Friday, October 30, 2015

Helping Your Children Understand and Adjust to Firefighter's Schedule

A great question was asked by Amanda on my last post Firefighter Wives Do's and Don'ts. This is what it said:

"Thank you for your wisdom and transparency. I am new to this whole fire wife gig. My husband has been a wildland firefighter for 7 years and recently made the switch to structure fire. He is now working 48 on 4 days off with a local city department. I am so excited for him. I have watched him work so hard for his dream job. I am still adjusting to the new schedule. We have two young children (2 and a newborn). The most difficult part is that my 2 year old isn't understanding why her Daddy isn't home every night. She recently threw a pretty big tantrum, crying for no reason. When I finally got her settled down enough to talk she said "I never see my Daddy. I want my Daddy." My poor girl is too young to grasp the schedule or the fact that her Daddy has a very important job. I know she will adjust soon, but it is difficult watching my Daddy's girl get so upset every time he's on shift. Any tips for helping young children with the schedule?"

I realized that I had never really addressed this on my blog. My children have always been "firefighter kids", so it is just part of who they are. I think it would be much more difficult if their dad had a different career with more "normal" hours and then switched to being gone for 24 hours at a time, or sometimes 48 hour shifts. 

For the sake of clarity my husband works a Modified Detroit schedule. It looks like this, 24 on, 24 off, 24 on, 24 off, 24 on and then 4 days off. He leaves at 7:00 a.m. and generally gets home the next day around 10:00. When the kids were little and I was homeschooling I used to get so mad that he would stay at the fire station in the morning just to "shoot the breeze" and not rush home to help me out. Now that my children are older and I am older AND wiser, I understand why he liked that time to decompress, catch up with his friends that were coming on shift and discuss the previous day's calls. 

When they would cry and ask why Daddy wasn't coming home I would explain to them that he will be back tomorrow and he would do something special with them. My husband was really good at taking them to the store, a park or take them for a special lunch or grab and ice cream cone. He loves his kids and misses them as much as they miss him. 

My children just get used to it. I see the disappointment sometimes when they know he will miss a game or some kind of event. But they accept and know that it is difficult to get time off or trades. I don't see resentment (usually). They know that mom stays home and dad works hard so they can have a nice house, clothes, food and transportation. 

When it is an OVERTIME situation, that is when I get resentment. They know that it is a choice. If he chooses to get overtime rather than staying home or going to their ballgame, I can get some nasty feedback. That's when I let them know that Dad is a good provider and would much rather be with his family, but he knows we have extra bills so he needs to go in as much as he can right now. Sometimes we won't see him but a few waking hours in a week when he hits the overtime hard. I try to let them know that it is temporary and he is doing what he has to do to meet the needs of the family.

Now, my six year old (our youngest), she gets very whiny sometimes. She is her daddy's girl and she does not like it when he is gone. I hug her and tell her the same things I told the older ones for years. Sometimes it take a little while for her to get over it. Helping your children understand how special their dad is helps a lot. Also, It is always nice when you can dangle the "Dad's got four days off coming up", in front of their noses!

One go-to line I have is this, "Daddy is helping someone else right now. They need him even more than we do." Another line I have is, "There were a bunch of calls at the station at once. If Daddy doesn't go in, and another call came in no one would be there to help and that would not be good."

Having a calendar on the wall that is highlighted so they can see when Dad is here and when Dad is gone helped a lot when my kids were younger.

Facetiming is a great way to connect your kiddos in the evening to their dad if he is available. It can give your kids the ability to talk to their dad about their day and say goodnight. This way they can see that he is actually at the fire station and that they aren't just mysteriously gone. Wish we would have had that option when my kids were younger. Lily and Jacob still like to do this every now and then. Steve is in the station more now that he is a Captain. It may not have worked as well before he was an officer.

It is hard to see your children hurting. One thing you MUST be careful to NOT do, is be resentful yourself. It will come out of your mouth and make your life and your children's life so much harder. I used to be guilty of this and it made matters much worse. So much depends on our own attitude toward our husband's careers. We can make or break their career. We underestimate the power of influence we have over our families. If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. If you are depressed, angry and resentful, get some help. A good solid counselor, another firefighter wife, and a good support system such as family or a church family, will go a long ways to helping you get back on the right track. By taking care of yourself, you are inevitably  taking good care of your children. 

I would love to hear in the comment section some other ideas of what to tell your children when they are upset that daddy is "gone again". Let's help each other out!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Firefighter Wive's Do's and Don'ts

I have been getting a lot of traffic on my blog for my post 18 Years of Being a Firefighter's Wife: Lessons I've Learned.  Last I checked there were almost 20,000 hits. There have been a lot of comments left on there about expectations of their firefighters. Many girlfriends have commented about their frustrations that their needs are not being met. It must be quite a shock to learn that they are going to be alone most of the time. I thought I might compile a list of Do's and Don'ts to help other firefighter wives and girlfriends of firefighters to release their expectations and put some harmony back into their relationships.

