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S/O shift work and marriage


City Mouse
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I did not think this was appropriate to bring up on Scarlett’s recent thread, but reading it brought up some old feelings that I thought were long past regarding how shift work of one spouse impacts a marriage-especially an already struggling marriage.

My DH is in law enforcement. In many, or most all, big departments shifts placements are based only on seniority. When I had very young kids, like baby-toddler age, my DH worked variations of evening shift to include 3:00-11:00 and 6:00-2:am. Those shifts were the hardest for me. I would wake up at 5ish each morning to leave for work at 6:30 to drop kid(s) at daycare and then go to work as a teacher where I usually left school just in time to pick up before daycare closed. DH was gone to work by that time. I had to deal with all the baby/kid stuff by myself all the time on top of not getting enough sleep when kids had their own sleep issues. DH worked extra jobs or overtime on his days off, and he didn’t have weekends off for nearly 20 years. I spent much of my young marriage feeling like a single parent. It got so bad at times, that I often thought about divorce. I went so far as to actually pick up apartment rental magazines (remember those). 
If our marriage had been shakier in any other area, I don’t think we would have survived. 
 

I know so many law enforcement marriages that ended up in divorce. In fact, I can only think of one other couple that is still on their first marriage 20+ years later.  
 

When or if other of my kids get married, I think my biggest piece of advice will be to do whatever they can to work the same shifts, or at least live on the same shifts. I do know families who make it work for them by having the rest of the family follow a similar schedule- the kids stay up late and sleep in t match the working parent, and weekends become whatever days the parent has off. 

 

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Honestly, it was a huge reason why we started homeschooling. There were weeks as a surgeon that my husband left before the kids were up and came home after they went to be. But he made sure to take 2 weeks off every quarter and we would go somewhere as a family.  If he had a random Wednesday off, we dropped school to play. As the kids got older, his schedule got a little better. But being on-call, you cannot control your schedule.  But yes, we started homeschooling so the kids could see him.

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I’ve told my husband before that I prefer him to go on work trips rather than have to work nights.  When he works evenings or nights it is so hard to keep everyone quiet so he can sleep.  For us it’s usually been a short-term schedule change, so it wasn’t worth it to change our schedule to closer match his.  I can’t imagine having a husband who works different shifts all the time.

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My dh worked nights for 20 years and it was fine for us. If anything, it helped. Honestly, this new thing now where he doesn't work nights is much harder, but mostly because we're adjusting. I know it's going to be fine.

I think it depends on a couple of things. There has to be a way for each spouse to pull their weight in the relationship. Not just monetarily, but also with household chores and childcare and decision making. If the schedule precludes that, then it's not sustainable.

But also, you have to know yourselves as a couple. Dh and I also lived apart for a year at one point for opportunity reasons. Some couples would have really suffered from that and from the weird opposite schedules, but it really worked for us.

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Dh's second shift job was only not an issue because we home school and I don't work outside of the home.  We would just spend mornings with him and then start school once he was gone.  It worked well.  There were however many years where he was overworked and the kids could go days without seeing him because he was off to work before they woke up and came home after they were in bed.  That almost ended our marriage but when he realized that he did a complete 180, switched careers, and does not allow his job to work him like a dog.  It works much better now

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45 minutes ago, TexasProud said:

Honestly, it was a huge reason why we started homeschooling. 

Ditto here. It wasn't the only reason, but it was a big one.

39 minutes ago, athena1277 said:

I can’t imagine having a husband who works different shifts all the time.

My husband started his career with bottom of the barrel shifts that didn't change much. He worked hard at giving feedback to get that changed, only to have pretty much have it bite him in the rear at his last job (they had a HORRIBLE scheduler for several years, and if someone tried to tell her what she was doing that was awful, she'd hide behind the boss, etc.). 

Now he has a new job where he and everyone else work a variety of shifts. It's more equitable, but the changing is difficult. It doesn't always have a big influence on sleep, but my DH is not a planner, and he has ADHD. 

4 minutes ago, Farrar said:

My dh worked nights for 20 years and it was fine for us. If anything, it helped. Honestly, this new thing now where he doesn't work nights is much harder, but mostly because we're adjusting. I know it's going to be fine.

I think it depends on a couple of things. There has to be a way for each spouse to pull their weight in the relationship. Not just monetarily, but also with household chores and childcare and decision making. If the schedule precludes that, then it's not sustainable.

