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.