I know that all departments are different and all posts have different shifts, so let me explain what a pay period in our house looks like:
Mr. Troop works two on, two off, three on and then two off, two on, three off. So it looks something like this: work Monday and Tuesday, off Wednesday and Thursday, work Friday, Saturday, Sunday. His post works 12 hour shifts.
On the consecutive days he works, he goes to work after dinner, comes home before breakfast, sleeps until lunch, crunches a whole day’s worth of family activities and down time into approximately 3 ½ hours, and then goes to work and repeats it the following day. This means that on those three day weekends in which he works, I see him for approximately 10 ½ hours (give or take).
These weekends suck. They are horrible. I feel it every Sunday. And, this past Sunday, I had a breakdown. I’m five years into this lifestyle, and I still get mad at his job. It’s not his fault, and I completely support him in his line of work, but it was a hard day. He got home 2 ½ hours after his shift ended which I knew meant he would need extra sleep. We’ve had several shifts like this lately. It was no big deal. However, it was meltdown central in our house on Sunday.
D has been working on his two year molars, and they’re not coming in anytime soon and they sure as heck aren’t giving us a break. He’s been sleeping poorly because of it. He’s also been nap protesting for multiple days in a row. (It’s really not fair.) J is going through a growth spurt which means a lot of sleeping on mom and a lot of eating. Which, in turn, means that for the last 72 hours, I have been constantly touching another human being. Do you know how freaking hard that is?! I’m sure you do!
So, I needed help. I needed a lot of help. But, Mr. Troop got held over, needed his sleep, and then had to go back in after dinner. I hate asking for help, so I didn’t. Instead, I lost my shit. I got mad at his cub for taking forever to write reports and keeping him over so long. I got really mad at the scumbag who made the call happen in the first place. And, I got mad at Mr. Troop for waking up and not immediately asking to hold J. Yup. I did that.
I don’t want to complain or ask for a break from the kids because I know three twelve hour shifts really wipes a person out, but I’m dying on the inside. I need just a few moments to myself. I need to be free from being touched by another human being. I need to take a nap or just drink my tea in silence or shower without someone in there with me. Apparently, I need him to know all of this without having to say it.
I felt an overwhelming sense of disdain for about thirty minutes and then realized that I was wasting my time. In the few short hours we have together, I was mad over something silly because I knew that the following day, when he woke up, we would have the entire evening together as a family and the whole next day. I know that he realizes how stressful this job is for me as well because he knew I was upset and asked what I would like to do to get out of the house.
For me, these feelings creep in two weekends a month. For you, it could be the middle of the week, or a random day of the month when it finally breaks you down. This lifestyle is a roller coaster of emotions.
A lot of times, we feel like we’re only allowed to have a certain set of emotions. We have to be strong and support our loved ones. We have to keep our stresses inside as to not burden them with our problems on top of what they deal with every shift. We have to stay positive and upbeat when they leave because we can’t show them or the kids that we are scared each time they walk out the door. But, we are so very wrong.
We can have all of the emotions!
We’re allowed to because mentally and emotionally we go through so much every time they walk through the door whether they’re coming or going. What we’re not allowed to do is internalize it and make ourselves into one thing on the outside and something totally different on the inside. We often feel that our problems are so insignificant compared to theirs and what they deal with. So, we push those feelings down and put on a happy face. However, this only makes those three day weekends worse. It only builds up until we explode.
Some rules to live by when these feelings start weighing you down are:
Tell them how you’re feeling. Often times we feel like we’re nagging, but we can’t continue to put ourselves last. We can’t make things work or make things better when we don’t allow ourselves to communicate freely.
2. Eat your meals together.
It becomes very easy to get caught up in your own schedule, especially if your work schedules don’t align. Make time to have a sit-down meal together. If that means eating dinner at 3 in the afternoon, then eat dinner at 3 in the afternoon. (Hobbits eat like six meals a day, so have two dinners!) This will allow you down time to complete rule #1.
3. Whatever you’re arguing about doesn’t matter when it’s time for work.
This is the most important rule. Imagine being upset with your spouse and not seeing them off to work or not saying you love them before they leave. What happens if that’s the last time you see them? Was the argument worth it? Was it necessary to be that stubborn?
You’re allowed to have all of the emotions. Heck, have as many emotional break downs as you need. Your job is just as tough as theirs sometimes. But, you need to talk about all of the emotions freely. If you can’t, you need to set some new ground rules because this life isn’t just about the person who puts their life on the line every shift. It’s about the family that supports them in their choice to do so.