When Michael Looft left for Iraq, he had a 9-month-old daughter. While he was on deployment in Iraq for 22 months, he missed the birth of his second daughter and major milestones in the young lives of both.
Looft, who works full time for the Minnesota Army National Guard in St. Peter, returned home in 2007 to a family that had been operating without him for almost two years. His wife, Katie, had grown accustomed to parenting alone.
So the transition, they say, was a process. Looft, who has been enlisted since 1999, was accustomed to the much more structured way of life in a military setting. He came home to a family life that was far less structured, Katie said.
“It was a little bumpy,” Katie said. “It was not an easy process.”
Katie said her family could really have benefited from a program that they now are taking part in: a parenting management training model, an intervention system to help families develop parenting skills.
A University of Minnesota team, led by Abigail Gewirtz in the family social science department, modified the program to fit the military experience. The program is called After Deployment: Adaptive Parenting Tools, or ADAPT.
The research project is aimed at teaching and studying parenting skills of military families post-deployment, helping to reintegrate the military mom or dad back into family life.
More than 400 families in Minnesota are taking part — including various southern Minnesota families — and data collection is under way.
Six years ago, the Loofts found their own ways to readjust. But they wanted to take part in the study now to both reaffirm their parenting and communication skills, as well as support research that will be able to help numerous families who go through what they did.
“We were on our own to kind of readjust to civilian life,” Katie said.
She said the couple began with the program in February and received 14 weeks of training. For the next four years they will periodically meet with an ADAPT researcher to provide updates.
Through the program Katie said they’ve learned new communication skills with both each other and their children, who are now 6 and 8. She said they learned how to better listen to their kids and allow them to have a voice.
Thad Shunkwiler of Mankato, a faculty researcher in the U of M department of family social science, will be recruiting more Mankato-area families for the study through the end of the year.
The $3.2 million project was funded through the National Institute of Drug Abuse and National Institutes of Health and was based on the long-term parenting study by Marion Forgatch and Gerald Patterson, which examined the impact of parenting on development.
With war being a part of the lives of many families nationwide the past decade, researchers determined a study should be done on the needs of military families for effective parenting techniques after deployments, Shunkwiler said.
Studies show more than 10 percent of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will have post-traumatic stress disorder. And 20 percent return to no job, which adds stress to parenting.
Focusing on Minnesota National Guard and Reserve families, Shunkwiler said the purpose of the research project is to test the effectiveness of ADAPT. Although too early in the process to say definitively, the goal could be to make the program available to the military as a tool to help deployed troops transition back into family life, as well as help their families normalize again.
Through interviews and monitoring, researchers are determining whether ADAPT techniques affect their children’s behavioral and emotional problems, among other things.
“We’re finding families who take the time to go through the program are finding higher amounts of parental satisfaction,” Shunkwiler said. “Our intervention is working.”
Families are compensated up to $600 for their time and travel.
Not all of the families who sign up will receive ADAPT training. As the control group, they will be offered traditional parenting resources and still will be monitored by researchers.
Families interested cannot have a mom or dad who is now deployed; the parent must have returned from a deployment within the last 10 years. Single parents are welcome.
The children must be between the ages of 5 and 12 years old, and it’s OK if the deployment occurred before the children were born.
Katie said she’s glad her family signed up for the program this year.
“I feel like me, personally, I have benefited. My family has benefited,” she said. “And we wanted to be able to give back to the military.”