When someone in the family is working shifts this makes a huge difference to the dynamics of the family, especially when you are trying to establish routines, or dealing with life with kids. So, here we are – my top 10 tips for living with a shift worker. If you have any advice to add I’d love you to comment!
Before I get into the tips, though, I’ll explain my specific situation. My husband worked two twelve hour days, followed by two twelve hour nights, then four days off. This meant he worked an eight day cycle so it effectively moved one day forward each week, taking eight weeks to get back to day one being the start of the week. He started working shifts when our eldest daughter was 18 months old. She’s now 5 and we also have a three-year-old and a one-year-old, so we’ve lived the shift-working life while also dealing with new-borns and young children. I’ve been a stay-at-home mum throughout this time.
Tip #1: Get organised for the morning the night before.
Since my husband got home from night shift at 6:30am and went straight to bed I needed to be prepared so that I could just get up and leave the room without keeping him awake. I would try and have a shower before he got home, but with a small baby things didn’t always go to plan. We have an ensuite where I normally shower and get ready but I also kept extra toiletries and a spare toothbrush in our main bathroom so I could use it if my husband was asleep. I also kept my makeup and jewellery in a basket on top of my dresser so I could take the whole basket out of the bedroom in the morning rather than collecting up a selection of things in the dark. The night before I would also place my hairdryer and the clothes I was planning to wear the next day in the basket. Then in the morning I would take the basket to another room and leave my husband to sleep.
Tip #2: Have a place to keep things that need to be returned to, or near, your bedroom.
As well as having a plan to take things out of the room that would be needed during the day, it’s good to have a system for temporarily storing things you would like to put away in your bedroom but can’t, since your partner is asleep in there. I put a box in our lounge for this purpose. See my previous post ‘When you can’t put things away’ for more info on this.
Tip #3: Take some time to work out how to merge his or her cycle with your regular seven day week.
If your shift worker is working a pattern that differs from the regular seven day week it can be difficult to plan your schedule. I like to work to a routine so I wanted to set up schedules for cleaning and laundry etc. and also wanted to create a meal plan to help keep me organised. However, I couldn’t use a regular weekly plan as it wasn’t going to work to have a day each week for washing bedsheets, for example, because my husband might be sleeping in them! But I didn’t want to just create an eight day pattern because the rest of the family were still working to a seven day weekly cycle. So I spent some time working out an eight week cycle for cleaning and laundry and made an eight week meal plan. This was, of course, much more complicating than having a simple weekly plan as it wasn’t something I could easily remember and always had to refer to it. But it was helpful as it helped me to keep on top of things when the days were all a bit of a muddle. When your partner is working shifts and you are a stay-at-home mum with pre-schoolers it’s often difficult to remember what day of the week it is!
While I like to have a plan it’s also important to be flexible with it. On his days off plans would often change. Sometimes my husband would be called into work, or we might decide to have a family day out, so I wouldn’t get the things done that I had planned. On other occasions he would take the children to their preschool activities and give me time to myself so I was able to do more than I had anticipated, or do something different for myself. So it’s good to expect change, and try not to complain to your spouse when plans change as it is often out of their control.
Tip #4: Use the crock pot!
It’s important for the shift worker to maintain a healthy diet, as working nights and lack of sleep is not good for the body. It’s also important for the family to eat well too, but planning meal times can be tricky when your schedule changes a lot. When my husband worked days he wouldn’t get home until nearly 7pm, when the children were ready for bed; and when he worked nights he would get up and have his dinner at 4pm before heading for work. Using the crock pot was a great help on these nights as it meant that dinner could be served to different family members at different times.
I would also plan to have left-overs or simple, quick meals on his night shift days so that I didn’t have to prepare dinner too early.
Tip #5: If possible, have the place where the night worker is sleeping away from where the rest of the family will be.
During the period when my husband was working shifts we were house hunting. We looked for houses where the master bedroom was separate from the children’s rooms and living areas so that we would be able to keep away from each other. This wasn’t easy as you can’t be completely separate, but we ended up with a house where the master bedroom was away from the children’s rooms but next to the living room/kitchen. This meant I could keep the children in their rooms playing when daddy was sleeping, but did need to go closer to him when it was meal times. This was a bit stressful but we all had to deal with it. If possible you may want to think about sleeping in a different room during the day.
Tip #6: Plan family times, couple times and me times.
If you or your partner are working irregular hours you need to be prepared for missing out on some family occasions, or doing them without your partner. This may mean having Christmas or other celebrations without them and then celebrating on another day. I’ve attended a lot of family events like church picnics or playgroup fun days which are designed for the whole family to attend together without having daddy there. Be prepared for this and take lots of videos and photos, phone or skype so he or she is included as much as possible.
On the positive side, since my husband was often off during the week he was able to take my daughter to kindergarten and my son to his preschool activities, which he wouldn’t have been able to do if he was working a regular Monday to Friday job. So, try to look for the positives in your situation and not just the negatives.
It’s also important to be proactive in planning time together as a couple, as you won’t be able to make a regular weekly date night, or have time together each evening.
Tip #7: Get a baby sitter
Having ‘me’ time can also be tricky so call on a baby sitter when you need to. If there is an event you want to attend in the evenings don’t miss out because your husband is working.
Tip #8: Get Support
One thing I was not very good at was asking for help. But when I did I found that people were happy to assist. Have family, friends and neighbours that you can call on if you need help with looking after the children, or assisting you if there is some emergency. Don’t be afraid to call someone and ask if you can visit them for the day so your kids can play without having to be quiet. People are usually happy to help in this matter.
Tip #9: Communicate!
When your time together consists of one person getting in to bed as the other is getting out there’s not much time for chat. So, it’s important to be intentional in communicating. You may need to set a time to discuss issues that have come up while your partner was working or sleeping. Having a notice board, or a place where you can jot down messages is a good idea as I would often forget to tell him something if I didn’t write it down.
The children also missed out on time with daddy as he would often be home and asleep before they woke up so it was important for them to have time to talk too. He would always phone or skype before the children’s bedtime when he was on night-shift.
Tip #10: Don’t stress!
Have patience – with your spouse, your children, and yourself!
I sometimes found myself getting stressed about the noise the children were making and worrying about them waking my husband up and then found out that he had slept through it all! On other occasions he would grumble about being woken up when I thought we had been reasonably quiet. In fact, he says it was often me telling them to be quiet that woke him up and not the noise the children were making!
If you’re feeling stressed forget about what needs to be done at home and take the kids out so you can all relax without having to keep quiet.
Plan some fun times too. On the nights when my husband was on night shift we would have an early dinner, get the kids ready for bed and then watch a movie. This became a nice ritual for them and me. I’d then get the kids to bed and have an evening to myself.
So these are my top ten tips. If you are in this situation do you have anything to add?