Reader Question: We Work Opposite Shifts!

Reader Question: We work opposite shifts!
Every Monday I like to post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. Last week I was talking about how to feel like a unit when you both have seemingly separate lives–you both have jobs or responsibilities that lead you in opposite directions through the day, and how do you keep feeling like you’re on the same page?

A number of people left comments and sent emails after that with a slightly different–and more difficult–problem. They didn’t just do different things during the day. They never saw each other because they worked different shifts!

Here’s an example:

My husband and I have three kids under 5, and we’re barely making ends meet. He works as a security guard in the evenings (like usually 3-midnight), and I work varying shifts in retail. We try to make it so that we don’t work at the same time so that someone is home with the kids, because we can’t afford daycare and I don’t have any family I’d trust to look after my kids (our families aren’t the greatest). I just feel like we don’t even know each other anymore. Life just feels like it’s nothing but work. What do we do?

That’s really a tough one. Here are a few thoughts I have, along with some great advice that people on Facebook left when I asked this question last week!

My Husband and I Work Opposite Shifts
Keep in Communication Throughout the Day

Text each other on breaks. Tell each other when things happen, even if they’re little things. Let each other know what kind of day you’re having–happy, sad, tired. One of the problems with not seeing each other very much is that you decide that when you DO see each other, you want it to be low stress and fun. And you don’t want to add more guilt to someone’s day.

Thus, we don’t always share the bad stuff.

When we’re feeling blue, we don’t tell him, because we want to stay upbeat.

That’s very kind in a way, but it’s also counterproductive. Part of being married is that you’re supposed to be able to support each other. If you feel like your husband doesn’t actually know what’s going on in your life, then you’ll feel like you’re even further apart. It will drive more of a wedge between you.

You can find ways to share about your mood or your day without adding guilt, or without saying, “It’s your fault”. Something like this:

Just really tired today and the kids seem awfully whiny. Trying to count my blessings, and you’re top of the list.

See? He knows you’re tired, but it’s also apparent that you’re not blaming him.

Use a System to Fill Each Other in On Key Things

Several Facebook readers recommended a notebook where you could fill each other in on important details about your life. If someone went to the dentist and has cavities; if you went to the parent-teacher meeting and heard something wonderful about your daughter; if you stopped by a store and picked up something for his mom’s birthday; write these things all down in the notebook.

Then, when he’s off shift he reads it, and he knows what you did. And he can leave details of what he did, too!

And leave little love notes as well. Tell him that you miss him and that you love him.

Having one notebook kept in the same place that you can always check lets each of you feel like you know what’s going on. And then you’re not duplicating each other’s efforts, either!

You Can’t Work Opposite Shifts Forever

Here’s a hard one to say, and I don’t mean this to sound harsh to those of you who are living through this. But even if you take these steps, it’s very hard to maintain a healthy family life like this forever. You need to spend time together.

There was a couple very close to me who always worked opposite shifts. He worked during the day, and she waitressed at night. She’d leave for work as soon as he got home, and usually arrived home around 10:30 or 11. She tended to work on weekends. She just never saw him. He was a really involved dad, but the marriage eventually fell apart because she opened herself up to an inappropriate relationship at work.

I’m not saying you’re all going to have affairs; I’m just saying this kind of life takes a big toll on a family. It’s not healthy for your marriage, but it’s not healthy for the kids, either, because they never get to do very much as  a family, and they don’t see the two of you together.

I know sometimes this is unavoidable. I have a friend who works shift work at a factory, on six-week schedules. So for six weeks he’ll be on days, which is amazing. Then for six weeks he’ll be on overnights, which isn’t wonderful, but which isn’t too bad because he sleeps during the day and then he’s with the family in the evenings. But the six weeks of evenings are awful because they never have dinner together. However, because this is only 1/3 of the time it’s doable. A lot of nurses live with the same type of schedule–the shifts are always changing.

