What I Know Now that I Wish I'd Known Then.....

I am at home. Waiting for Ben to finish work.

It struck me today how much my life has changed since he joined the QAS exactly 6 years ago. It's been really, really hard work to adjust to his job - probably more for me than him (having a young family hasn't helped!).

It got me thinking about what I wish I'd known back then what I know now. So here are my tips for wives who have shift working husbands and young families!

1) The first thing my man said about his job was "There are no guarantees". When he said that, I felt like weeping - I'm an organised person and a creature of habit. This meant that he could be home at 5:30pm, 8pm or midnight any day of the week. It's true - so never, ever expect him to be home on time. Sometimes he will be home on time and on those days you get a nice surprise! But on the days he is late, you won't be disappointed because you're not expecting him on time.

2) Carry on with what the family's doing and include him wherever possible. I've tried it all and the easiest way to manage a household with a shift worker is to just do your best to carry on with the family routine and include your man in wherever you can. DO NOT ever put off the children's dinner if he's a bit late. You can wait, but they find it hard to wait and both you and they get frustrated when it turns out that he's much later than he expected.

3) Working in the emergency services (ambos, firies, police officers) can be a very cold, lonely job. There's little chance to really get to know your colleagues because you never work for any significant length of time with them as a team or unit. Whether you realise it or not and whether you like it or not - you are the warmth for your man. So visit the station whenever you can and ignore others who make smart comments, "It's like  day care centre here today!"/"Oi - no kids in here!" or give you a 'look' for daring to set foot in their child-free workplace. Give your husband good memories in his workplace instead of it representing time away from his family.

4) NEVER EVER EVER EVER get cross, upset or mouth off about him being late. IT IS NOT HIS FAULT!!!! It's not rocket science - when they get told to go, they have to go. It's emergency! A foul-tempered wife is precisely the LAST thing a man needs when he rings to let you know or he finally arrives home. You are allowed to feel frustrated, cross or upset, but take it to God in prayer rather than take it out on the person who a) desperately needs your support and love and b) is probably just as cross about being late as you!

5) This may be more for highly-driven husbands, but keep an eye on him and use your intuition and discretion to talk to him about how he's really going. We have a few guidelines in relation to how much overtime my husband's allowed to do - we talked about it together and have agreed on it so we both understand each other. My husband LOVES his job and I want it to be a source of satisfaction, enjoyment and challenge - not something that takes away from his quality of life. I've learned this lesson the hard way - we both weren't keeping an eye on Ben at one stage early in his career and we went through some difficult stuff because of it.

6) Educate yourself about how to deal with it if he's had a difficult job during the day (eg. hanging, cot death...). It's very easy to do and even me who has a bit of a complex about dealing with grieving/upset people was able to learn a few basic things about how to approach it. Asking "Are you OK?" is a very good start! And don't forget to pray for his protection while he's on the job......but try not to obsess worrying about his safety. If you ever learn how to do this - please tell me!

7) Listen to him talk about his day. Give him your full attention and ask questions. Be interested. If he's a student, help him study. When I realised just how much paramedics have to know, it blew my mind and I had a new appreciation for the profession. What I learned was amazing and instead of being grumpy about his 'stupid job', I was pretty much in awe of what he does on a day-to-day basis!

8) Don't complain about it if his shift conflicts with a social event. I don't know about firies or police, but it can be hard for paramedics in Queensland to swap shifts. So complaining about it never helps. What helps is a positive attitude that either a) gets over it, b) helps to arrange him arriving later or c) arranges an alternative time or 'catch up'.

9) As hard as it is to believe when you first start out, trying to wrap your head around the almighty roster, your family does get into a routine. It's not the same as other families, but you'll find that with each shift there's a routine that goes with it and you'll fall into a pattern. Eventually. It took me about a year to get used to shift work and I started off on the back foot because Ben was home so much before he started with the QAS and I think I would have missed him dreadfully even if he'd started a nice, safe, Monday to Friday job!

10) Look after yourself; enjoy the benefits of shift work! For example, after chatting to a fellow QAS wife, I realised that I was cheating myself out of a night to myself by being grumpy about night shift. Sure, it's hard doing the 'rush hour' all by myself! But once the children are in bed I make sure that after I've done a quick clean up I have a special treat planned for myself or I ask myself, "What would I really like to do?". I might just read a book. Some nights I have a bath. I lie in the middle of the bed (especially in late pregnancy)!

I wish someone had told me all this before Ben had started with QAS! I wish I'd been a better wife and had thought about what shift work would mean for our family.

But I've learned (slowly) and I can't imagine my life without shift work now - I count it as a blessing (most days)!


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