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Significant Stressors for Military Families

Posted in: Stories

Understanding the Needs of Military Families: Significant Stressors

As we seek to support military families, we need to understand the unique challenges and stressors that differentiate them from non-military families.

A recent Military Family Lifestyle Survey (MFLS) report by Blue Star Families revealed some of the main stressors that military families named as their biggest challenges.

Time Away From Family 

The amount of time away from family due to military service is the top issue for Active Duty, National Guard, and Reserve families. They know they will be called upon to serve time away from family. While it is an honor to serve, leaving family behind is hard for the one leaving for duty, the spouse left behind, and the children. One active-duty Space Force member summed it up well when he said, “It’s difficult to get into a positive rhythm without being able to plan more than a few days in advance.”

Military Spouse Unemployment & Underemployment 

Some military spouses want to work while their husband or wife is on active duty—some even need to work to help provide for the family. Unfortunately, military spouse unemployment rates are four times the national average, and 63% of employed military spouses report being underemployed. Several barriers can block employment like relocations for new military assignments, the active-duty spouse being away or working long hours and unable to care for the children, expensive childcare, and even the length of time they have been out of the workforce. 

Child Care 

According to the report, 76% of active-duty respondents cannot find child care that works for their situation. And spouses with children who have special needs face additional difficulties finding child care.

Growing a Family

For military families, deciding when to have children is a real challenge as they contemplate military moves. They must consider timing–will the baby be born when a spouse is away? This challenge is even harder for female active-duty members as they plan. Of the active-duty family respondents to the MFLS report, 42% said that military service created challenges to having children, specifically the desired number and/or spacing of their children.

Children’s Education 

Securing a good education for the children of a military family was one of the top five challenges reported. The idea of moving is always a looming thought as active-duty dads or moms are assigned to a new location. Leaving a school and starting another is a major stress for children, as well as for parents.

Children’s Mental Health 

Thankfully, most active-duty family respondents to the 2021 MFLS report noted that their children’s mental health is “good” or “excellent.” But 43% of the families rated at least one child’s mental health as “fair,” “poor,” or “very poor.” While there can be a variety of reasons for a drop in mental health for children of military families, getting additional support and mental health treatment for children can be tough due to other challenges experienced simultaneously by military families. 

Lack of Belonging 

This year’s military family survey revealed that 71% of active-duty spouses felt disconnected from their local civilian community. That is such a high number of military families that wish for a sense of belonging to their local community. Without community, there is a terrible sense of loneliness. With a solid community, perhaps the rate of active-duty spouse respondents (5%) who said they had considered suicide within the past year would be lower.

And there is where you come in—you can be the beginning of their community. These military families—and single service members—want a community outside of the military as well as inside. 

So much of community is just being there for others—meeting, getting to know them, listening, and understanding. You can’t solve all the challenges listed above, but there may be things you can help with:

  • Offering help when the active-duty spouse is away (childcare, fixing a broken faucet, transportation, etc.)
  • Assisting with local connections for employment
  • Helping with childcare so the parents can go on dates
  • Helping to make connections in the local schools
  • Inviting them to church and other community groups
  • Starting a Bible study at your home and inviting your military friends
  • Telling military couples about the military-focused Weekend to Remember events 
  • And just being a friend

If you love the military community and want to help them thrive in your community, pray first! Ask God for wisdom on who you can connect with and how. And we can help you as well. Cru Military® has additional training, publications, articles, and team members who can help you get connected and build community. 

Here are some additional links as you seek to reach out to your community:

If you would like more information on how to reach military families, you can email us at info@crumilitary.org.


The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visuals does not imply or constitute a DOD endorsement 

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