At some point in your spouse’s military career, he or she will be assigned an extended work shift. This can be a periodic 12-hour Charge of Quarters (CQ) shift, or a 24-hour Staff Duty shift. The possibility also arises that your favorite service member may end up working nights, or may be put on the Panama Shift, a rotating schedule of 12-hour days, 12-hour nights, with a series of days off in between.

This month, my husband began the Panama Shift and our family is learning to constantly adjust our schedule every few days. Here is what we have discovered so far:

Adventures in Shift Work 1

The Good

  • Consecutive days off. Although no longer guaranteed weekends, my husband receives anywhere from 2-6 days off at a time, often during the week. After long stretches of shift work, these days together feel special and are appreciated.
  • Weekdays off. I can run errands alone and make appointments without having to always bring my children or hire a sitter. When we want to do something as a family, we don’t have to battle the weekend crowds. Better yet, when our kids resume school this fall, we’ll have — gasp — time alone!
  • Me time. When he works nights, I love having evenings to myself! I pull out the wine and invite a girlfriend over, have video chat with friends, or I put on a chick flick. Sure, I end up staying up way too late, but it’s the price you pay sometimes. Plus I get to stretch out like I own the bed!

The Bad

  • Goodbye, weekends. Most of our friends are on a standard schedule with weekends off, so coordinating a social calendar is challenging.
  • Struggles with our children. My young ones don’t fully understand when dad will be home, at work, or at home sleeping. Reminding that they need to please be quiet so that dad can sleep is a daily (frustrating) occurrence.
  • Passing ships. No sooner does my husband fall into bed that it’s time to wake and start my day. Although we are both home, we operate on completely different schedules. By the time he wakes up, it’s already afternoon and the children have half a day’s worth of stories to tell him as he sips his coffee and listens with one eye open. When he works the day shift, he doesn’t see us until dinner time, we eat as a family at the table, and then shortly after, it’s time for the boys to go to bed. (And hubby is not far behind them.)

The Weird

  • Losing track of days. With it being summer, no school, and my husband having weekdays off, we hardly know what day it is. With his schedule rotating from days to nights, he often doesn’t know “when” he is either.
  • Living in a daze. I’ve worked through sleep deprivation after having children and experienced jet lag from travels, but it seems that my husband is living in a perpetual mix of those states right now. It’s not easy to see him like this.
  • My confession. After years of living with a traditional schedule, everything I once knew has been turned upside down. I find myself in a constant cycle of asking two alternating questions: “When will my husband be home?” and “Why is he home right now?”

Supporting Each Other

I am constantly in awe of my husband as he supports us by pushing through this challenging schedule each week. I make sure to provide him with meals, a quiet sleep environment, clean laundry, the opportunity to decompress, and time with the family. The absolute hardest part is watching him operate like a zombie, and feeling that he’s missing out on time and experiences with us. I make sure to thank him often, share my appreciation, and ask what I can do to further support him. You know what? He does the same for me. Now that’s teamwork.

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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