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How work-related guilt informs parenting and adolescent psychological distress in military families

APA Citation:

Farnsworth, M. L., & O’Neal, C. W. (2022). How work-related guilt informs parenting and adolescent psychological distress in military families. Family Relations, 71(4), 1575-1592. https://doi. org/10.1111/fare.12685

Abstract Created by REACH:

With hypotheses rooted in multiple theories (i.e., determinants of parenting, family systems, and spillover-crossover theories), this study examined the associations among parental guilt (e.g., parents feel that they do not spend enough time with their children), inconsistent discipline (e.g., inconsistently applying communicated consequences), and adolescent psychological distress (i.e., anxiety and depressive symptoms). Associations with military-related factors (e.g., time away from home in the past year) and adolescents’ demographic characteristics (i.e., age and sex) were also considered. Data were collected from 223 families with an active-duty father and civilian mother. Overall, mothers who reported high levels of parental guilt generally engaged in more inconsistent discipline, and, in turn, both parents perceived the adolescent as experiencing a higher level of psychological distress.


Mental health

Branch of Service:


Military Affiliation:

Active Duty

Subject Affiliation:

Military families
Active duty service member
Spouse of service member or veteran
Child of a service member or veteran


Childhood (birth - 12 yrs)
Adolescence (13 - 17 yrs)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)
Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)


Quantitative Study


Farnsworth, Meredith L., O'Neal, Catherine W.


Objective The current study examined inconsistent discipline as a linking mechanism connecting parental guilt about work to adolescent psychological distress in military families. Background Military families may face tensions connected to competing demands of family and the military career, which can produce a sense of parental guilt. This guilt may contribute to poor parenting behaviors, such as inconsistent discipline, which can be detrimental for adolescents (e.g., leading to depression and anxiety). Method A structural equation model with data from 223 military families (i.e., active duty father, civilian mother, and adolescent) examined the associations among parental guilt, inconsistent discipline, and adolescent psychological distress. Results Active duty fathers' guilt and inconsistent discipline were related to their perceptions of adolescent psychological distress, whereas civilian mothers' guilt was indirectly related to both their own and their partner's perceptions of adolescent psychological distress through their inconsistent discipline. Conclusion Inconsistent discipline is a parenting behavior related to parental guilt and adolescent psychological distress. More research is needed to better understand the nuances of military contexts for families. Implications Inconsistent discipline is a specific, malleable parenting behavior with implications for prevention and intervention programs designed for military families as well as family-related policies in the military.

Publisher/Sponsoring Organization:

Wiley Online

Publication Type:

REACH Publication

Author Affiliation:

Department of Human Development and Family Science, University of Georgia, MLF
Department of Human Development and Family Science, University of Georgia, CWO


guilt, parenting

View Research Summary:

REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary


U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (Award No. 2009-48,680-06069; principal investigator: Jay A. Mancini)

REACH Newsletter:

  August 2022

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