Photo: POLICE file
A husband on a shift schedule has been known to drive a solid wife nutty, make a grown woman scream, or throw a calm child into tantrum mode. Living this way for any length of time is like living in a constant state of jet lag. It can take up to 24 hours for a human body to adjust to just one hour of time change. That can mean up to eight full days to adjust from one shift to another.
If the officer has a family, a change from days to nights means the family must stay quiet during the day and possibly miss the officer family member during the work week. Not to mention the recuperation time on the few precious days off. The family may be awakened in the middle of the night as the officer leaves for work. This can stress any family to the point of screaming especially if the children are small.
A night shift means that the spouse—usually the wife—must become the mother, father, coach, mechanic, plumber, mender, and general doer of all things. This isn't easy for anyone to accomplish. In essence, a police spouse becomes a single, married parent. You try to keep your head up and continue on even if you really want to just quit.
Even on the days you just want to yell at your spouse because he doesn't understand why you're tired or stressed or upset about his precious little contribution to building a home life. Suddenly you're blowing your top because he left his cloths on the bathroom floor; left the drawers open; or didn't wash the dishes when he said he would. Don't quit. Don't explode. Just breathe.
The first thing to understand is that a husband and wife travel on two different mental roads. The officer husband is on the road of work—make money, life revolves around the job road. The wife is on the road of taking care of the home front.
He doesn't see that clothes on the floor will bother you because you just spent an hour cleaning it. He forgot to do the dishes because they aren't a priority—finishing that report is. The dishes are just not on his radar. The same can be said for the other side of the fence. We don't understand why he gets upset about our priorities such as the kids' dental appointments, homework, and sports.
These are the two roads, each with different ideas and sets of priorities and goals. This isn't a bad thing. It allows us to cover all our needs. We just need to come together as a unit and discuss these needs. Remember, he has no idea why you are irked if you don't tell him.
Contrary to popular brief, no one can read minds. You're a team, so schedule a weekly meeting. Keep a family calendar, and keep each other abreast of the goings on in each other's world. Just because you may be on different roads doesn't mean you have to be heading to different places.
Shift schedules often challenge us to make do without our officer family member. The once-warm bed is replaced with cold pillows where your husband once slept. Sleeping alone at first is difficult. Pillows in his place do tend to help. Spraying them with his cologne is a trick I have used, and it works well. And learning to sleep with a partner again can be just as challenging. Holidays go on without your spouse. Birthdays pass without him. Life goes on. You must learn to adapt.
Our biggest issues crop up at holidays and special occasions. We had to get over celebrating things the same day as everyone else. He works on Thanksgiving Day, so we celebrate with a day off the prior week. Our family attends. We do the whole holiday.
On the real day, we may visit family while our officer works. We bring him back some food, and no one feels left out because we already celebrated it. Birthdays are done the same way. Christmas is harder, but because Santa loves officers, he will visit their homes early if you send a letter and ask nicely.
Keeping a line of communication open is so important especially when you may not see each other every day. A date night at least once a month is a must as well as time set apart with no phone calls and lots of family time. Don't just stare at a television. Interaction and laughter is amazingly wonderful for stress reduction, and family game night makes for good memories.
I hope I've given you some advice you can apply to your life. Remember you're not alone, so join a support group. Get help when you need it, and communicate often. The life of a law enforcement wife may not be easy but at least it isn't boring.
Erica Dreadfulwater, a former dispatcher, is married to an police officer and lives in Muskogee, Okla. She is pursuing a forensic psychology degree.
Dealing With Police Stress on the Home Front