day of the event to join. All interested participants are encouraged to attend. 1.0 National Association of Social Workers (NASW) continuing education credit is available for credentialed participants (pending approval from NASW).

Webinar Background

The negative impact of traumatic events can extend beyond those who directly experienced the trauma to family members and professionals who support the traumatized individual. As such, military caregivers are at risk for a phenomenon called compassion fatigue or secondary traumatic stress.

Compassion fatigue may lead to impairment in social and occupational functioning for many military caregivers. During the webinar, Dr. Bride will introduce participants to the concept of compassion fatigue, describe its symptoms, and discuss strategies to minimize the negative impact of compassion fatigue.

How to Join the Webinar

To connect to this webinar, go to Caregiver Compassion Fatigue the day of the event. Remember, no registration is required to join.

The webinar is hosted by the Department of Defense so you must install security certificates if you are not located on a military installation. Instructions for certificate installation can be found by clicking on DCO Adobe Certificate Installation.

For those who cannot connect to the Adobe site, an alternative viewing of this presentation will be running on Ustream. You can connect to the Adobe webinars using iPhone, iPad, and Droid apps. Search for DCO Connect in the respective stores.

This post was published on the Military Families Learning Network blog on August 8, 2014. 

The Value of Research for Financial Professionals

By Molly C. Herndon

Social Media Strategist 

For financial professionals working with clients in the field, economic research may seem abstract and non-applicable to their daily practice. Our August 12 webinar, Cliffs Notes from the Journal of Financial Planning & Counseling will highlight some of the more relevant articles from the journal and discuss the practical implications and impacts of the research.

Reading by Pedro Ribeiro Simões is licensed Creative Commons.
Reading by Pedro Ribeiro Simões is licensed Creative Commons.

Indeed, measuring outcomes is a significant way we all benefit from academic economic research. The evaluation of the outcomes of projects, programs, and initiatives encourages the improvement of programs to better reach and connect with their audiences. Thus, financial professionals have better access to programs to continue their own education, and a richer well of knowledge to share with clients.

Of course, financial professionals benefit from consuming research as well. By reading journals, financial professionals stay on top of current practices, trends, and can help develop programs that meet the needs of their clients by incorporating empirical evidence.

So make plans to go through some research briefs with Dr. Barbara O’Neill on Tuesday, August 12 at 11 a.m. ET. She will discuss not only the findings of various economic studies, but also the practical application of these findings. More information about this 90-minute webinar is available here. 

This post was published on the Military Families Learning Network blog on August 8, 2014.

What are Dual Trauma Couples?

Rachel Dorman, MS & Heidi Radunovich, PhD

Traumatic events can have long lasting impacts on an individual, and military members returning from deployment could be coping with exposure to multiple traumatic events. Traumatic events can result in PTSD, anxiety, isolation, and depression. Nelson Goff and colleagues (2014) sought to not only learn more about military members coping with traumas but also what happens when their partners have experienced trauma as well.

The researchers specifically sought to learn more about dual trauma couples (DTC) and how having 2 partners coping with trauma impacts the relationship. The study involved 11 married couples, consisting of 11 male soldiers and their female partners (some of whom had a military background). In five of the couples, only the soldier was found to have experienced a high level of traumatic experiences (single trauma couples, or STC); in the other six couples, both members scored as having had a high level of traumatic experience (DTC). Participants had to be 18 years or older, in their relationship for a year or more, and reported no substance abuse or domestic violence during the initial screening. Participants were interviewed separately from their partner, and were also given written measures, which included the Traumatic Events Questionnaire (TEQ), the Purdue Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Scale – Revised, the Trauma Symptom Checklist-40, and the Dyadic Adjustment Scale.

The researchers found communication problems and trauma triggers to be unique themes to DTC as compared to STC. The researchers found that eleven of the twelve participants in this DTC category reported communication problems, such as not being open and sharing information and the avoidance of conversations related to traumatic events. Trauma related triggers, such as being startled by daily events, were identified by the researchers in nine of the twelve participants in the DTC category. Most of the STC participants described positive couple communication (e.g., staying connected while deployed, perspective taking, and being able to discuss issues openly).

The researchers recommend for clinicians working with military couples who have experienced trauma to evaluate for communication problems, trauma triggers, and issues with relationship roles and intimacy.  The researchers also highlight the importance of practitioners being more aware of DTC, and the fact that when both members of a couple are coping with trauma, this can add additional stress to a couple’s relationship. To learn more about how to help military members dealing with trauma check out our Resource Discovery on Trauma-informed Care , our previous blog on EFT for Couples Affected by Trauma, or our previous blog on Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: Prevalence and Effects on Couples.