But also, you have to know yourselves as a couple. Dh and I also lived apart for a year at one point for opportunity reasons. Some couples would have really suffered from that and from the weird opposite schedules, but it really worked for us.

See, people think nights when they think shift work. If only. DH didn't much care for nights, but a frank night shift was really doable for the family--we still had a pretty typical evening to plan things together. 

Most of the shifts in my DH's job are varying overlapping times that start in the middle of the day. 

The biggest problem is that every time there is an adjustment, the kids and I adjust. DH doesn't get it. It's terrible, frankly, and ADHD is a lot of the problem. 

I have not had to work, which is nice; however, if I had worked, maybe he would've had to get his rear in gear more (more likely we'd be divorced). 

I wouldn't have been able to handle working with the shift thing--I would've been even more resentful of having to make it all work.

It's also not the kind of job where you can take a personal day, etc. There is no backup plan for someone not showing up to work even if they are sick (which they realized is a big mistake when Covid hit).

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5 minutes ago, kbutton said:

See, people think nights when they think shift work. If only. DH didn't much care for nights, but a frank night shift was really doable for the family--we still had a pretty typical evening to plan things together. 

Yeah, I should have clarified that it wasn't just evenings/nights, but overnights and a changing schedule. It was more stable than shift work, but a much odder schedule than most "night" employees. I think the slower changes in shifts was really good though. When he was working evenings and finishing at 3 or something, that would last for many months and then become something like starting at midnight and finishing at 7 or 8. But it wasn't like he was changing every few weeks. That always seems like the hardest part of shift work to me.

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27 minutes ago, Farrar said:

But it wasn't like he was changing every few weeks.

Out of 15-ish shifts per month (average), my husband will bounce around with at least 2-4 different timeframes, sometimes all in the same week. There are five different shifts in a 24-hour period that he could potentially work, and all but one starts in the middle of the day. They vary in length--8, 9, or 10 hours. They vary in location (currently between two different sites). He works with dozens of different people over the course of year, and all of those different personalities and working styles demand flexibility that impacts productivity--one co-worker does it this way, another prefers that way, and he has to learn all of that. 

With Covid issues (illness, etc.), he can be asked to come early or stay late for any one of those shifts without notice, so he is required to basically be on call on every single day he works year-round, which means he can't plan to do something like see a dentist at 10 AM if he works at 2 PM. If the kids have a band concert in the evening, instead of just asking to work a day shift (or waiting until his schedule is published, and scheduling before or after work), he has to basically ask for the whole day off instead, which clutters up the request calendar because everyone is in the same boat. The cascade this is going to cause is insane (we're doing nothing because of the pandemic, but if we were, it would make our entire existence insane. We can only hope it fails so badly that they institute traditional call).

Fun times. Don't get me started on the demographics of who wanted this on call scheme and why because I will sound sexist. (There wasn't actual discrimination involved, but there was a point of pride involved, and that actual point of pride is NOT addressed by forcing perpetual call either, but why would reason factor in this? Sigh.) 

He has to ask off at least two months in advance, but if he asks for too far in advance, he has to directly talk to the scheduler and hope it all works out (which doesn't make me look forward to buying airline tickets for four to go on a long overdue vacation after Covid--sounds way too risky!). However, the schedule doesn't come out very soon after asking off, so we are in limbo until it does. Of course, most normal people, even ones that plan somewhat in advance, plan in intervals that mean that every time someone asks us to plan something, we're too late to ask off and too early to know if he'll get the time off. Or they ask us to do things around holidays they know darn well he's likely to be working. (Insert head banging emoji here, mine don't work.)

This is one of the friendliest schedules he's had in over a decade. When he had more consistent hours, he had other scheduling problems due to the utter incompetence of various schedule makers.

I am so done with shift work. 

Edited by kbutton
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Yep homeschooling has been the best.  With DH's crazy schedule especially since  he is as likely to have Wednesday off as Saturday.  He had extended period of doing a 3pm -11pm week days for training that must have been miserable for other families but worked great for us at the time mornings with dad, afternoon doing school, evenings I went to the gym or out with friends while they girls did gymnastics.

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My Dh works shifts and honestly we have way more family time now.  His night shifts are more standby and less active though, I’m sure that makes a difference.  I must admit when I read your post the thing that stood out more was that both of you were working and your DH was working two jobs.  Our hardest times were when DH was working crazy long hours.  I think maybe the bigger issue is not the shifts but the fact that a regular shift work job doesn’t pay enough for a family to survive on.