(This list in not exhaustive in anyway and is just my opinion.)

1. DO be independent. Your husband needs this more than anything. Try to do everything you can to figure out the current crisis by yourself. Remember that when you call or text he could be unavailable dealing with his own latest crisis at work. My husband likes to go to work confident that I am not going to fall apart if some things go wrong at home. I call the plumber if something breaks. I call the mechanics and figure out how to get a car to the shop. I do almost everything because I have to. If he is there great! But count on the fact that if something is going to go wrong it WILL be when he is on shift. (LOL, but crying really)

DON'T be afraid to ask your friends and family for their help. They know your situation is unusual. Other firefighting families in your department are a wonderful resource too. I have had Steve's coworkers, hitch up trailers, change out a dead battery, babysit in an emergency and lots of other things!

2. DO be quiet. Try to have a gentle and quiet spirit that he looks forward to coming home to. He wants to feel safe and secure at home.

DON'T bombard your husband the moment moment he walks through the door. We need to let them settle down. He might have been having a lot of adrenaline pumping through him to keep him going. He could be exhausted after coming down off of that. I assess my husband when he gets home. Is he quiet? Is he tired? Is he needing some space? Does he want to talk? I let him guide the conversation. Sometimes he will just sit on the couch and not say much. I just do my chores around him and don't ask him to do things until I know he is in a better space. I usually ask one question, "Were you busy?" That leaves it open for him to talk about it if he wants to. He usually never tells me about his calls. Most of them seem to be bogus or unimportant. But every now and then he will tell me about something unusual or different or if it was somebody I knew.

3. DO be supportive: I know it isn't always fun to hear complaints, but sometimes our husband need to vent. They can get upset about how a call was run. Maybe some decision management made that drives them crazy, or a co-worker that is frustrating them.

DON'T try to fix it. Just listen and don't ever talk about it with anyone else. It must be confidential or he will never trust you again. There are a lot of rules about patient confidentiality. My husband is very careful not to name names or tell me anything that isn't public information or the newspapers haven't already covered. It didn't used to be this way, but he is protecting us in the long run from getting sued.

4. DO listen: Sometimes your husband will want to talk certain calls. Sometimes they talk about very gruesome things. The ones that bother me is when they go on traumas with kids. It is all I can do to not put my hands over my ears and scream "Stop"! I always think of my own children and how easily that same trauma could happen to them. My husband is probably feeling the same way and needs to get it out. Many times he will just start hugging the kids and paying extra attention to them. This can be a sign that he has just witnessed the death of a child.

DON'T pepper him with questions, but when he does talk, make sure you stop what you are doing and give him your full attention.

5. DO be intentional. When you do get your husband away from work and away from being on-call and overtime, be extra careful to enjoy and savor it. It may not happen for awhile! My husband loves going out of town because he knows doesn't have the pressure to get overtime. It is a blessing to be able to leave and not worry about what is going on at the fire station. He can relax and enjoy his family more. So make sure you get away every now and then on a real vacation.

DON'T waste your precious time fighting about your firefighter not being there for you. Some firefighters have a choice about going in on calls,but some departments are so small that firefighters need to be on-call more frequently. Volunteer firefighters are especially in demand! Accept that part of being a firefighter is your plans will be ruined. I have a reminder on my wall which talks about the sacrifices of a firefighter's family. I cross-stitched it the first year I married Steve. Twenty years later, I can't tell you how many times this poem has come true! Try to roll with it and give as much grace as possible. It is O.K. to be disappointed. It is what you do with your disappointment that matters. Allowing bitterness to grow and manifest in your heart, is no way to live.

I Am A Firefighter's Wife

The table's set, the meal's prepared,
our guests will soon arrive.

My husband once more disappears with
a hope of keeping a child alive.

While waiting at home alone,
our plans having gone awry.

My first impulse is merely
to sit right down and cry.

But soon again I realize
the importance of my life.

When I agreed to talk on the duties
of being a fireman's wife.

While there are many drawbacks,
I'll take them in stride.

Knowing "my Daddy saved a life"
Our children can say with pride.

The gusting winds and raging flames
may be his final fate.

But with God's help I can remain
my fireman's faithful mate.

I pray this helps anyone who is thinking about becoming a firefighter's wife or is newly married to one and is struggling with the demands. It is a different life than most of the people living around you. But different is not bad, it is just different! Be encouraged. You are not alone. God is with you. Take a moment to pray and ask for His wisdom and guidance.

If you are struggling in a specific area that is not covered here, please leave a comment or email me privately. I would love to be able to help if I can.
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