Nelson Goff, B., Irwin, L., Cox, M., Devine, S., Summers, K., & Schmitz, A. (2014). A qualitative study on single-trauma and dual-trauma military couples. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 6(3), p. 216 – 223. Doi: 10.1037/a0036697

This post was written by Rachel Dorman, M.S. and Heidi Radunovich, PhD. Both are member of the Family Development team that aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network here and on Facebook.

LGB Military Personnel after the Repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”

By Rachel Dorman, MS & Heidi Radunovich, PhD

While the creation of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy (DADT), made it legal for lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals to serve in the military, it still restrained LGB military members from being able to engage in LGB relationships. With the repeal of DADT, LGB military members now can be open about their relationships without military repercussions. Yet, even with the repeal of DADT there are still risks LGB military members may face in having an open relationship (Johnson, Rosenstein, Buhrke & Haldeman, 2013).

Johnson, Rosenstein, Buhrke, and Haldeman (2013) explain that, due to the military’s historically unaccepting environment to LGB military personnel, there is a stigma that may remain. Such a stigma among military members may create an unwelcoming or hostile environment for those who do not have the same sexual orientation. The researchers explain there may be resistance, homophobia, prejudice, exclusion, and harassment that can flare up against LGB military members in the military environment. These could be legitimate concerns for LGB personnel, and therapists should be willing to listen to the client and follow his or her lead as far as comfort with disclosure. Such stressors, or concern about those potential stressors, could cause LGB military personnel to want continue to conceal their sexual orientation, which can affect their health and well-being. Furthermore, these stressors may result in decreased job satisfaction and commitment to the military, as well as other negative outcomes.

Johnson and colleagues (2013) recommend that mental health providers seek an awareness of the environment and stressors that LGB military members face. It is recommended that practitioners pursue cultural awareness by actively seeking to better understand the negative experiences and stigma clients may have encountered as a result of their sexual orientation, particularly in the military setting. It is also recommended that mental health providers create an environment of acceptance and support when assessing and treating a client. Finally, they stress that those mental health practitioners who do not feel adequately trained to provide care for LGB military personnel to provide appropriate referrals. When providing a referral, seek other mental health providers with an expertise in LGB affirmative treatment, LGB networks for professionals, and local LGB community resources. To learn more about LGB military personnel check out our webinar on “Needs and Supportive Strategies for Professionals Working with LGBT Military Families” or our previous blogs here:


Johnson, B., Rosenstein, J., Buhrke, R., & Haldeman, D. (2013). After “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”: Competent care of lesbian, gay and bisexual military personnel during the DOD policy transition. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 1-9. doi: 10.1037/a0033051

This post was written by Rachel Dorman, M.S. and Heidi Radunovich, PhD. Both are member of the Family Development team that aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network here and on Facebook.

Caregiver Mini Series: 444 Days in the First Year (Part 5)

Caregiver’s Final Moments with Service Member & the Advice She has for Professionals Communicating to Families during Grieving Process

iStock_000016563675Small“Please don’t leave me.”

I stood by my service member’s bed; my arms were wrapped tightly around him and my head was on his chest, just as I had done every other day before– but today was different though.

His room was quiet, with the exception of the nurse who would occasionally come into the room to monitor his heart rate. There was no talking, no questions, or any of the typical noises. I’m not sure how long I actually stood there, but I would have stood there forever if it meant he would eventually come home with me.

Tears quietly fell from my eyes and I squeezed him tighter as the reality of what was happening began to sink in.  The slower his breathing became, the tighter I held on hoping that the love I had for my service member, my husband, was somehow strong enough to miraculously heal his body. I stood there hoping that he would wake up and we would be a family again.  “Please,” I begged him, “Please don’t leave me.”

As I was gently pulled away from him I remember looking back over my shoulder to see him one last time, and with a piece of me missing, I walked out of his room for the last time.

Advice for Professionals and Family Caregivers

What happens when a wounded service member succumbs to their injuries?  As professional caregivers does your “job” stop?

In many ways I suppose it does, as there are specific agencies and programs in place for the families of our fallen that are filled with people who are willing to go above and beyond for our families during the transitioning and grieving process.

However, there are still ways to be part of this new process for the family members, should you have the opportunity.

It has been my experience both personally and professionally that families appreciate respect and acknowledgement.  Loosing a loved one is unbelievably hard, as well as exhausting.  In some cases, the mere presence of someone else beside them is all that is needed for an individual to feel comforted.