If it’s ALWAYS that you’re working opposite shifts, though, usually because you plan it that way for child care, it really isn’t sustainable. Here are a few thoughts:

  • Downsize if you can. It’s better to live in a small apartment but be together most of the time than live in a larger home or larger apartment and barely see each other.
  • Take a year that will be absolutely horrible and try to upgrade your skills. Take a course from a college, or get an internship, so that you may be able to get a different job that pays more and frees you both up to not have to work full-time. Having one person working full-time, and another working part-time isn’t nearly as difficult as both of you working full-time opposite shifts.
  • Find out if there’s anyone in your church who is really good at job placement/resumes/finding work. My mom’s a career counsellor, for instance, and she’ll often help people brainstorm about what they want to do and come up with jobs they never even thought of that they’d be qualified for or that they’d enjoy. And then she helps people write resumes and prepare for interviews. If the whole idea of job search scares you silly, ask around and find out if there’s someone in your circle who can help you with it, even if it may cost you a few hundred dollars.
  • Consider moving. Here’s a big one that people often overlook. If you’re both working full-time making relatively little money, chances are you’re working at jobs which would be available in almost any size city. All places have needs for security guards, retail help, cleaning staff, waitresses, truckers, etc. These aren’t jobs that require you living in a big city. We used to live in Toronto, but 14 years ago we moved to my husband’s home town. Housing here is about 1/3 the cost. If you can reduce your costs, chances are you can also reduce the hours you need to work. And you’d like in a better place, too!

So talk about these things and try to get a plan so that you can see that this is only temporary. If you’re just doing it until you pay off debt, or until you have money for a downpayment, for instance, know how long that will be, so you’re working towards an end point. Have a plan of when you will be making a change. And in the middle of it, keep communicating.

What do you think? How can you make this work? Or how could you get out of this trap? Let me know in the comments!

Comments

  1. Teal Foster says:

    My husband and I have worked opposite shifts for six years, and we have three kids. While I usually love the advice and the information in this blog, I do not particularly agree with this post. I can say that it IS doable. The great thing about working opposite shifts is that we have occasional weekdays off together. The kids are in school and we can really enjoy our time together. And while we cannot always eat dinner as a family, we use other meals to connect. Who says a family has to eat dinner together? You can do the same thing over breakfast or lunch. Not having time together every weekday after the kids go to bed means that you have to get creative in order to see each other. This keeps things fun and exciting! And finally, we have a great appreciation for each other and what each brings to the family. We both work hard and take care of the kids equally, so there is no resentment about one half of the couple doing more around the house, making more money, doing more with the kids, etc.

    We both have to work, and paying for three kids in daycare would be far more stressful than figuring out ways to connect while on opposite shifts!

    • Lauren M says:

      My mother worked nights as a nurse and my father worked a typical 9-5 for over 15 years! They had 6 kids and we had dinner or lunch (whichever worked with everyone’s schedule) every single day. Knowing how hard our parents worked and the sacrifices they made in their relationship for us to go to good schools and live in a nice home in a safe neighborhood made us appreciate those things that so many take for granted. It is not easy, I know my parents were always tired, they didn’t get their first ‘away’ from the kids weekend until I was in JR high(oldest here). My mom eventually went to days after all the kids started grade school but by then they had high schoolers and that’s a whole new chapter in our family. But now that my youngest sibling is about to graduate high school and my parents are on the verge of empty nesting it is sweet to see how excited they are to be able to spend their time together. It’s not easy but raising a family never is.

  2. Stephanie P says:

    I’ve lived it…..for several years…my husband started 3rd shift when we had our 2nd child…so I had a newborn and a 13 month old all night long by myself and worked full time day shift…..It was brutal….We felt like we were roommates….The notebook idea is wonderful! I would like to add to the texting during the day…that dear hubby may be sleeping during those hours….so if he keeps his phone on and close by then this may not be a good idea….be mindful of his sleeping needs. I would also like to add that sometimes it’s not feasible to downsize….Some in this situation may not be paying an expensive mortgage every month…but still just making ends meet….this was our case and it was discouraging to hear someone say we should downsize when we were living in a small trailer that was paid off and drafty in the winter and an oven in the summer…there was no downsizing for us at that time..we just were barely making enough money and couldn’t afford college classes to gain more skills or hardly anything else…Moving can also be expensive and it may be difficult for both spouses to find jobs in the same area…I definitely believe you should not move until you already have a job lined up…and if both of you work…then both…..but a good point to make is that this season is not always forever! Just keep chugging along! Sometimes hubby can make a shift jump or a complete job change…..but then sometimes people just have to make it work for the long haul. This was the case for my parents and they were happily married 30 years until my dad died. It took a lot of sacrifice on both sides to make the marriage work and have time together…but SO worth it. He worked nights and I remember lots of times that my mom would cook dinner and drive us to my dad’s work on his ‘lunch break’ and we would eat with him at night…she would also sacrifice some of her sleep time and get up at 3am to cook him breakfast when he would get home……looking back those were very special times and it meant a lot to him….It’s hard and sometimes we just have to make the best of the time that we do have….When my husband was working nights…we just made the best of the time we actually were together when he was off…we’d do something fun or do projects around the house together….take the kids to eat or to a park…just to spend time together…i even started watching football with him on the weekends…and now that is something we still enjoy doing to this day..I have a good friend who’s husband works 2nd shift so they don’t see each other until the weekend and they designate every weekend as family time and do not plan anything else. It’s hard to live separate shifts in the same household….but it can be done…appreciate the fact your husband is a hard worker and a great provider..no matter what shift..don’t resent him or the life you live and especially Don’t give up!!! :)

