It is hard enough for parents who work 9 to 5 to stay connected with their children. Imagine working the afternoon, evening or overnight shifts. For many parents, it means missing sporting events, parent-teacher conferences, and family activities, not to mention dinner and bedtime.
Shiftwork is more common than you think. The good news is that many families make it work.
Making it work involves 3 things:
That may mean eating birthday cake for breakfast or celebrating Thanksgiving on a Tuesday. Valuing family time, whenever it happens, will relieve a lot of shiftwork-related stress.
Shiftworking parents make it work by:
Many shiftworking parents assume a lot of guilt. The guiltier you feel about your work schedule, the more stress both you and your children will feel. Whining about your awful hours, even if your goal is to let your children know that you are just as unhappy with the situation as they are, is an invitation to them to join in the whining, thus increasing your feelings of guilt.
It is helpful to remember that there are a lot of options available to shiftworking parents and their children that are not available to those who work a regular day. Parents who work evening shifts are often able to help with classroom activities or 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 and can better enjoy breakfast time because they are not rushing to get off to work themselves. Some households don't have to use daycare or babysitters because one parent is home or available.
If you have more than one child, work out individual, age-appropriate contracts with each. This 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.
Visits between a child and a noncustodial shiftworking parent can be more challenging. The means to success are to show up, be present, and be committed. Stay in touch with telephone calls, letters, email, and visits whenever possible.
Teens whose parents work nontraditional hours may develop greater maturity and home management skills at a younger age. On the other hand, when shiftworking parents do not pay enough attention to detail and are not committed to being present in their children's lives, the resulting overabundance of independence combined with a lack of direction and boundaries can lead to behavior problems and difficulties in school.
Here are tips for making the most of your situation:
Schedule Time Together
The lack of contact that can result from shiftwork can make meaningful interaction difficult, so it is especially important to schedule time together.
Put everything, especially family time, on a calendar. Routine is important.
Participate in Events
If you cannot make it to the soccer match or band concert, have a family member videotape the event and schedule a time when you and your child can watch the video together while they recount the high points. Want to attend a family party but have to leave early to go to work? Take 2 cars so you can get some enjoyment from the event without making everyone leave early because of your schedule.
Set Clear Rules
Don't forget to set rules pertaining to acceptable reasons for waking a sleeping shiftworker.
Keep a positive attitude about your schedule and look for the opportunities it offers. Always find a way to be grateful for what you have.Share your positive attitude with your children by letting them know that this is how your family works and you're doing fine—you just march to the beat of a different drummer.
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Psychological Association
How to manage shift work and you social life. National Sleep Foundation website. Available at: https://sleepfoundation.org/how-manage-shift-work-and-your-social-life. Accessed August 28, 2017.
Ludden J. How to make shift work family friendly. NPR website. Available at: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124710748. Accessed August 28, 2017.
The risks of shift work. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/work-play/pages/The-Risks-of-Shift-Work.aspx. Updated August 20, 2015. Accessed August 28, 2017.
Work-life balance: Tips for your family. Raising Children website. Available at: http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/work-life_balance.html. Updated June 26, 2017. Accessed August 28, 2017.
Last reviewed August 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 10/14/2015