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Hard is normal: Military families' transitions within the process of deployment

APA Citation:

Yablonsky, A. M., Barbero, E. D., & Richardson, J. W. (2016). Hard is normal: Military families’ transitions within the process of deployment. Research in Nursing and Health, 39(1), 42-56 .https://doi.org10.1002/nur.21701

Abstract Created by REACH:

Deployment is often a stressful time for military families, and U.S. Service members have been deployed more often and for longer periods of time since 2003 and the start of OIF. This study synthesizes 21 qualitative articles related to the process of deployment among military families. The authors detail important tasks and specific challenges related to each stage of deployment, including pre-deployment, deployment, household adjustment for the family, and post-deployment.


Mental health

Branch of Service:

Air Force
Multiple branches
Marine Corps

Military Affiliation:

Active Duty

Subject Affiliation:

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


Childhood (birth - 12 yrs)
Neonatal (birth - 1 mo)
Infancy (2 - 23 mo)
Preschool age (2 -5 yrs)
School age (6 - 12 yrs)
Adolescence (13 - 17 yrs)
Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)


Qualitative Study


Yablonsky, Abigail M., Barbero, Edie Devers, Richardson, Jeanita W.


US military deployments have become more frequent and lengthier in duration since 2003. Over half of US military members are married, and many also have children. The authors sought to understand the process of deployment from the perspective of the military family. After a thorough search of the literature, 21 primary research reports of 19 studies with an aggregate sample of 874 were analyzed using qualitative metasynthesis. The deployment process was experienced in four temporal domains. The military family as a whole shared the pre-deployment transition: all family members felt uncertain about the future, needed to complete tasks to “get ready” for deployment, and experienced a sense of distancing in preparation for the upcoming separation. The AD member went through the deployment transition independently, needing to “stay engaged” with the military mission, building a surrogate family and simultaneously trying to maintain connection with the family at home. In parallel, the home front family was going through a transposement transition, moving forward as an altered family unit, taking on new roles and responsibilities, and trying to simultaneously connect with the deployed member and find support from other military families. In post-deployment, the family went through the “reintegration” transition together, managing expectations, and readjusting family roles, all needing understanding and appreciation for their sacrifices during the recent separation. Effective family communication was important for military family well-being after deployment but unexpectedly challenging for many. Clinical, research, and policy recommendations are discussed. ß 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. This article has been contributed to by a US Government employee and her work is in the public domain in the USA.

Publisher/Sponsoring Organization:

John Wiley & Sons

Publication Type:

REACH Publication

Author Affiliation:

School of Nursing, University of Virginia, AMY
University of Virginia, EDB
University of Virginia, JWR


adaption, psychological, stress, anxiety separation, therapy, complications, child reactive disorders, military family, middle-aged, adolescent, humans, female

View Research Summary:

REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary


The TriService Nursing Research Program
Grant HT9404-13-1-TS05 (N13-P01)

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