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Shiftworking Parents: How to Stay Connected to Your Kids
It is hard enough for parents who work 9 to 5 to stay connected with their kids. Imagine working the 3 pm to 11 pm or 7 pm to 7 am shift. For many parents, it means missing sporting events, parent-teacher conferences, and family activities, not to mention dinnertime and bedtime.
The good news is that many families make it work.
Accepting Your Situation
Making it work involves three things:
- Accepting that you and/or your spouse work a nontraditional schedule
- Communicating that to your children
- Working within that framework to recognize and take advantage of the opportunities that nontraditional schedules offer
That may mean eating birthday cake for breakfast or celebrating Thanksgiving on a Tuesday. Valuing family time, whenever it happens, will relieve a lot of shiftwork-related stress.
Using Good Communication and Organization
Shiftworking parents make it work by:
- Making a concerted effort to stay in touch with their kids while they are growing up
- Being organized and detail-oriented, arranging their schedules each week to make sure that all the bases are covered
Reducing Guilt and Stress
Many shiftworking parents assume a lot of guilt. The guiltier you feel about your work schedule, the more stress both you and your kids will feel. Whining about your awful hours, even if your goal is to let your children know that you are just as unhappy with the situation as they are, is an invitation to them to join in the whining, thus increasing your feelings of guilt.
It is helpful to remember that there are a lot of options available to shiftworking parents and their kids that are not available to nine-to-fivers. Parents who work evening shifts are often able to help with classroom activities or serve as lunchroom monitors at their kids' schools. Parents who work overnight shifts arrive home as their kids are getting up in the morning and can better enjoy breakfast time because they are not rushing to get off to work themselves.
Negotiating a Contract With Your Teen
If you have more than one child, work out individual, age-appropriate contracts with each. This may involve discussing curfews, rules for daily conduct, and responsibilities. Put your contract in writing and sign it. Meet regularly to discuss how the contract is working.
Being a Noncustodial Shiftworking Parent
Visits between a child and a noncustodial shiftworking parent can be more challenging. The means to success are to show up, be present, and be committed. Stay in touch with telephone calls, letters, email, and visits whenever possible.
Weighing the Pros and Cons
Teens whose parents work nontraditional hours may develop greater maturity and home management skills at a younger age. On the other hand, when shiftworking parents do not pay enough attention to detail and are not committed to being present in their children's lives, the resulting overabundance of independence combined with a lack of direction and boundaries can lead to behavior problems and difficulties in school.
Making It WorkSchedule time together.
Here are tips for making the most of your situation:
The lack of contact that can result from shiftwork can make meaningful interaction difficult, so it is especially important to schedule time together.
Put everything, especially family time, on a calendar. Routine is important.
If you cannot make it to the soccer match or band concert, have a family member videotape the event and schedule a time when you and your child can watch the video together while he or she recounts the high points. Want to attend a family party but have to leave early to go to work? Take two cars so you can get some enjoyment from the event without making everyone leave early because of your schedule.
Don't forget to set rules pertaining to acceptable reasons for waking a sleeping shiftworker.
Keep a positive attitude about your schedule and look for the opportunities it offers. Always find a way to be grateful for what you have. Share your positive attitude with your kids by letting them know that this is how your family works and you're doing fine—you just march to the beat of a different drummer.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
American Academy of Family Physicians
Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Psychological Association
The risks of shift work. American Academy of Pediatrics. Health Children website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/work-play/pages/The-Risks-of-Shift-Work.aspx. Updated May 11, 2013. Accessed December 24, 2013.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 12/2013
- Update Date: 12/24/2013