Tips and tricks to adjusting to your spouse working the night shift
September 25, 2014 7:44 AM   Subscribe

My husband will be starting the overnight shift at his job next week. Please give tips/tricks/suggestions on helping our family adjust.

My husband and I have been together almost 10 years and have a 3 year old son. During my son's entire life, my husband has worked a 3pm-11pm shift. This has actually been really great for us in a lot of ways, especially in regards to daycare.

My husband has been the morning time care - waking my son up, getting him dressed, brushing his teeth, feeing him breakfast - etc, for his entire life.

He then goes to a daycare from 2:00pm-5:00pm, and then I am the one who picks him up and does the night time routine together. I feed him dinner, give him a bath, and put him to bed everynight.

Next week, my husband is going to start working 11pm-7am, then going to the police academy from 8am-12pm.

I will be waking up early, doing the entire morning routine alone, taking him to daycare full time from 7:30am until 5:00pm Monday through Friday. I will then pick him up and do the majority of the night time routine alone as well, since my husband will likely be sleeping.

How do we cope and adjust? I am afraid that this will be such a massive strain on our relationship due to the time contraints. How do we make time for each other, set up a schedule?

Any suggestions and personal experiences, advice, etc?
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah to Human Relations (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How long will this be the new routine? I would go into it thinking and knowing that you are basically going to be a single parent for that amount of time. If you have friends or family who can help you parent, get them involved as much as possible.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:07 AM on September 25, 2014

You are basically going to be a single parent for the duration, it sounds like. If your husband is on a night schedule, and gone all day or sleeping, then when will he see your son? This is actually more concerning than missing couple time, because while you can know it's temporary and just has to be gotten through, a three-year-old is going to have a harder time of it.

On the other hand, doesn't police academy only take 30 weeks or so? Presumably with some breaks for holidays built in?

What you need to do is sit down with a calendar and map out all the times your husband is unavailable, and find times when he can be available, (weekends, holidays) to spend time with your son and with you, and make those the things you look forward to for the duration.

You may also need to reorganize chores, so that he does at least a few in the hours between jobs, and yours are simplified to lessen the strain. If you can get help from family to, say, take your son occasionally so you get a break/can see your husband for a few hours, that will also help.

Simplify your outside obligations (volunteering, extended family events) and use the excuse that it's temporary, but you need all your energy to be there for your son while your husband is basically out of commission.

The more organized you are going in, the easier it will be.

My dad frequently went overseas to work, leaving my mom to manage us and everything else. He was gone for 10 months or more at a time, and they kept their relationship alive by sending each other tapes and letters. You and your husband could at least text and call once a day to hear each other's voices and stay in touch. Leave each other notes, if that's your style. If he could leave your son some notes for you to read, (or call/leave voicemail) that would be sweet and helpful.
posted by emjaybee at 8:11 AM on September 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

How did you make time for each other before? In my experience of having a spouse who has worked every shift imaginable, the 3-11 shift is the worst as far as spouses spending time together. So, if you worked that out, you can work this out.

First, the police academy is a temporary addition to the hours he is busy. You will just have to power through these 6 months or whatever it is that he will be doing that. Yes, you will be doing more of the day to day child care that you are used to, but i assume his attendance at the police academy is a good move for your future as a family. If you can keep that in mind, as well as it is not forever, that will help you cope. Now is not the time to be resentful of his obligations - that is not going to be helpful. It sound like he has been a willing participant in the raising of your son and he will do so again once that half a day at the police academy is over. If he remains on 11-7 after that, then he can take care of the morning routine once again, even if it is only for a couple hours before he takes peewee to daycare so he can rest.

As far as your evenings go, plan to have dinner together even if it is late. I am sure a 3 years old goes to bed pretty early, but maybe your husband can wake up in enough time to spend an hour with the 2 of you before he goes to work. do his days off rotate or does he have weekends? Days off are a little wacky when you have worked nights all week - there aren't enough days off in a row usually to switch sleeping around. My husband would often stay up for 24 hours striaght to participate in family stuff on days off.

You figure it out! Good luck to you!
posted by domino at 8:15 AM on September 25, 2014

I don't have kids, but a close friend of mine is married to a cop who works the night shift, and they have a few kids under the age of six. They have a couple of family members who will move in for a few days when she has business travel or similar serious commitments, they spend a lot of money on sitters and have a pretty sizeable roster of first choices and backups from SitterCity, they have cleaners in regularly, she has a fair amount of flexibility to work from home when she needs to, and her husband tries to take off as often as possible/rearrange his schedule for special things like milestone pediatrician visits or special events at daycare/preschool. They don't see a lot of each other, certainly not without kids around, and she says it is very hard, even with the family and paid support.

