Building a support system for your family is extremely important. I’ve learned this lesson on three different occasions: when we got married, when we joined the law enforcement life, and again when we had our first child.
I kind of brushed it off when we got married for two reasons. Firstly, I mistook some of the comments and actions as just unsolicited advice. And secondly, I’m a pretty big introvert and wasn’t about to confront any of the issues and risk rocking the boat.
However, when we first started our law enforcement journey, I forgot everything that happened after marriage and I really thought our families would be our biggest support system. I quickly learned that some of them were supportive and some of them projected their worries, negativity, and skepticism onto us. This time around, I knew it couldn’t just be misunderstandings and coincidence.
For a while, I really believed that the only people that would listen to my worries and be supportive were those involved in the same lifestyle as I was. I would vent to both of our families about stresses that were happening and many times I just needed an ear to listen rather than getting any input. However, I kept getting a lot of negative thoughts from a few family members in particular. They would constantly say things like:
“If you keep worrying, you’re going to end up getting divorced.”
“You are not supporting your husband the way I think you should.”
“How do you not cry all night long every time he goes to work? Don’t you just stay up waiting for that dreaded phone call or knock on your door?”
They even started sending me every single news article about LEOs who had been shot or run down, etc. Are you serious? Who does that? And, they called me unsupportive?
At this point, I stopped seeking support in family altogether and started talking with my work friends. (I just so happened to work with my best friend, so that was extremely beneficial.) This made a world of difference. Since their families were your “normal” families, they didn’t reflect their personal feelings on my need for support. And, they didn’t overshadow my feelings with negative news stories or their one-up tactics of worrying more or needing more support. I instantly found myself less stressed.
It took me almost a year to figure it out, but I really thought that the only support system that would be beneficial would be made of those in our situation. How would anyone who wasn’t in my situation be able to understand what I was talking about or why I was worrying? It turns out that, for me, the less they know about a situation, the easier it is for me to talk about it and the easier it is for them to support me because they’re not always chiming in with what they’ve read or heard or seen.
However, I have found that the toughest part about having this type of support system is having schedules that are very opposite. It’s difficult to make plans because they often get cancelled or you have to make them three months in advance just to find a weekend that’s free for everyone. However, they are always just a text or phone call away if you really need them. And, once you find the people willing to support you, you’ll realize that if you really need them, they’ll be there as quickly as they can be.
If you sprinkle in these friends with others from your spouse’s rotation, you’ll have the best support system out there. You can talk about the LEO life with those families in whatever manner works best for you. For us, we make jokes to deal with the hard topics because we know just how real it is. When you’re with your non-LEO friends, you can talk about whatever you want. Let them know what you need help with or don’t discuss it at all. You let them in as much as you want or as little as you want. Oddly enough, I’ve found that these friends can mix, but I wouldn’t make every get together a mixed get together, or you may be playing with fire and ruining your support system.
Also, don’t count your family out. But, make sure you know who will be supportive and who won’t. This will certainly save you some heartache as you navigate this life because nothing makes you feel worse than being told you’re not supportive enough or making life harder for the person who is putting their life on the line every time they leave the house.
P.S. I truly believe that a strong support system is important no matter what your job is. Finding a balance of people who support you in different areas of your life is the key. If someone isn’t supporting you, don’t waste your time. Life is full of give and take, but if someone is making more withdrawals than deposits, stop wasting your time and start looking for a better support system. (I’ll write more on withdrawals and deposits at a later date.)