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What It's Like Being Married to Someone Who Does Shift Work

What It's Like Being a Parent When Your Partner Works Crazy Hours

Unsplash/Julie Johnson

Sometimes I beat myself up for not being the best mom. I wonder how my other mom friends do it — have the time to cook Instagram-worthy meals while being responsible for the kids, feed said meals to said kids, and do bath and bedtime and live to tell the tale. Then I remember . . . most of my mom friends have partners who are home from work for all of the above. My husband, however, works outside the traditional 9-to-5 window.

When I'm getting snippy with our toddler or silently cursing about the baby's unrelenting fussing, I do feel a little sorry for myself. But then I remember I'm not the only one whose partner works crazy hours, and that there are moms who have it much harder than I do (all hail the single parent). But I'm talking about being a unit, one-half of a married couple, one-half of a parenting duo, yet finding myself alone . . . a lot.

Shift work is the culprit here, and many families know how hard it can be to make the schedule of shift work occupations manageable. Nurses, doctors, law enforcement, first responders, transportation workers, security officers, hospitality workers, and so many others all have odd working hours in common. Shifts can be overnight, 17 hours long, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., what have you. If anyone in this type of work is married with children, their partner is usually a one-person team during those hours.

I'm talking about being one-half of a married couple, one-half of a parenting duo, yet finding myself alone . . . a lot.

When my husband and I were dating and living together, the schedule was tough to get used to. I worked a regular job, and I was home for dinner every night. He worked 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. one week, then 4 p.m. to midnight the next week, and that's not counting overtime shifts (which is how a lot of shift workers make most of their money). Doesn't sound too crazy, right? Well, we wouldn't see each other every other week because I would be asleep by the time he got home and he wasn't awake when I left in the morning. And while my weekend was Saturday and Sunday, his could be Tuesday and Wednesday one week and Sunday and Monday the next.

Every other week, I ate dinner by myself every night (but, on the bright side, also had full control of the television remote). There were nights our friends would go out, and I'd either go by myself or not at all because he'd be at work. Everyone got used to me coming to functions and holidays celebrations alone, and I started seamlessly living the life of a single, taken person.

While I generally didn't mind it, I did wonder what it would all mean when we had kids. Would he miss soccer games and ballet recitals? Would he be able to help with homework or attend a science fair? Would I feel alone in parenting? The answer to all of those questions is yes and no. He often misses seeing our daughter for more than a day or two because he'll get home from work once she's at school, then be asleep or back at work when she gets home. But on his days off, he takes her out for daddy-daughter dates, he spends time with the baby, and we all sit down for dinner together. He tries his best to be around for important things by switching his shifts for birthday parties and holidays the kids will remember. He does the best he can, and so do I.

But I, like my friends who are also married to shift workers, can't help but long for the routine of Daddy coming home for dinner, us putting the kids down together, and enjoying a full weekend of family time. I'm always so thankful that he works so hard for our family, and I've accepted our version of traditional family time. Would I like him around when I'm wrangling two slippery kids in the tub? Yes. Would he probably be better at calmly reading bedtime stories? I think so. But it makes the time we do manage to spend together that much more meaningful. And isn't that what marriage and families should be about? A bunch of meaningful moments that, when combined, make up your family story? Because no matter how different the chapters are each week, I really love our story.

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