  3. KellyK(@RNCCRN9706) says:

    I’ve lived it my entire marriage! And yes, DH had an affair but not because I work 3rd shift. I’m an RN. I CHOOSE to work 3rd shift because there are less people around on 3rds. Less Dr’s, Students, interns, Residents, Physical therapists, family visiting.etcThey ALL want the patients chart, they ALL are asking me questions. different family members coming in at different times of the day to ask me the same questions over and over again, therefore taking me away from the piles of charting that I must do on all of my patients. It’s sensory overload it’s worst! I couldn’t take it anymore. I’ve worked day shift at all of my jobs. And after a few months, I just could NOT take it anymore because of the above reasons. I had to swing shift too. Work both days AND nights and that’s not good on the body either. It’s better to work one shift than swing between two different shifts. In my chosen profession, People don’t get sick from 9am-5pm Monday thru Friday as you know since your husband is a Pediatrician. So someone has to be there to take care of them during the night. I like night shift. I’m a night owl. I HATED getting up at 4;30am to get ready for work and drop my son off at daycare when he was a baby when I worked day shift. HATED IT!!

    Also my husband will be laid off as of Dec 13th. He was working 2nd shift. This will mark the 5th time in our almost 15yr marriage that he’s suffered a lay-off. Thankfully, my profession is a fairly steady one and has provided for our family during the economy crash that the US is still recovering from. As it stands, I have weekends off (since there is an RN Weekend Program at my hospital) so I get to see my husband on weekends. Last weekend we took a family trip to Columbus OH for an Ohio State football game and this past weekend was short but yesterday we went shopping and then out to lunch at a new restaurant that neither one of us had tried. I’ll never be a SAHM. We’ll both have to work. I’d love to be one but since my profession is the most stable of the two, I’ll be the one who goes out to support our family at night. It works for us.

  4. We work opposite shifts. While I would love to get on regular shift to be home with family in evenings, it is not doable at this time. Its been this way for 6 years. It is very tough. I dream of getting on days but not possible right now. I am homeschooling my kids. I already have one in college. I have two left at home. They are old enough that I can leave them to go to work (hubby is home 2 hours later after I leave). We see each other on weekends. So my time is with him and the family on weekends. I will go out occasionally with my mom and daughter. Not often as I want to spend time with hubby when we are off on weekends. I would love to go back to school but it is not possible right now since we are helping our oldest pay for his college bill (not all of it). I agree with some in the article. However I believe it is best that babies are not put in daycares. I had very bad experiences with them that they do not hold in high regards with me or hubby. There is a season of having to do opposite shifts. I do see a huge benefit in our case….it forces hubby to spend time with the kids on his own. He does have an opportunity to make a huge amount of money going overseas but I refused to let him do that. Yes, I would be able to stay home full time however the kids need their father! They need both of us. I am home with them in the mornings and hubby is home with them in evenings. Our kids have a very close relationships with both of us. I think this is where opposite shifts is a benefit at least in our case. It is very WEARY though. We are in the process of trying to figure out how to get me back on day shift. It may happen but not soon though.

  5. We don’t have a regular shift work situation. We have a DH works 60+ hours every week, while I’m a sahm.
    His hours are irregular. His hours are unpredictable. Some days he actually works 8-6. Other days, he works from 7am to 10 or 11 pm (or later), sleeps for a few hours, and is back at his desk by 6am. Sometimes he can take an hour or two off in the middle of the day. Most days he can’t. Most weekends he ends up doing at least 4-5 hours, and sometimes 20+.
    I can’t adjust my schedule to fit his, because there are four children who need an adult to be awake (and alert!) when they are.
    I try to do as much of the household chores as I can, so that we can just relax and enjoy what time we have. The reality is that I can’t do all the housework, and the yardwork, and homeschool four kids, and stay sane!! So the house is not spotless. And we decided that as far as the yard… we’re raising kids, not plants. (We do keep it reasonably neat and the grass mowed, but we live on a street with a lot of retirees who have amazing gardens. The comparison is…. well, let’s not!)
    Keeping in touch about little things through the day helps.
    Trying to talk at the end of the day when the kids are in bed helps.
    If he’s working really late, sometimes I sleep for a few hours then get up again when he’s done working so we can talk for a bit.