This is a kind of sidetrack but I’ve enjoyed listening to the literary life podcast and one thing that was talked about a lot was how that pre industrialisation a lot of work centred around the home - both husband and wife and the family were all being productive together to some degree.  This whole division of labour thing then came about where the man went to work and the woman stayed home along and raised the kids and no longer had meaningful work outside of that at home.  Now we’ve taken another step where both women and men go out to work in separate locations and the kids spend a significant part of their waking day in the care of an institution in a group setting. The podcast didn’t go quite so deep with it but I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it and I do think it’s a huge chunk of the stress on families now.  To survive/make ends eat every person in the family has to be somewhere else giving a huge chunk of themselves to a separate organisation.  Economically as a whole it has probably benefited society but for families it has been really hard.  Ideally we need to get back to a point somehow that one full time job or two part time jobs pay a survivable wage so people have some choice about whether or not to work that much extra.

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2 hours ago, kbutton said:

s for too far in advance, he has to directly talk to the scheduler and hope it all works out (which doesn't make me look forward to buying airline tickets for four to go on a long overdue vacation after Covid--sounds way too risky!). However, the schedule doesn't come out very soon after asking off, so we are in limbo until it does. Of course, most normal people, even ones that plan somewhat in advance, plan in intervals that mean that every time someone asks us to plan something, we're too late to ask off and too early to know if he'll get the time off. Or they ask us to do things around holidays they know darn well he's likely to be working. (Insert head banging emoji here, mine don't work.)

Boy, can I relate. In residency, we didn't know his call schedule until the first day of the month. He got a week off the entire year. I ate many Thanksgiving dinners in hospital cafeterias.  I actually spent the night in the call room with him when he was on call many nights. ( We didn't have our first kid until the last year of a five year residency.) I would go up there and do my grading for my classes. Those were days of 36 hours on, 12 hours off, 36 hours on, 12 hours off.

Then his first partner... Never wanted to make a schedule until a few days into each month. Once we had plans, but they bought ski tickets and we had to cancel.  So basically, for the first 15 years of our marriage, I didn't know what his schedule was until the first day of the month if I was lucky. Plus, he was on call 1/2 the month and weekends since he only had one partner. I couldn't tell our parents our holiday plans until the beginning of November for Thanksgiving and December for Christmas. He changed practices to a bigger group. They all put in requests...imagine that! Working around each other's schedules... WOW. Then put out a schedule 3 months in advance. They rotated who got Christmas and Thanksgiving. I was in absolute heaven. 

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    My DH is also in law enforcement. When he first started we already had our four kids (ages newborn to 5yo). It was rough! The first 6 months he was in the academy, which is a live-in program here. I had our 4th baby two weeks after he started. After that he rotated shifts every month.
     I think the thing that made it doable was that I was a SAHM and I homeschooled. That gave us the flexibility we needed to make it work. It was still difficult though. I taught piano lesson at the time so I had a set schedule while he did not. Also, it was difficult for him to keep track of the family schedule when his was constantly changing. That created a fair amount of frustration for us. I tried all different types of schedules to make things work better. Sometimes they helped, other times not so much. 
      Now, his shift is constant, 3pm-11pm (not counting overtime, of course) but his days off rotate weekly. This is a challenge too. Our kids are all older now and have pretty set schedules due to activities. I have to handle most of this on my own. I can only schedule activities for the kids if I can be the one to take them as DH is only available to help with kid stuff sporadically. And with his days off rotating weekly he almost never remembers what the kids and I have going on each day. It definitely feels like single parenting sometimes. He likes to spend time with us, which is nice, but his days off are often on days that are busy for the rest of us and he finds it frustrating that we aren’t available to have a day “off” when he is. 
    We have made it work for over 10 years now but it isn’t easy. Our marriage has had it’s challenges as well which adds to the difficulty. But we’ve managed. If I was working too I don’t know if we would have made it. I can definitely see why so many shift work marriages and LE marriages specifically end in divorce. 
 

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47 minutes ago, TexasProud said:

They all put in requests...imagine that! Working around each other's schedules... WOW. Then put out a schedule 3 months in advance. They rotated who got Christmas and Thanksgiving. I was in absolute heaven. 

I can say that DH's new employer sounds like they do holidays well--it's like what you described. This is similar to how his old employer eventually started handling it. When he started in shift work (different employer), they were giving people either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day off and then the same with New Year's Eve/Day. We were like, "And how do you see family that lives 8 hours away? Drive there and back on Christmas Day itself?!?" We couldn't believe no one else had pushed effectively for change. 

