Shiftworking Parents: How to Stay Connected to Your Children
Many working parents have a hard time staying connected with their children. It can be even harder for those who work afternoon, evening, or overnight shifts. They may miss dinner and bedtime with their children. They may also miss important parts of their child's life—such as sporting events, parent-teacher conferences, and family activities.
Shiftwork is common. The good news is that many families make it work. Here are some steps that may help.
Accept Your Situation
To make your situation work:
- Accept that you and/or your spouse work a nontraditional schedule.
- Talk to your children about it. Be positive.
- Look for opportunities that nontraditional schedules offer.
Being flexible is a good place to start. That may mean eating birthday cake for breakfast. It may mean Thanksgiving on a Tuesday. Make time for your family, whenever it happens. It will ease a lot of shiftwork-related stress.
Use Good Communication and Organization
Shiftworking parents make it work by:
- Making a strong effort to stay in touch with their children as they grow up
- Being organized and detail-oriented
- Arranging their schedules each week—to make sure the family's needs are covered
Reduce Guilt and Stress
Many shiftworking parents feel a lot of guilt. Guilt about your work schedule will cause more stress. If you whine about your awful hours, your children may too. This will make you and your children feel worse.
Try to focus on the benefits of your schedule. Parents who work evening shifts are often able to help with classroom activities. They may serve as lunchroom monitors at their children's schools. Parents who work overnight shifts arrive home as their children are getting up in the morning. They can enjoy breakfast time because they are not rushing to work. Some families do not need daycare or babysitters because one parent is home or available.
Make a Contract With Each Child
If you have more than one child, make a contract with them. Make it geared to each child's situation and age. The contract may involve discussing curfews, rules for daily conduct, and responsibilities. Put your contract in writing and sign it. Meet regularly to discuss how the contract is working.
Stay in Touch Often—If You Do Not Have Custody
Perhaps you do shift work but do not have custody of your child. This makes connecting with your child more challenging. Your goals are to show up, be present, and be committed. Schedule visits whenever possible. Be sure to stay in touch often—by phone, texts, video chats, and email.
Weigh the Pros and Cons
Children have to work around their parents' shiftworking schedule. This can help them mature and learn home management skills faster. However, some shiftworking parents do not pay enough attention to detail. They are not as committed to being present in their children's lives. The child may not have enough direction or boundaries. This can lead to problems with behavior and school. The parent may need to get help and/or find a different work schedule.
Making It Work
To make the most of your situation:
Schedule Time Together
Your work may make it hard for you and your child to connect. Be sure to schedule regular time together.
Put everything, especially family time, on a calendar. Routine is important.
Participate in Events
What if you cannot make it to the soccer match or band concert? Have a family member record the event on video. Schedule a time when you and your child can watch the video together. Ask them about the event. Want to attend a family party but have to leave early to go to work? Take two cars. That way, you can enjoy some of the event. And others will not have to leave early due to your schedule.
Set Clear Rules
Set rules to guard your sleep. Sleep problems are common in shift workers. Get plennty of sleep to stay healthy. Make sure the family knows acceptable reasons for waking you up.
Keep a positive attitude about your schedule. Look for the opportunities it offers. Always find a way to be grateful for what you have. Share your positive attitude with your children. Let them know that this is how your family works—and you are doing fine.
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Psychological Association
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What is shift work National Sleep Foundation website. Available at: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/shift-work-disorder/what-shift-work. Accessed Noevmber 5, 2021.
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Last reviewed November 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Last Updated: 11/5/2021