    Bottom line, though, is that this is tough. It is not sustainable long-term; it puts pressure on the marriage and also the kids need to see their father more. We are praying that God will bless us with a different job, that will allow us more time as a family.

  6. Melly Mom2004 says:

    I gave up my career to be at home. It was a great choice, but the economy changed and I needed to be working. We thought about it, prayed about it and we chose to live with less, and have me work evenings only. I know we cant all do that, you can only cut back so far. I picked commercial janitorial. I work at a medical clinic cleaning, and yes the nurses look down at me, everyone does, yet see it differently. I am the Queen of Clean, the Potty cleaning Princess. I help my husband by not forcing him into working two jobs outside the home, and never seeing his sons. He has bedtime routine, and gets a quality hour with his boys 5 nights a week. He respects me, and looks at me with love. We do not see each other as often as we would like, but we always try and make the most of the time. We do not take 2 week vacations. We make sure my time off is spread around as much as possible, and if things are tense for any reason, I try to book a day off that is available, put the kids to bed and then dote on my hard working husband.Opposite shifts can work, think of all those military wives and husbands out there.

  7. You overlook the fact that both of them are most likely making minimum wage. They likely already live in a small apt and in an area with lower cost of living. Some other options: first ,consider that it can likely be temporary: once your kids are in school, it will free you both up to look for different shifts (although this is likely several years away). Also, look into government-funded daycare, you may qualify for help with expenses. And consider looking for employment at a daycare, they may offer a tuition break if you work there.

    Many people I know work opposite shifts to avoid daycare. Sheila, you have been critical of parents using daycare in the past, so what do you suggest? (My husband and I do use daycare, part-time, and our kids are happy and well-adjusted and our marriage is good…opposite shifts was something I never considered).

    • Hi Kellie,

      It certainly COULD be that one or both are making minimum wage, but in many of the families I know that work opposite shifts that isn’t the case. I know many physician families that do this, for instance, because they want someone home with the kids rather than putting them in daycare. When my husband was in residency doing 1/3 in call, many of the other residents who were married to physicians were doing just that. They were hardly ever home together. The family I mentioned did not work for minimum wage, either. So while that may be the case, it isn’t necessarily, and all the families that I know who work opposite shifts are not doing so for minimum wage.

      That doesn’t mean that there aren’t families out there in this difficult predicament; it’s just let’s not assume that they all are. Many of the people that work very long hours choose to do so for reasons that aren’t all financial, and I do think some re-evaluation is in order.

      I guess what I’d say if both people were working minimum wage is more or less what I did say: suck it up and have a horrible year or two while one of you works AND goes to school so that you won’t have to work minimum wage like that forever. Explore other opportunities, because chances are there are some out there. Or move. You can survive on much less in many small towns than you can in a bigger city.

      As for daycare, I don’t like it on the whole, but I also think keeping the family together is vitally important. If you have no choice and must work financially, then perhaps having the children in some sort of childcare part-time is a good idea. Check with a friend perhaps and see if you can swap some childcare so that you are home more when your husband is home?

      I don’t think there’s an ideal solution, but I also don’t think that it’s good for a family long-term to always work opposite shifts. Yes, you can make it happen if you’re very deliberate about it, but it still isn’t easy, and it will lead to a lot of stress, which also isn’t good for the kids. And kids do need time with the whole family, not just one parent at a time. I’m not trying to blame parents who have to do this, but I am trying to encourage people to brainstorm, think outside the box, and try to come up with a plan so that this can be just a temporary arrangement.

      • In one of your posts on daycare you compare children in daycare to children living in orphanages. Do you still stand by this claim? Because I think most people would agree working opposite shifts would be better than that (not that I believe that is true).

        • Yes, I do think being in a daycare centre is like an orphanage, and the studies show that kids have similar stresses. That’s why if you do need childcare, I recommend a smaller place where there’s personalized care from a consistent caregiver, as I said in that post. But I also recommend dropping in unannounced and setting up a recorder or nannycam to check on them.

          • Would you be willing to share these studies?

          • I think I linked to them in my original-original post about daycare, but I’m not at my computer right now and can’t look it up. If you look at the daycare articles and scroll back I think they’re linked.

