Rachelle Zemlok, PsyD
FINDING BALANCE AS A FIRST RESPONDER SPOUSE
Updated: Oct 21, 2020
Let’s be honest. The first responder job encourages a one income household.
1. Unpredictable Hours: Working as a police spouse or fire spouse is a huge challenge because a police officer and firefighter’s schedule is so unpredictable. Yeah, sure, their shift says that they get off at a certain time but we learn very quickly what that really means. As a police spouse you might hear “I’ll be late, I’m not sure when I'm coming home.” Maybe there’s been a critical incident and you get “I’m not sure when they will even let us leave.” As a fire spouse you’re counting on them returning home after two days gone to share the household responsibilities and you get a call ”I’ve been forced back.” Or maybe the call, “We were sent out on a strike team in the middle of the night and we’re halfway to L.A., I’m not sure when I’ll be back” knowing it could be up to 2 weeks. I’ve been there!
2. Responsibilities with kids: I make the joke that prior to kids my first response to a strike team call out was “Do you have snacks? Do you have clothes? Call me as soon as you can!” With a kid now, my response is closer to... a pause and a long “Okaaaaay”... and my thoughts are racing thinking about how everything he was responsible for is my problem. What’s running through my head is that I have 2 hours before work to figure out what I need to cancel, rearrange, and what to delegate to someone else in our next 2 weeks. Sometimes extended family can fill in these gaps, which we are very grateful to be able to utilize.
3. Good Income: Not to mention that overtime is often times mandatory or easily accessible to make up for unexpected expenses. Like so many other First Responder families you think it’s just easier if I stay home and you just work O.T. to fill in the gaps.” You share this decision with so many other families in a similar situation.
Having the option to stay home with your kids is awesome! Making this decision out of pure excitement is one thing. Making it “because it just makes sense” is another. If you have your own passions and visions of a job or a hobby, maybe a specific degree in something you enjoy, or have the thing you keep putting off for “one day”... listen up. I’m going to ask you to rethink the decision for the following reasons.
1. Not as helpful as we think: In these scenarios I think staying home full time and putting your dreams on hold has the potential to actually take away from your family (hear me out). What I mean is that we’re happier people when we feel fulfilled. Not that staying home with our kids isn’t fulfilling, but if you personally have a dream of a life balanced out with something else, then finding that will absolutely benefit your kids and your marriage.
2. Your happiness is worth more: Please, don’t get stuck on, “I make as much as daycare would cost so it wouldn’t even be worth it.” Of course it would be worth it! Even if you make exactly what daycare costs! I’m not looking at just numbers here. That’s silly because we’re human beings with real emotions and stress. Having something that feeds us emotionally is worth more than a number.
3. How it may positively impact the rest of your life: We’re happier! This means we combat stress and depression and we’re likely to have stronger relationships. We model positive coping skills for our kids and have more tolerance for the stress parenting brings on. We feel less resentful in our marriage and toward the job first responders love so much and spend so much time at. This all has an extremely positive domino effect on our lives. So don’t wait!
What I am suggesting is that if there is a job or a hobby you desire please go out and find it! The same applies even if it’s not a passion exactly but you’re feeling like you could just use a little more balance in your life. Guilt free! Because ultimately, it’s going to benefit your family and your own wellness.