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When my first husband and I first married he worked for almost a year 10 p.m to 6 a.m.  we had no kids of course, so it was not bad, but he hated it.  It is really hard to get proper sleep and especially adjusting back and forth from days off.

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5 hours ago, City Mouse said:

My DH is in law enforcement. In many, or most all, big departments shifts placements are based only on seniority. 

 

4 hours ago, kbutton said:

 

See, people think nights when they think shift work. If only. DH didn't much care for nights, but a frank night shift was really doable for the family--we still had a pretty typical evening to plan things together. 

 

My mom was an NICU nurse and shifts were expected for full timers. The part timers have the option of doing four nights and three days off. My mom is Buddhist so she works the Christmas shift and usually gets New Year’s Day off or double pay if she worked. 

My dad was a teacher and where I was from, there was two sessions of school so sometimes he is on the 7:15am to 1pm shift, sometimes the 12:30pm to 6:15pm shift.

My maternal aunt who is a SAHM and lived in the same apartment block was my free babysitter. She drove me to school and I eat lunch and dinner at her home. 
 

My mom love traveling so we had family vacations overseas yearly. 

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13 hours ago, kbutton said:

I can say that DH's new employer sounds like they do holidays well--it's like what you described. This is similar to how his old employer eventually started handling it. When he started in shift work (different employer), they were giving people either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day off and then the same with New Year's Eve/Day. We were like, "And how do you see family that lives 8 hours away? Drive there and back on Christmas Day itself?!?" We couldn't believe no one else had pushed effectively for change. 

We dealt with this type of holiday schedule for years combined with evening or night shift. There was no holiday traveling unless vacation time was used and vacation time selection was also tied to seniority, so it was not likely that a person with less than 10 yrs on would have the option of taking time off on a holiday. 
I attended many family holidays without DH, and weddings, and …. 

 

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13 hours ago, Scarlett said:

When my first husband and I first married he worked for almost a year 10 p.m to 6 a.m.  we had no kids of course, so it was not bad, but he hated it.  It is really hard to get proper sleep and especially adjusting back and forth from days off.

A lot of people who work consistent shifts disrupt their sleep only for special occasions or appointments that can't be scheduled without changing sleep. 

36 minutes ago, City Mouse said:

We dealt with this type of holiday schedule for years combined with evening or night shift. There was no holiday traveling unless vacation time was used and vacation time selection was also tied to seniority, so it was not likely that a person with less than 10 yrs on would have the option of taking time off on a holiday. 
I attended many family holidays without DH, and weddings, and …. 

No paid time off in either of the jobs that my DH has had that have shift work. 

I don't feel like I can deprive my DH of his family at a major holiday to leave town for days.

One of the reasons we take the crazy schedule now is that at least it's equitable. The seniority thing is terrible unless there is already a lot of job turnover--it means you don't get a life until someone retires, which is absurd. And most of the older workers have more flexibility than someone with little kids.

I do wish though that they would schedule DH for the same shift for multiple weeks at a time and then rotate. It would be so much better than every shift being potentially different from the last.

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I think that is why so many people do not want to resume their jobs after covid period - the companies just don't seem to respect their workers:  crazy variable hours per week so can't rely on steady paycheck and the same for shifts, low pay, no job security, etc.  

 

 

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Xh worked odd schedules for most of our marriage.  When he worked super early and got off early.... I worked late to reduce the kids time in daycare.  We still saw each other every day and my days off were days when he was home early.  But over they years, it morphed in to him going in early and getting off late, and/or him traveling and being gone all week.  3 employers later, he still works long days AND travels. He is a workaholic, so he just keeps pushing through and putting in more and more on me in the process. When we were married, when he did come home from weeks away, I was so burnt out from raising a special needs kid and having a daughter with a chronic health issue, that I would leave the house to just wander stores. Doing anything, just to get a break from the chaos at home. He would come home and just sleep/eat/watch TV because he was exhausted.  I asked him probably 50 times to find a new job without travel. I tried to tell him our marriage was in danger and I needed him home more, but he was always so focused on work, he didn't get it.  He would tell me "we're fine!" and I would try to tell him I wasn't fine, but he really wouldn't listen to me. He would just try to tell me that I was doing a good job (???). Eventually, I realized he was treating me like and employee. He would tell me the world was great, and pat me on the head and he would think that solved all the problems. It just made me resent him more. 

