Adventures in Shift Work: Survival Tools

The first time I learned my husband had to work an extended overnight shift, I felt bad for him. I knew he’d be exhausted and strained after a long week at work, but I wasn’t ready for how it would impact the rest of the family. It meant that I had to be “on” as mom longer than usual, that the kids would miss their dad, and even when he was done with his shift, we’d have to wait yet another day for him while he caught up on sleep. I always did my best to accommodate his rest by keeping my children happy and as quiet as possible (sometimes easier said than done), and like my husband, pressed on no matter how tired I was.

It all started with a periodic 12-hour Charge of Quarters (CQ) shift, or a 24-hour Staff Duty shift. Now he works the Panama Shift, a rotating schedule of 12-hour days, 12-hour nights, with a series of days off in between. It feels just as intense as it sounds.

Adventures in Shift Work 2

Survival Tools for Shift Work

I am beyond appreciative of my husband working this schedule to support our family — I certainly wouldn’t want to be in his boots right now. Whether your spouse works the occasional CQ, Staff Duty, night shift or Panama Shift, here are tools to make it work:  

For Your Service Member:

  • Lunchbox – Taking food to work saves money, provides healthier options and provides your spouse a taste of home. It’s a wise choice no matter the shift.
  • Travel mug – If he loves his caffeine, taking hot tea or coffee will help fuel him through a long shift.
  • Water bottleIt’s easy to get caught up in drinking sodas and energy drinks to push through, but staying hydrated is the key to not feeling depleted.
  • Eye mask/ear plugs – Is he catching up on sleep during daylight hours? Help him shield light and sound for a much-needed rest.
  • White noise – Whether from an app, a fan, or a white noise machine, drowning out sound will help you not have to walk on tiptoes while he catches some zzzs.
  • Blackout curtains – When stationed in Germany, we knew the awesomeness of Rolladen to completely shut out light. Now in the States, blackout curtains are our best bet.
  • WD 40I never realized how squeaky our bedroom door was until I tried to sneak in and out while he was sleeping. Oops!

For Your Kids:

  • Calendar – A calendar provides a visual of when dad is home, working and sleeping.
  • Maintain a regular schedule – Do what you can to keep your daily routine as structured and predictable as possible.
  • Quiet activities – Stock up on books, puzzles, coloring books, paint and Play Doh when you need kids to stay quiet inside the house. Spend plenty of time outside and out of the house, and if all else fails, that’s what kids movies are for.
  • Special time with dad – Give your children something to look forward to by sharing special time with dad on his days off. Whether they’re seeing a movie, going bowling, having a picnic or just playing at a park, make this a priority.
  • A little extra patienceWhen parents feel over extended with less rest than usual, it’s easy to have a short fuse. Try to keep in mind that they are feeling it too and take extra deep breaths and give extra hugs.

For You, the Milspouse:

  • Fitness and nutrition – You may feel tempted to run on coffee by day and wine by night, with “kids food” in between, but make sure you fuel your body to prepare for the long haul. Get plenty of sleep, water, take a walk and eat a balanced diet…don’t just run on chicken nuggets, Spaghetti-O’s and Goldfish.
  • A babysitter – When your parenting partner is gone, allow yourself breaks and fun. I am employing a teen on base this summer to play with my children a few hours each week so I can write, meet my deadlines, and take time to recharge.
  • Schedule dates – For those on a long-term schedule of nights or Panama, you’re going to feel like passing ships. Make sure you actively plan the time to be together.
  • A way to unwind – Feed your soul with friends, alone time, music, a book or a hobby. As they say: Happy spouse, happy house. Don’t forget to take care of yourself while you support your family.

You’re In This Together

Be sure to practice communication, patience, understanding, flexibility and see that you and your spouse receive breaks. My husband and I are supportive of each other and that is how we’re successfully navigating this wild chapter of our shared military story.
Read my first piece, Adventures in Shift Work: The Good, the Bad and the Weird here.

Jackie Toops Head ShotA self-described “Jackie of All Trades,” Army wife Jackie Toops is a mother of two and enjoys writing, travel, art, languages, slow cooking and peaceful parenting. She studied Interdisciplinary Humanities, Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management, and has overseen public relations for museums, galleries and universities. She is a contributing author for Wall Street International Magazine and has discussed her articles on-air with AFN Wiesbaden. She’s usually seen adventuring with her Canon, a coffee and two small children. Follow her on Twitter.

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