I have been a firefighter's wife for over 18 years now. We have struggled and we have triumphed over many things. I wish I would have known a few things at the beginning of my marriage that I know now. Unfortunately, I have learned the hard way on many an occasion.
First, having my husband gone for 24 plus hours is different than most people's situations. The shift work can drive you crazy if you let it. You don't get to have any relief like your friend's husbands who come home from their eight to five jobs. It's you, Baby! You and only you for 24 hours. You need to go into it thinking, "This is going to be hard work, but I can do it. God give me the strength that I need for THIS day."
Second, my expectations were way too high. Just because we make plans for dinner, Christmas, Thanksgiving and other holidays, does not mean they will come to pass. Fires happen, overtime comes, and medical calls never cease. I used to get so stressed out and angry when Steve would choose to go on a call instead of choosing to be with his family. Sometimes he would go in for overtime thinking that it would be two hours and he would get stuck and miss whatever event that we had planned. Then there is the 24 hour overtime shifts. Sweet for the pocket book, but hard on the family. The kids don't understand why Dad has to be gone for two days and you are left with whatever plans you had as a family that day. Sometimes you have to cancel them, or you just have to buck up and do it all by yourself. It used to frequently make me want to cry, but there is no use in fighting it. It is what it is. It is my husband's way of providing for his family. Praise God he is so faithful at it. I try not to get angry anymore. I try to be understanding and grateful.
Third, be careful when he walks in that door in the morning. Don't just start piling on the lists or complaints of what this child did and what "heck" you have been through the last 24 hours on the home front. You don't know what he has seen or done. He might have been up since 1:00 a.m. on a fire or a plane or car wreck. I learned this the hard way. Several years back, my husband came home in the morning and was unusually quiet. I remember nagging and complaining to him about something. I thought he was just being a grump and pushed even more. Later that afternoon, he finally told me that he had been on a SIDS victim. He was trying to come to grips with it in his mind. I noticed him holding his children tighter and not getting so frustrated with them. Was I a safe person for him to talk with? No, I had my own agenda. It broke my heart. Firefighters are special people. They are not usually very emotional and they deal with the stuff they see differently than most people. It is what makes them able to do their job. Be available, always if they want to talk. Consider it a privilege that they would share their feelings with you at all. Most of them don't talk about their feelings with each other, instead they use a morbid sense of humor to deal with the stuff they see.
Fourth, always ask if they slept. This is my way of being nosey in a sneaky way. He isn't just going to tell me about all the calls he has. He considers 85% of the calls that he goes on bogus anyway. He isn't going to waste his breath telling me about the heavy lady that fell for the 3rd time that day that called to have them pick her up and put her back in bed, or the stupid fire alarms that go off automatically at 3:00 in the morning. If I ask how he slept, then he sometimes says, "I didn't get to sleep until 3:00 a.m." That lets me know immediately to have very low expectations of him in the morning. I tell him to go take a nap if he needs too. Most of the times he opts out, but at least he knows that I understand his need for sleep. This keeps me from being angry and resentful when he isn't helping out more or not doing his honey-do list. Also, this opens the conversation to let him know that I'm listening if he does need to talk about a bad call.
Fifth, do not call or text them all the time while they are on the job! Firewives, you don't want to be known as "so and so's wife, that can't handle anything while he is away." Yes, they talk about you! They analyze relationships just like we do. They can sense also if you are respectful to your husband. When I learned the art of respecting my husband in front of others, I truly believe he was more respected at his job as well. My husband is always telling me how much he appreciates it that I don't call him or text him constantly while he is at the station. He says he enjoys knowing that I can handle things while he's away. I'm not saying that I never call or text him. If I do have a financial question or scheduling question, I try to always call on his lunch break or after five.
That is all I can think of right now. If you are a firefighter wife, would you please comment and let me know what kind of lessons that you have learned? I am very interested and I know others will be as well.
P.S. Due to the large number of negative comments I have been receiving on this blog about firefighters, I feel I need to remind readers that this is supposed to be a place of ENCOURAGMENT, not a place to bash husbands or firefighters in general. To generalize any group of people is wrong. Yes, firefighters cheat but so do many other people in many other professions. This does not make them all cheaters. I will not approve comments such as these. It isn't fair to the wonderful, hardworking, firefighers who are admirable and trustworthy. If you are having a hard time trusting your firefighter, please go see a professional counselor to see if you can work through those issues and give you wisdom of what to do in your unique situation.