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.