I would figure out exactly how long this schedule is going to last (that sounds exhausting for your partner!) and how many of those above elements you can get, stat. You're going to need backup as soon as the first nasty daycare bug of the season hits.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 8:16 AM on September 25, 2014

Solid routine and reasonable bedtimes so that your mornings do not feel rushed or hectic. Plan 15-20 min to just get out of the door (shoes, coats, carseat can take a minute) and make sure everything is handy the night before (keys, daycare bag etc).
Incorporate your husband where you can - as he's waking in the evening maybe he can do bedtime story and tuck in for one on one time - winding down for the toddler, waking up easy for dad.
We're used to non traditional schedules here. Little one will adapt, but allow yourself time in all things where you can. Don't be tempted to keep a toddler up to fit into adult schedules, they are so much more adaptable with good sleep. Plus you'll need time in your evenings for yourself and your husband. He won't get through this without you
posted by lawliet at 8:30 AM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I used to work nightshift and I'm sorry, I think this sounds horrible. I hope that it's only temporary.

If your husband is anything like me when it comes to sleep, he would probably be best sticking to a similar sleep routine every day, rather than trying to go back to normal hours over his weekends. At some point you're probably going to be really annoyed about this (my boyfriend was), but it's really for the best that he work out what kind of hours he needs to keep to be able to function. My life improved dramatically when I arranged my life so that I could sleep roughly the same hours every day. Yes, that can be a pain and you miss out on some things, but not having a regular sleeping pattern made me sick and cranky. You might not be able to spend as much time with your husband as you would like, but hopefully you will be able to make the best of the time you do get to spend together.

Unfortunately I don't really have any more advice than that, because the boyfriend became an ex (for reasons not to do with nightshift) and I didn't have the added complication of police academy.

Good luck!
posted by kinddieserzeit at 8:32 AM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Honestly, I would just consider him deployed for the duration of his training and plan accordingly. The primary thing I would focus on is when your husband is going to see your son. If the answer is realistically "only on weekends" I would also make an effort to keep the connection during the week, like maybe get a special box where your son can leave his artwork from preschool that he wants to show his dad and your husband can leave notes telling him how amazing each bit is.

I'd also organise weekends to bulk cook for the week and freeze meals into single servings you can each pull out of the freezer on your own schedules, etc. It's going to suck, so I think you should just accept and suit up for the suck.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:39 AM on September 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

Just chiming in to say this can be done; my husband asked about it here. We don't have kids, but we have developed some coping strategies, like:

- Routinize as much as you can, so you're not thinking about or doing menial tasks when you could be spending time together. I don't mind grocery shopping and cooking, so I make sure there's something available for quick meals by cooking on the weekend or in the evening, and before I go to bed each night, I make sure lunches are packed, coffee is set up on a timer, the next day's clothes are clean and set out, and (my favorite) my car is pointing in the right direction for my commute. Are there things you and your husband can treat like this to reduce your logistics-related stress levels and make more time for each other?

- Reach out to each other when you're not together: we text and e-mail to keep each other up-to-date on how our days are going, and it's super-nice, even though it only takes a minute or two each time. Note that not all of these updates should be about daycare :)

- Make time to be together. Hire a sitter and spend a quiet (or rowdy) evening together once or twice a month - we make time to talk every day, but we really enjoy this quality time, whether it's doing house chores together, cooking a big pot of spaghetti sauce, or going out to eat.

I agree with the others: this is a temporary situation, and you've done something similar, so you can make it work - just be intentional about planning ahead and spending time together.
posted by deliriouscool at 8:42 AM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is there anything that he can do when he gets off work, before he goes to sleep, like maybe go visit your son at daycare? (I realize that would depend on the flexibility of the daycare place) 3-year-olds don't exactly have lunch dates, but it might be a nice time for him to check in and say hi, since presumably he'll then be asleep during the times your son is home and awake (5:30-7/8?)
posted by aimedwander at 8:45 AM on September 25, 2014

Look for the points of overlap, and create a routine, effort-free pleasure. A good time for you two might be e.g. 9-10 each evening.