It became our normal relationship to not see each other. I can't say that the crazy schedule broke our marriage, but it was a huge part of why it broke so easily. When I decided I was no longer in love with him, our marriage was over in my mind within days. I wouldn't even bother with counseling, because I knew my mind was set. We stayed married for 3 more years for a few logistic reasons and I never once wavered on trying to rekindle because I knew he wouldn't be there, even if I tried. It was so very easy to let go, because I was so used to him not being there. It didn't require an imagination on how I was going to take care of myself and the kids. I had already done it for years! I just had to run the budget, make sure I could afford the bills, and make the leap. 

 

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13 hours ago, Myra said:

I think that is why so many people do not want to resume their jobs after covid period - the companies just don't seem to respect their workers:  crazy variable hours per week so can't rely on steady paycheck and the same for shifts, low pay, no job security, etc.  

 

 

The crazy, changeable schedule is why I don't want to go back to working in veterinary hospitals. I miss the animals, but I'm not doing the nights/weekends/holidays thing any more.  I'm especially not interested in being coughed and sneezed on by the general public, either. 

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My dh works a rotating shift, some nights, some mornings, some afternoons. It is at least stable so we can plan ahead knowing what shift he'll be on. He used to work all night shifts and the interviewers would ask if he had kids and how he intended to see them, it was a big issue with employees, he had coworkers who were constantly battling with their spouses. 

Ditto with the previous posters, homeschooling and sahm makes it work for us. And a separate sleeping place for dh when he's on night shift - we have a granny flat on the other side of our property lol

It's still difficult at times, hard to get into a good family routine, and especially with coordinating outside activities.

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I know couples who deliberately chose opposite shifts (including graveyard shifts)  so the kids didn't go to daycare.  But they did have family time. (still married with adult kids.)

2dd works when her dh is home to care for their children.  She's currently "part-time", and her shift will regularly vary, but includes graveyard.   her dh is currently working mostly from home (with some return to the office) - but he also frequently works on his 'days off' because of the demands of his job.  (and well over 40 hours a week.).   

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We worked opposite shifts to save on childcare costs.  It was hard.  The worst was the years he worked at a place that didn’t have a set shift rotation- he’d get day, swing and evening shifts all on the same week.  They released the schedule a month at a time and there was NO rhyme or reason for it.   Now things are much better.  He starts work at 6AM and is generally done around 3 but does work longer some days, which is pretty common for salaried IT jobs.  

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Dh didn’t/doesn’t  have night shifts, but he did have long hours, long commute, and lots of travel.  I officially quit working while pregnant with dd, 18 months into our marriage. It just wasn’t worth it at my level of employment or the schedules I was subjected to. (Not terribly late nights, but past daycare hours and some weekends.)

Staying home and homeschooling didn’t make everything all better, it just helped.

20 years later and with older kids, it still gets tricky, though dh has a lot more control over his schedule now. Whenever anyone has been looking for a job with dh, I’ve tried to discourage it if they had other options.

Currently, dd mostly works overnight  shifts and I always have a hard time trying to catch her without disturbing her sleep, and that makes me sad. I also worry about her giving up sleep in order to have a social life, even without having to consider a partner or kids.

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Dh does shift work and we actually enjoy it.  Ds's school schedule is on the same days, but not the same hours.  But, it means we get our errands done during the middle of the week, ds has someone here when I have outside commitments, and we alternate our family meals between lunch and dinner.

For the days when dh goes in at 11 or 3, ds and I have a table upstairs to work from.  It's not on the main level, which gives us each the space we need to do what we need to do.  Dh gets some downtime without being around people all day, ds gets to work his best hours, and I still get my quiet time at night.  The only problem is like right now, where I signed up for a Weds evening class, but ds's physical training schedule dropped 2 weeks later.  So he has PT at the same time I have class on Zoom, which means I have to figure out how to do both and not drop my cell reception on the way to his PT. (FTR, his PT has never been on Wednesdays.  I have a feeling they're trying to increase attendance at a skills clinic right after, and we refuse to let ds take part in anything with the skills coach)

So, I have to juggle a little more during dh's workweek, but when he's home he takes on a lot here.  He cooks 3 days a week, does the laundry, grocery shopping, the bigger yard projects I can't take care of...it's a schedule that's working for all of us, but it'll be nice when the house is paid off and we are both working just to hobby-work.

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