Navigating The First Responder Family Schedule

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"I feel lonely, exhausted and overwhelmed parenting alone on the long shifts, overtime and call out". -First Responder Spouse

“I wish I could be home every night and not miss out on birthdays, family activities and holidays”- First Responder.

This is typical of many conversations I hear in the First Responder community.  As well, First Responder Children can feel upset, confused and sad that their First Responder Parent is missing an event that is important to them, not home when they are or sleeping during the daytime. 

Juggling our occupations as a couple, on top of our children’s activities, can be an endeavour for any family. Add a shift work schedule with a job in trauma and the struggle increases.

One of the most stressful parts of being a First Responder Family can be the schedule, but it doesn’t have to be! 

 

Connection:

Shift work can make it hard to have consistency and a routine. It can be difficult to see each other. Certain shifts might mean going days or weeks without seeing each other. 

First Responder Couples with polar opposite schedules can have a hard time finding quality time together when they are both in sync. While one is awake, energized to hang out together, the other is exhausted and ready for bed. When one is home, the other is working.

TIP: Be intentional to find a way to look in each other's eyes, hug and talk for at least 5 minutes a day, even if it’s passing on the way to bed when one is getting in and the other getting out or greeting at the door when one is arriving and the other leaving. When possible, take a work break together. Savour days off together. Preserve the time on the calendar when your schedule overlaps. Protect this time as family and couple connection time. 

 

Cancelled Plans:

The schedule might be rolling along with intentional plans on the spreadsheet to connect, both date night and family time together. Then overtime happens, or there’s a call out, or a crisis that needs response. The unpredictability of this lifestyle can leave feelings of defeat, disappointment or sadness for the First Responder Family members.

TIP: Acknowledge the suck. Listen to how you each feel without judgement or expectation. Keep planning. Don’t give up. It will work out. Take a friend if your partner can’t attend.

 

Grief:

Missing celebrations, birthdays, anniversaries, family reunions, our children’s school plays, sporting events are a part of adjusting to being a First Responder Family. Feelings of grief, guilt, anger and resentment from missing these events can arise for all members of our First Responder Family. 

TIP: “Name it to tame it”, as Peter Levine says. Acknowledge the suck, share how you feel and listen to how family members feel. No fixing or advising, just hearing. Encourage and validate by saying, tell me more or this is really hard. 

 

Support Systems:

As a First Responder Family, you may feel a loss of connection with social support groups, activities and hobbies that were once enjoyed. While other families can commit to a weekly sporting, social or group activity such as dinner club, yoga class or volleyball, First Responder Families might be hesitant to join, knowing they may miss half of the dates due to schedule conflicts. 

TIP: Plan anyway. Attend when you can. Choose to stay connected to your supports, hobbies, interests and those activities that build resiliency as First Responder Families. 

  

Childcare:

Finding a childcare provider who can work around your First Responder Family’s shift work schedule can be burdensome. Many First Responder Spouses work shifts based around their First Responder’s schedule or stop working altogether if childcare is an issue. Paying for childcare, in order to hold their spot, while their partner is off with their children, can create a financial strain. 

TIP: It will look different for everyone but do what is best for you and your First Responder Family. There will be a lot of people who have varying opinions so take time to process what is best for your family. 

 

First Responders:

Our First Responder can feel divided between their responsibilities and loyalties of home and work, creating a strain on them. They may feel stressed, overwhelmed and conflicted.

TIP: Keep communicating feelings.  Check in by asking “what’s the hardest part..” or “I’m curious about..” Listen to understand each other. 

 

First Responder Spouses:

First Responder Spouses can also feel exhausted, resentful and overwhelmed from parenting solo during the long hours. 

TIP: Schedule self care. Be intentional in carving out times in your day to rejuvenate.

Flexibility and Adaptability are two of the greatest strengths of First Responder Families. As you continually juggle, reassess, reevaluate and make new plans, know YOU GOT THIS! Here are some other tips our First Responder Family has found helpful and hope you do too.

 

Growth Mindset:

A growth mindset is key to building resilience as First Responder Families. Consider the positive in how the schedule impacts us and our family. 

Reframing is the ability to see the positive in the negative:

  • I am alone → I have time to do something for me
  • I am alone in bed → it will be a quiet sleep, no snoring, I can take up the whole bed 
  • There goes our date night → I can use the time to connect with a  friend and we will prioritize it on the next day off
  • It sucks they are working this weekend → with their days off midweek, we can go to the zoo when it’s quiet and there are no lines 

 

As you continually adapt to the First Responder schedule: communicate how you feel, hold space for each other, look for the positive, practice gratitude, focus on solutions instead of problems and grow together. YOU GOT THIS!

If this has been helpful for you, please share with other First Responder Families.

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