          • You didn’t link to any study and I don’t know if you understand how hurtful that is to parents who use daycare. I hear something like that and I think that you a) think I have pretty much abandoned my children and/or b) would be better off giving them to someone who is able to stay home with them or c)should never have had children in the first place.

            I would really encourage you if you are giving advice to working parents to get to know some. Most of us are incredibly hard-working, try to limit the hours we work but also find it hard in these times with sometimes uncertain job security. We love our kids as much as any other parents and are doing the best we can for our families.

          • Kellie, I’m sorry that you feel that way, but let me assure you that I know LOTS of working parents. I myself grew up in daycare. My mom was a single mother, and she worked really hard and she didn’t have a choice. Sometimes you have to make the most of a bad situation, and I totally understand that.

            However, I still firmly believe that it’s a bad situation, and that’s based just on the research about attachment and aggression; there’s tons of research in my husband’s Pediatrics journals about the health effects of institutionalized care, too. It’s not pretty.

            I know that parents work hard, and I know that many don’t have a choice. But some do, and many kids in institutionalized care don’t need to be there. On the whole, I think care in a smaller daycare with a nannycam or drop-ins unexpectedly is better (and being with fewer kids is better for a child’s health, too). The main thing is the consistent caregiver, which you don’t tend to get in institutionalized care.

            Kids are just too important for me not to say something which I really believe. I know that it may hurt people, and I’m sorry. But it’s just too important. And I’d really encourage families who have to use car to brainstorm as much as possible to see if they can come up with other ideas. Maybe it means taking a year where you hardly see each other so one can get more education. Maybe it means moving to a community that’s cheaper. Maybe it means finding friends you can trade baby-sitting with. I don’t know. But I’d encourage couples to take that time and really brainstorm so that it doesn’t have to be a permanent solution.

  8. My husband works dayshift and I work evenings. My mom and dad did that too. I think its the best of both worlds. I get the kids breakfast and off to school and he gets them off the bus and does dinner. We kiss goodnight when I get home at 11:30pm and he goes to bed because he is up at 6:00am. I do the house cleaning, laundry and meal planning for the next day and get to bed by 1:00am. I am just a night owl. We have every other weekend together and it’s sort of chaos.

  9. I know it’s been a while since someone last responded to this, but I was wondering if you had any advice for those who will soon be in this situation and ways to prepare for it marriage-wise. I’m about to finish college and will be pursuing a career in the medical field within a few months. Being the “newbie” it’s likely that I’ll have to work 2nd and 3rd shifts for a while (because unfortunately people don’t stop getting sick after 5pm lol) while my husband works a day shift. Fortunately, we have no children; however, I know the situation will still put extra stress on our newer marriage (will be 2 years by that time). Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

    • Not sure if you got the advice you were looking for yet. But I am currently in this situation and have been since March. I work overnight 11-8 and the Fiance works 11:30am and gets home by 9:15…we barely see each other during the week. I rush home in the mornings just to lay in bed and cuddle next to him for a few hours and then I get our son ready for him to take him to daycare. I found out right before I started this position that I was expecting baby #2 so that was the motivation to keep the job, after having quit a TERRIBLE restaurant position. Since I am pregnant I try and sleep most during the day to get rest before work, but most of the time I end up getting up to clean and do house chores or run errands. I just told him tonight that this is absolutely a NO. NO 3rd shift positions for us anymore. He is currently considering a night position as well, for more pay. We aren’t struggling and money isn’t everything FAMILY is. My advice to you, right now because you don’t have children is that the situation is manageable if you both understand that sacrifices have to be made and are willing to accommodate each other. Other than that I would say DO NOT get used to it, it’s really no way to live, Idk much about the medical field but if you can get a daytime positions take it!

  10. Doable, definitely until you find out the youngest kids don’t need daycare, you’ve think you’re finally sure after two decades of separate shifts you’re done and deserve husband time and you find he has become so use to working graveyards and alone time during the day, he missed 20 years of his kids activities because he slept during the evening, and the families continue too go days without seeing him, and her thinks this type of lifestyle it’s normal and is clueless to what he’s missing. Truly sucks

  11. I was wondering if there are any support groups out there for opposite shift married couples. My husband and I have only been married for 2 and a half years and it has become unbearable for me. We don’t have kids but he wants them… I just don’t see how it would be possible. :( we both have full time jobs and support my disabled sister and my financially disabled father. So hard.

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