We do not always have to have the “right words” to say.  In fact, it was my experience that many words, or innocent “meant well” phrases made the hurt worse, and some were in fact down right disrespectful and almost unbearable.

Below is a list of common sayings that I heard following my service member’s death.  While the reasons I give as to why you should not say a certain phrase comes from my own personal experience and how it felt for me, I have heard many of these said to other families as well.  Admittedly, I too have been guilty of saying a couple of the phrases listed below, however it was not until I lost my service member that I realized how hurtful these comments could feel.

We are taught to make meaning through the use of language, and in many instances we rely on language to be the bridge between others and ourselves in creating our “New Normal.” But as most of us know, loosing a loved one is one of the hardest experiences we will ever face and I personally feel that learning to simply sit quietly with someone during their darkest hours of grief can sometimes convey a stronger message than any words could ever express. Silence speaks volumes.

The following statements are examples of what NOT to say to caregivers during the grieving process and my own personal response or thoughts to such comments.

What NOT to say to Military Caregivers during the Grieving Process

  1. “I’m so sorry, is there anything I can do?”
    •  Personal Thought: No, because what I wanted no one could give me, which was to have my service member back.
  1. “You are so young, you will find someone else.”
    • Personal Thought: As if my service member could simply be replaced. Regardless of age, loosing a loved one hurts.
  1. “Thank God your kids are so young, and won’t remember.”
    • Personal Thought: Hearing this hurts, even now.  My children do remember…a lot actually.  But because my children were so young there were so many firsts that we went through with out him, and so many still yet to be had.  Those words simply remind me of what we will never have.
  1. “Time heals all wounds.”
    • Personal Thought: Time healed nothing; I simply learned how to live without my service member. I redefined who I was as a person because every piece of me was forever changed. The wound is still very much there, and I am okay with that.
  1. “I know exactly how you feel.”
    • Personal Thought: No you do not, because you are not me.  Hearing this completely denies a person of their ability to grieve. Grief is unique and personal to everyone who experiences it. Everyone grieves differently regardless of shared relationships to the loved one who has passed. 

Missed the beginning of my series? Go to ‘The Phone Call’ to read the first installment of this caregiver series.

Tabitha_FamilyMeet Tabitha…

The caregiving mini-series, 444 Days in the First Year, was written by Tabitha McCoy. Tabitha is a contributor to the MFLN–Military Caregiving concentration team and is a former military caregiver to her husband, SGT Steve McCoy. In this mini-series, Tabitha shares her personal story of caregiving, loss, grieving, and transitioning, as well as insight and advice for both professionals and family caregivers as she recounts the 444 days following her husband’s injuries and then unfortunately his death in June 2008.

Tabitha holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, and is currently a graduate student at Valdosta State University where she is pursuing her Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.

This post was published on the Military Families Learning Network blog on July 29, 2014.

July Caregiving Webinar: Identity Discrepancy & Implications for Practice

Identity DiscrepancyThe Military Caregiving concentration will be hosting it’s FREE monthly professional development webinar at 11:00 a.m. Eastern, July 23rd on Caregiver Identity Discrepancy, presented by Rhonda J.V. Montgomery, Ph.D.

*No registration is required; simply go to the day of the event to join. All interested participants are encouraged to attend.

Webinar Background

Participants will be introduced to the basic tenants of the Caregiver Identity Theory and implications for understanding the caregiving experience and its impact on military families. A centerpiece of this perspective is the assertion that the caregiving role is not a new role, but rather a transformation of an existing role. Participants will learn about three specific types of caregiver stress and identity discrepancy, which many caregivers experience as they take on this role. The implications of this perspective for strategically intervening to support caregivers will also be discussed.

Dr. Montgomery, Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Tailored Care Enterprises, LLC will present a 60-minute webinar on the caregiver identity change theory. The caregiver theory helps us understand:

  • Sources of caregiver distress
  • Differences in the way that caregivers experience distress
  • Reasons that caregivers use or do not use services
  • Strategies for helping caregivers
  • Differences among caregivers in the types of support needed.

How to Join the Webinar

To connect to this webinar, go to Caregiver Identity Discrepancy the day of the event. Remember, no registration is required to join.

The webinar is hosted by the Department of Defense so you must install security certificates if you are not located on a military installation. Instructions for certificate installation can be found by clicking on DCO Adobe Certificate Installation.

For those who cannot connect to the Adobe site, an alternative viewing of this presentation will be running on Ustream. You can connect to the Adobe webinars using iPhone, iPad, and Droid apps. Search for DCO Connect in the respective stores.

This post was published on the Military Families Learning Network blog on July 16, 2014.