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!


Camille said...

I am sure you are a great blessing to many my friend. What a wonderful thing it is that you can share your wisdom with others via this means. XOXO

Terri Cheney said...

Stacey as you know I've been a medic's wife for 22 years now. We moved to a different county after he'd been doing his job for two years, which meant those quick stops at home (we'd lived a mile from the station) were no longer going to happen. Thankfully John's schedule at that time was 7 12 hour days with 12 hours on call. He essentially had a full week off between shifts and it really was ideal as far as the kids were concerned. Yes, he missed a few special events, but we made it a huge point to celebrate on 'our day' not 'the day' and like you we kept up a calendar with schedule marked out so the kids could see when Dad was going to be in.

On off weeks John made it a point to be home when the kids came in from school and he took time to hear about their day etc. We used that off week time to have meals as a family, celebrate 'our days', etc. If it were a birthday John usually left a note or made a call after school to talk to the birthday child. Since we didn't do parties as a rule, we had our own tradition. Dad might not be here for the dinner but he always had cake with us.

"Our Days" are traditional holidays, Christmas and Thanksgiving. It seems John has worked 21 of each in the 21 years he's been working and it's not because he chose overtime! Just as his cycle would end, his shift would change to a different week and right back he'd be working holidays. So we choose a mutally agreeable day and just the traditional holiday meal on that day. Now the kids are married, it works well. They can safely give in and go to the in-laws knowing full well that mom and dad are having their holiday the next week or two!

In their at home years, we had a tradition of getting up stupidly early on Christmas morning (usually 4amish) and opened gifts, had our breakfast with John and sent him off to work while we all lounged about, lol. Even after the children were grown and left home they insisted on having their early morning Christmas habit just at first. Now they live too far away and have families of their own, so it doesn't work as well.

These days my husband is working a 24/72 shift with rumors of changing off to a 24/48. This schedule has been much harder on us and our family now that they all must travel to visit. At John's age he needs a full day to recover and uses the two days after to run errands, do necessary tasks and get ready for the next shift. It's made traveling to visit our children hard, too. We were very spoiled with the former shift schedules! I am grateful we don't have to try to raise a family too on this schedule. It was difficult enough before!

Breanna Geib said...

I was raised as the daughter of a fire captain. I was completely used to the 24 hour shifts every third day as well as the ever-plenty overtime. 4 months ago I married a wonderful man that is also a fireman at this same department, working the exact same schedule. If anyone could handle this schedule, I thought, a fireman's daughter could with ease. But lately I have have grown intensely lonely. The never ending cycle that you all know of having an empty bed every third night; no end in site. As soon as I'm aware he's home, he's gone. I'm in school and have three small jobs, but still I feel like he is the one that is always gone. Does this loneliness ever go away? We don't know if children are for us yet, but I would never want a child to try and replace the presence of a spouse. Any tips would be greatly appreciated...

Stacie, A Firefighter's Wife said...

That sounds very hard. I can't imagine how much we would not see each other if I did work. Makes me so grateful that God made a way for me to be a SAHM. It sounds like you are very lonely. I think being intentional will be the key in your marriage until you don't have to work so much. Before kids to help ease the lonileness, I had a dog named Bubba. Bubba slept with me and gave me someone to talk to. I also went to the fire station more for dinner and visited family and friends. I didn't want to stay home and feel sorry for myself. Developing a life for myself was greatly encouraged by my husband. I still do this to this day. I go to Bible studies and invite friends over when he isn't around. I look forward to his 24 hour shifts now because I know I only have to worry about my kids' and I's schedule that day.

Amanda said...

Thank you so much for this follow up! I have started a sticker chart with my daughter. It's essentially a calendar colored in, red for the days he is on shift, green for the days he is home. It hangs in her room and on the days Daddy is working she gets a sticker. She knows "Two stickers and Daddy comes home!" In addition to our normal bedtime prayers, we have started specifically praying for Daddy and the people he is helping. Taking about him while he is gone helps. Our little girl is so proud to tell people "My Daddy a firefighter. He helps people!" I'm hoping it will get easier as she gets older and gets used to this new schedule!

Stacie, A Firefighter's Wife said...

Anything visual is very helpful with little ones. Great job!

Breanna Geib said...

That is very helpful to look at it as needing to be intentional about it instead of waiting to get used to it. Thank you so much!

Terry at FireStoreOnline said...

Your words of wisdom will serve as an inspiration to every firefighters wife like you. I salute all of you!

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