My Husband Is A Shift Worker and It Can Be Challenging To Parent Alone

Dec 2, 2020

Being alone while your partner works can be a parenting challenge at the best of times.

When their schedule is inconsistent, it can be doubly challenging.  

So, I want to send a shoutout to all the moms and dads who have partners who do shift work — those moms, dads and caregivers who hold court, while the other works odd and irregular hours.

While we are not single parents (rockstars in their own right), at times it can certainly feel like we are.

The Unpredictable Predictable Schedule

My husband works for the Port of Montreal and has an unpredictable rotating schedule of day, evening and night shifts.

When he's not working, he's catching up on sleep. There's not a lot of time for him to pitch in — for example, he can't vacuum or cook at 3 a.m. when he's up and the rest of us are sleeping.

So, my plate gets full. I work from home and I'm the one who's around while my son does virtual learning. I run a lot of the errands, I clean and arrange food prep and I'm the social one who schedules and attends the parties and family get-togethers and barbecues (even the virtual ones).

Not Totally Alone

While it can seem like there is more alone time than moments together, there are a few ways my husband and I stay connected.

We keep a big chalkboard in our kitchen to write appointments, birthdays and other important dates to remember — it’s to not only keep the family organized but to also keep my hubby in the loop as to what’s going on in our day-to-day lives.

We communicate a lot with Post-It notes, because our paths cross sometimes for just minutes a day, especially if he’s working the evening shift, and we leave ourselves reminders (and quick “I love yous”) on bright yellow or pink papers stuck on the counter.

We have a joint Notes app on our phones to keep up on house to-dos and to streamline lists and goals.

The hardest part is when my husband does finally have a day or two off. He really needs the time to recharge and catch up on his broken sleep. And my son and I are jonesing (almost competing) for his attention. My bean loves spending time with his dad playing video games, cooking and watching movies, and he rightfully wants as much of his time on those days off as possible. Meanwhile, I’m hoping to knock off a household project or two and get him to paint a ceiling or organize the garage.

Struggling and Benefitting From Shifts

Having a spouse who works odd, unpredictable hours is challenging, to say the least. And, according to many studies, households with shift workers suffer some negative consequences. Obviously, there are effects on both marital relationships as well as child-parent relationships. And shift work can have consequences on a person’s mental and physical health and wellbeing: sleep deprivation and constant changes to the circadian rhythm can be detrimental to one’s health, and even cause hormonal and genetic changes.

Despite the downfalls, there are also advantages to a shift-work schedule.

Even though my husband doesn’t have a steady 9-to-5 routine, there are a lot of times he’s off during the day and we’re able to do weekday things that most daily grinders cannot. My husband’s hours have allowed my son and I to really bond, and we have our own little traditions throughout the week (sometimes if daddy is working the midnight shift, the bean and I will sleep together). And we really value and appreciate the time we do have together as a family, because we know it could be the last time for a few weeks that we’re all on the same schedule.

Is it easy being a single-non-single parent, or, as the husband’s coworker’s wives call us, “a port widow”? No, it’s not. It’s really hard knowing you have a partner and yet they are unable to pitch in when it comes to a lot of family chores and obligations. It’s like, you’re lucky enough to have someone who’s right there next to you, and yet they’re out of reach. But we parents persevere, and carry on, no matter what, even in a worldwide pandemic, because it’s for our kids and our families. And at the end of the day, as long as they’re happy and content, then that’s all that matters.

Article Author Jennifer Cox
Jennifer Cox

Read more Jennifer here.

Jennifer Cox is the mama behind the Whoa Mama! YouTube channel, where she shares her craft and DIY projects at home. She is also the mama of a three-year old. She is a self-proclaimed addict of kid’s books (she reviews them for in their Little Readers section), and she admits to spending way too much time after her son goes to bed scouring Pinterest. She's also written for Today's Parent, Parents Canada, SweetMama, Babygaga, Today's Bride and more.

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