Back around the turn of the century, mrs_goldfish's bedtime was 7 am, whereas I woke up around 6. Also during this 6-7 am timeslot, our local TV station reran Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Every morning we sat on the sofa, me eating breakfast while she sipped hot chocolate, both mostly commenting on the show; but we'd also mute the commercials and, if we weren't jumping up to get more food, share tidbits about her night, or my plans for the day.

It sounds dumb, but it's a very happy memory, and was excellent for our marriage back when we were often too busy for more meaningful interaction. It's like how if you want two cats to get along better, you feed them next to each other, so they remember that Good Things Happen When Other Cat Is Around.
posted by feral_goldfish at 10:11 AM on September 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

when will he see your son? This is actually more concerning than missing couple time

I dunno about that. Divorce, or a hurtfully strained marriage, would be hard on the kid too.
posted by feral_goldfish at 10:22 AM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Having just been through this very issue, I unfortunately cannot recommend a single helpful thing - everything we tried was a bandaid over a massive wound. Nothing really helped. My fiancee worked nights for not even a year, and it nearly tore our relationship apart. She was a irritable mean zombie who was exhausted all the time and didn't want to interact with anything but the TV. And we don't have kids to deal with.

It completely broke our relationship and it's taking a lot of work to put back together. The only thing I can recommend in good conscience is to have a plan to get your husband off nights as soon as humanly possible.
posted by zug at 10:31 AM on September 25, 2014

Response by poster: when will he see your son? This is actually more concerning than missing couple time

I dunno about that. Divorce, or a hurtfully strained marriage, would be hard on the kid too.

This was my concern. If my husband and I can stay relatively positive and happy, than our son with benefit immensely from that. I just want to keeo our relationship strong so that when he is finished with the police academy (8 months) that we got through it together and our son didn't suffer not only because he didn't get to spend as much time with his dad, but also because both his parents were so unhappy the whole time.
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 10:35 AM on September 25, 2014

Knowing ahead of time that it's for a fixed period should help immensely. A big part of the awfulness on my end was never knowing if or when it was going to end, or whether it was going to drag on and on in this horrible state indefinitely.

I would agree ahead of time with him to table any fights until he's back to sleeping nights. Write them on a parking lot or calendar or something and pick them back up in 8 months. It's just not going to be helpful to have disagreements for what little time you do see him, and he's probably going to be overworked and grouchy anyway.

Try also to get a "date night" (or morning, or whatever) where you give each other your full attention at least once a week.
posted by zug at 10:40 AM on September 25, 2014

just saw this today. might be helpful.
posted by monologish at 10:59 AM on September 25, 2014

I recommend that you also read through this thread. It's about a parent who is physically in another state, but your situation won't be all that different, functionally.

- Talk with your husband and find ways for him to help around the house that don't have to be done at a specific time, like laundry, dishes, etc. He will be tired from his schedule (because holy crap, that is a hard schedule) but you will be tired too. You two should agree on a small list of things he is responsible for. "Responsible for" means making sure it happens and you don't have to remember to double-check it. Remembering all the shit that has to get done is sometimes as tiring as actually doing it.

- Since this is a long but not-permanent thing, get whatever help you can afford, especially in the evenings. If you can get a mother's helper to do some of the laundry/dishes/cleaning up, do it.

- Routines so you don't have to think about minutiae. Write them down and tape them to the wall.

- Sometimes when my husband's traveling, he records videos of himself talking to Micropanda on his phone and texts them to me, for later showing to Micropanda. Micropanda gets excited to see Daddy in the phone, even if it can't be done in real time.
posted by telepanda at 10:59 AM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't have kids so can't help there, but it definitely sounds like you'll need help.

As for staying close/connected during this time...
- Schedule some time to talk each day, don't break those appointments for anything, and make sure you're completely focused on each other during those times. Can he call you when he gets home and is winding down before bed, which hopefully lines up with your lunchtime (assuming you work an 8am-5pm type schedule)? Or spend time together in the evening before your bedtime and after he wakes up for work?
- When you think of something you want to share with him, write a note or send an email. You may not have time to talk to him for a while after it occurs and forget by then... That's how you start feeling disconnected.
- When/if you find yourselves getting frustrated/tired/cranky with each other, remind yourselves that you are both doing a lot of extra work, but it is for a defined period and it will pay off in the end. Plan a celebratory get-away or stay-cation for when he's done with the police academy... this will give you a reward to look forward to during the hard times.
- On the weekends, don't expect him to completely switch to being on your/kid's schedule... it will be hard for him to switch and he already won't have much time for sleeping. But do make sure there is time set aside for him/kid and the three of you.
posted by jshort at 10:59 AM on September 25, 2014

