5. We often feel isolated
A shift worker’s social life is very limited and as a shift family we would love to entertain more, get out more, participate in church activities more, and fellowship more. My husband works most every weekend. Typically speaking, we can entertain once or twice a month at the most – when he’s working first shift. We have a long list of people we’d like to invite over, and are slowly working through that list but there are times we both feel very isolated from our friends
4. We are often jealous
We watch other families get evenings and weekends together, planning Saturday outings together, going to church every Sunday together, and often feel a bit of envy and jealousy – wishing we could do the same. A shift worker’s family jealously guards family time, because quality family time rarely happens for us, when it does happen we turn off cell phones and try to just be a family. First shift is usually the best time for good quality family time. And, again, that happens once or twice a month. Days off are a rare occurrence around here, as my husband works 6-7 days a week and we have a long list of family-things we’d like to do on those days we get family time.
3. We are often frustrated
No matter how well we explain our situation, there will always be those who don’t get the facts:
a) Don’t place extra expectations on a shift-worker who is working graveyard. Ever. Period.
b) While you were sleeping all night long, a shift worker was working, active, attentive, and not sleeping but wishing he was. So, asking him to sacrifice a few more hours of sleep to do you a favor is frankly selfish and uncaring. If he works rotating shifts, wait until he’s on another shift. If he works steady graveyard shifts, leave him to do it at his convenience.
c) A shift-worker is not lazy. A shift worker may be suffering from one of two syndromes: Insomnia or Hypersomnia. This means, either he can’t sleep or he can’t get enough sleep. It’s not all in his head and it’s not a psychological problem. It just means that his circadian rhythm is all messed up. This is a medical fact and there is little he can do to help it (apart from looking for a different job).
2. We are all affected
Most people don’t realize that a shift-worker’s job affects the whole family – not just him. When my husband is on graveyard shift, the kids have to play quietly. We live in a 750 sqare-foot home, so it doesn’t take much for noise to travel to our bedroom. Sometimes nap time looks different, cleaning is totally interrupted (if not completely ignored) so as not to disturb him – since his sleep is of utmost importance to me above anything else that happens that week. The kids don’t see him as much since by the end of the week he is napping more than he is awake. Sometimes our entire daily rhythm is throw out because if he has a day off we’ll scrap everything and make it a family fun day. When he’s working swing sometimes we’ll to this in the mornings. But often times these decisions mean sacrificing a nap time – which can cause chaos later in the day. But we’ve learned to deal with the chaos so we can enjoy those rare moments of family time. So the next time you may think that a shift-worker’s wife is needlessly frazzled about her husband’s schedule or their kids in “rare form” while their dad is working graveyard, just remember that when a family member works shifts, it influences the whole family. Thus the term: shift families.
…and the NUMBER ONE thing you should know about shift families is…
1. We are often misunderstood
Shift workers are often thought of as being lazy, sick all the time, depressed, anti-social, irritable, moody, etc. Most people cannot relate to what it means to work shifts – unless they have actually worked shifts. Shift workers are at greater risk for most modern diseases because their immune systems are compromised by their schedule. As mentioned above, they often struggle with Shift Work Disorder (a disorder recognized by the medical community): insomnia or hypersomnia – and are thus in a constant state of sleep deprivation. And they probably are depressed, anti-social, irritable and moody – these are all problems that many shift workers face mainly because shift work affects the psyche as well as the body. The constant shift of rhythm places added stress on the body and soul leaving them feeling impatient, irritable, unable to handle company (or other people in general), and at times depressed as they struggle to cope with their ever-changing schedule.
If you know someone who works shift work, please give them space and grace. Don’t make assumptions about their life, their attitude, their family, their dedication and commitment – because unless you’ve walked a mile (or more) in their shoes you are unable to understand the obstacles they face. Give them grace – because likely they are wishing they could just be normal for a while.
If you would like to know more about shift-work and what shift workers face, please click here to read more. I have done a lot research on the subject in an attempt to understand my husband more. What I learned gave me a whole new perspective as to who my husband is and how he functions (and believe me, I was guilty of #1 on many occasions before that!). The culmination of my research can be found in the handful of blogs I wrote on the subject, and I hope they are useful to others as well!
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