The Problem With Shift Work

15 Sep

If I’m asked if we would like to attend a function, or meet up with friends, the first thing I do is take a deep breath. Not that I don’t want to do it, but I know this will take some organising. I spend my life organising and juggling, in order for us to be able to do things.

We can rarely give an answer straight away. I say ‘we’ in the royal sense, of course. We all know that it’s me, as with most wives, that organises the events. Mr Rural says that’s why he married me…

So I firstly have to work out what shift Mr R will be on. Sometimes I’m able to do this in my head, sometimes with a little assistance from Mr R himself, usually by referring to my diary.

Will Mr R be able to attend at all? Normally, the answer is ‘no’.  Whatever time and date we are checking, he is bound to be working or just come off nights, therefore sleeping. I don’t know why, it’s just the way it is. Ask any coppers wife and I bet they’ll say the same. 

Then I have to decide if it something that myself and the boys can or should attend. I try to do so, but I really don’t like going along as a ‘single parent’ too often. Parenting 3 children can be a tricky thing, I’m not able to split myself three ways and, to be honest, I just miss him and it isn’t the same. We’re a one car family and Mr R needs the car for work. Therefore, logistically it is often very difficult. All this before I have even considered any clubs etc that the boys may have.  It’s a consuming aspect of our family life.

So as the ‘Other Half’ I do what I can. I work out if we can go. I attempt to make sure everyone will be happy and awake enough to enjoy it. If we can’t go, then I send the apologies. I sort the gifts and outfits whenever appropriate.

Once “we’ve” battled through all the obstacles and either declined or attended an event, you would think it would be easy. Nope, for a shift worker and their family, there is more to come. To give an example of this, my parents recently celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary.

They had been looking forward to it for some time and had chosen a family picnic and a ‘summer of ’76 BBQ’ we were astounded that both fell during Mr Rural’s annual leave! When I say astounded, I literally mean it. Any shift worker will understand this.

So, excitedly, we made plans, prepared for a picnic and got together some fun outfits suitable for the summer of 76 themed BBQ. Our eldest practised being ‘barman’ for the BBQ and my parent’s garden was transformed, ready for a party. I spent hours creating a video of pictures, memories and flashbacks of events from 1976. So overall, it was quite a big deal.

Two days before the celebrations, Mr R found out that he would be heading to London, in response to the rioting that was taking place. The story of that can be found on another post: *****

Following the 21hr shift that Mr R was required to do, he crawled into bed next to me, with a smile on his face. It was 5am and we were due to be at the picnic for midday. I asked him what I should do and he replied that I should wake him after 4hrs as he didn’t want to miss it. He then passed out into a deep, deep sleep.

So, again I got up and dealt with the children alone. I battled with them over getting ready in time, I kept them as quiet as I could, I made our picnic and got everyone sorted. Eventually we arrived at the picnic and I can honestly say that I felt terrible for Mr R. He just couldn’t wake up. He is fantastic at doing so, generally, but this time he was knocked for six. His body didn’t know what was going on. He suffered throughout the afternoon, whilst I smiled and encouraged everyone along, so as not to spoil the day.

The following day was the BBQ. Mr R wasn’t much better for that either. It was such a fun filled, lovely summer day yet tainted, for us, by the fact that he was suffering so much.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are loads of people who have suffered and are suffering much more than the tiredness Mr R was dealing with and I would never say otherwise. I’m just trying to give a perspective on how the shifts influence family life. When the shift finishes, it doesn’t mean that your time is your own. On a regular pattern, Mr R works two day shifts, two lates and two nights. He then gets, either, 3 or 4 days off, two of which are spent recovering from the shift pattern and trying to adjust his body clock to the same as the family. Mr R often suggests that we should have schools etc for shift workers kids, that way the whole family could work from the same shift pattern and possibly get more time together!

About four nights out of the 10 day pattern, I go to bed alone. Then when he is on his ‘rest day’ he is simply not tired at night time when I need to go to bed. The shift before he starts nights, he likes to stay up as late as he can, in preparation for the following night. It’s a never ending process and, although we do see each other every day, it often feels like the shift work consumes so much of our lives and prevents us from enjoying a lot of quality time together, and as a family.

There’s an awful lot more to being a coppers wife, and indeed a wife in general, but juggling the constant change among our family life, due to shift work, is a very big part of it. I’m not complaining, as already said, it’s just ‘normal’ to us. Although the thought of some calm monotony is tempting, I know we wouldn’t like it. We’re use to this; it’s just what we do and how we live. Shift work has its perks too. We get to make appointments without having time off. Daddy can pick his boys up from school on a regular basis. We get to go shopping when it’s quieter and two of the three boys are at school. Once our youngest starts pre-school (days away) we will be able to enjoy a mid morning coffee together, just the two of us. One day, Mr R may even be off work to see his children in a school play…I said ‘may’.

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7 Responses to “The Problem With Shift Work”

  1. Julia September 15, 2011 at 2:48 pm #

    Sounds so very familiar. Beautifully written. I greatly identified with so much of this keep up the good work!

  2. Joanna September 16, 2011 at 7:02 am #

    Another well written post – I think I will keep bugging you on Twitter for more on regular basis, just like I did yesterday 😉 This one did strike a chord with me – my other half’s work is also similarly unpredictable which also means holidays cancelled at the last minute, social occasions to which I either go alone or not at all and days/evenings I spend on my own missing him. But hey, some people have much worse problems, right?

  3. Das Beard (@Das_Beard) September 17, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

    He needs a new job.

  4. townpoliceclauses September 17, 2011 at 5:36 pm #

    I’m going to have to show this to my wife it is so true. There is some magic law of the universe that means that whatever day/evening an event is planned for I will check my rota and find I’m on nights, it is a never failing system. Shift workers and their families miss out on more than anyone can imagine. A big thank you to all bobbies wives, we do know what you do, we know how hard it is and I for one appreciate it.

    • MrsRuralSgt September 20, 2011 at 10:33 pm #

      That’s a lovely comment, thank you for taking the time to post it. Are you on Twitter at all?

  5. Claudia October 30, 2011 at 12:27 am #

    Omg you have just described my actual life! No one can understand the barbaric shifts unless they actually live them! Thank u so much for giving such a concise and eloquent view.

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