One thing that will help is if you're both getting as much quality sleep as possible in the hours that you're each in bed. So I recommend blackout curtains (I have these and like them), a white noise generator (I just use a fan), and anti-allergen pillow covers (I have these and like them).
posted by Jacqueline at 11:10 AM on September 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

This will also be a huge adjustment for your son. He's only experienced brief drop-in daycare from 2 - 5, and will have to absorb a huge new routine at home and at daycare. Can you add on full-day daycare gradually, before your husband actually makes the switch to help your son adjust? If you can sort of soften the blow a little bit, it might help him. You might also be prepared for some natural acting-out at the new routine on both fronts. Fortunately, he is verbal, so hopefully you can tell him about the changes and help to support him as his world changes around him.

I agree that 3-11 is the worst shift. I despised it. I felt I never really had a day or an evening and my sleep schedule never settled into a real routine. Night shift, while difficult if you swing back to daytime up and nighttime sleep on the weekends, can be worked around if you try to keep the night/day pattern stable. This is very difficult to do, because the rest of the family is on a day/night schedule, not the other way around and the natural inclination is to want to follow the family's schedule and power through the night shift. I think your husband's worst problem will be staying awake and sharp in school, because he is going to feel the real need to sleep.

When he becomes a police officer, what are the shift possibilities? In Philly where I am, I think most officers switch shifts routinely, and working all shifts is mandatory for patrol officers. The only good thing about the shifts is that they are predictable in the sense that you could map out what shift you will be on for months ahead.
posted by citygirl at 1:12 PM on September 25, 2014

I do shift work. Night shift can actually be great with kids, but you have to be able to sleep while they're at daycare/preschool/school, which your husband won't be able to do right now. You've gotten many good suggestions that I use which I will second: such as blackout curtains, earplugs, white noise machine for sleep during the day while other people are at home (especially small children) - also trying to maintain the schedule even on non-work days, which really helps physically and mentally. If the schedule cannot be maintained on non-work days, try the concept of "anchor sleep" - proven to work better for your body, if you can get a few hours of sleep at least at the same time every day, even if the rest of your sleep is at a different time.

The main thing I want to emphasize, though, is the point about keeping your eyes on the goal. There is actually something more important than trying to make sure you and your husband are happy and avoid marital discord, and that is your husband's life. Too many night shift workers have been injured or killed while driving home due to driving while sleep deprived. I myself have had one too many encounters with the rumble strip on the morning after a night shift, and it has struck fear into my heart that I could kill myself or others with this schedule unless I get serious about safety.

My rules about post-night-shift driving:
- I must ALWAYS take at least a nap prior to driving after the first night shift in a string of night shifts. Even if I am only driving 15-30 minutes, that's still enough time to fall asleep. This will be even more crucial for your husband because he has back to back commitments before he is released to home. It doesn't matter if there is some important family event I am missing, if I am sick of being away from home and miss my daughter and husband, if I am starving because I haven't eaten, none of that matters. I cannot drive immediately after the first night shift without taking a nap. It's my number one rule. I never make commitments that would cause me to need to break this rule. After working a few of the night shifts in a row, it's more possible to stay up after the shift without a nap and to drive.

- I keep mints in the car. I buy coffee if I need it, even when I was on a tight budget. I blast music and open the windows. I'll even pinch or slap myself if needed as a last ditch resort. If I am doing too many of these things, or if I am experiencing 'microsleeps' or anything close to it while trying to do these things, I have to pull over and sleep. No excuses. Pull over and sleep. There is nothing worth risking lives for.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:36 PM on September 25, 2014 [8 favorites]

My wife and I have five kids. I work day shift on weekdays, she works nights on the weekends. It has been that way for about 6 years.

You both have to go into it trusting each other to pick up the slack. I know that my wife will be sleeping all day on Saturday and Sunday, so it is my responsibility to keep the kids quiet and do chores around the house on those days. I understand why she is tired on Monday evenings and don't ask her to do much. Etc.

It is a strain, yes, but it is possible.
posted by tacodave at 4:27 PM on September 25, 2014

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