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What the Holidays Are Like When Your Spouse Does Shift Work

This Is What the Holidays Are Like When Your Partner Works Crazy Hours

Unsplash/Arun Kuchibhotla

When I was growing up, I was lucky enough that my whole family was together on holidays. We celebrated with my mom, dad, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Eve. I always envisioned doing the same for my children when I became a mom. And while our growing family does partake in all kinds of fun holiday traditions every year, it's become our norm that one person is almost always absent.

My husband has a shift work job, so we rarely spend a lot of time together as a family during regular months, but during the holidays, the overtime shifts and extra jobs offer a very enticing paycheck he understandably has difficulty turning down. It's never easy for him to miss out on seeing our daughter's face light up when we have breakfast with Santa or miss our toddler's squeals of delight at a lit up Christmas tree, but we make the holidays work for us, whether that means celebrating without him or celebrating on a different day.

As difficult as it can be for me to explain to two little faces looking up at me and wondering why daddy's not there, it's just as hard for him to be at work knowing they're missing him.

I've continued the traditions we did when I was a child, like spending time with extended family on Thanksgiving, taking the kids to see Santa, picking the perfect Christmas tree, and baking cookies, but I've learned to just plan things as though my husband won't be around for them, then if he happens to be home for one or a few, it's that much better! I can't say I don't care when he's not there, but that's just life for us, and I make the best of it for myself and our kids. And when he is around for those moments, we put even more focus and appreciation on being together.

The biggest thing we had to get used to during the holidays was learning how to prioritize those traditions. Everyone's calendars fill up quickly, so we ask ourselves things like, "Which events does he really want to be a part of and which ones is he OK (and will the kids be OK with him) skipping?" At the top of our list is getting our Christmas tree with my brother and his family, which my husband and I have done since well before we were married with children. It's our favorite holiday tradition, so we always try to make it work. It's been really fun watching our families grow from two couples to two pair of moms and dads with four kids between us. It's memories like these where we can slow down and spend quality time together that make the holiday hustle worthwhile.

Then there's things like holiday crafts, breakfast with Santa, and cookie baking and decorating. While my husband would obviously enjoy seeing the kids dip their hands and feet in paint to create a holiday-themed work of art or watch them go nuts spreading far too much frosting on sugar cookies, he's content with pictures and videos. And the kids are usually focused enough to not really miss his presence. Sometimes we get our Christmas tree and it sits bare in the living room for days before we can all decorate together, and sometimes he sets it up and goes to sleep before his next shift and we decorate without him. When we go to church on Christmas Eve and have dinner with our extended family, there's an obvious hole at our table if he's working. We just try to take it one memory-making moment at a time.

One Christmas, he was working overnight and was scheduled to come home Christmas morning. He didn't want to miss seeing our daughter come down the stairs to her presents under the tree, but she wakes up before he gets home. So, I kept her in my room reading Christmas books and painting her nails until he came through the front door, and we all went downstairs together. This year, he'll come home Thanksgiving morning and need to go to sleep while our house fills with family and I entertain and prep our meal. But he'll wake up and enjoy turkey with us before heading back to work, so everybody wins.

It just takes a little tweaking and understanding on both our parts. As difficult as it can be for me to explain to two little faces looking up at me and wondering why daddy's not there, it's just as hard for him to be at work knowing they're missing him. We've become very good at working together to communicate our feelings. If there's an event I really want him to be at with us, I need to tell him it's important to me and not brush it off like it doesn't matter. Not being honest about my expectations or desires would leave me feeling resentful and him feeling confused about why I'm upset. And this is where our village comes in, too. We make plans with friends and other family members to ensure we're getting the most out of every moment with or without daddy. I have a network of friends whose husbands also work crazy hours, and it's extremely helpful and heartwarming knowing we are here for one another.

While I sit and go over dates and events for the holiday season wondering which my husband might be able to attend, it's not far from my mind that some parents do this alone all the time. Some children's parents are overseas, some have to split their time between two houses, and some may have lost a parent. So, during the holiday season especially, we make sure to count our blessings and remain thankful for what we do have. If we celebrate Thanksgiving on the last Wednesday of the month or Christmas a few days late, who cares? We still have each other.

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