Don’t Wait for Me: Working the Holidays

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Missing Family Dinners

You know the drill.

You plop down in the lunchroom and pull out your phone to check messages. Then, you get ready to breathe a sigh of relief. Your shift is almost up, but you don’t dare say it out loud.

Then the tones drop, or the radio goes off. You have a call.

Seems straightforward. You hope for the best as you hit the road. You text home quickly, letting them know you’ll be later for dinner than expected.

Sure enough, things happen, people are… people. Almost two hours past your supposed end-of-shift comes and you’re just wrapping up your report.

Could’ve been worse, you tell yourself—but not until you’re in your personal vehicle. You shoot off a text saying you’re finally on your way home.

Dinner can be reheated. You can still kiss the kids goodnight. You’re going home tonight.

This is run-of-the-mill first responder life and this instance isn’t so bad.

It’s entirely normal for first responders to miss family dinners. It’s expected. In fact, very often dinner is planned around the responder’s shifts. It’s part of the lifestyle.

And it is a lifestyle, not just a job. It’s a way of living.

Family Obligations

We know we have family obligations as well, even when working the holidays. Parents need help, kids need rides, spouses need attention. Having a demanding job plus raising and supporting a family is more than challenging.

While a typical parent shares the workload, first responders are often squeaking in tasks between shifts, sacrificing sleep or meals to make it work.

What makes it more difficult are special occasions and holidays. Those just happen when they happen. But sometimes you can still make things work. You just have to be creative.

A first responder spouse might get used to their loved one working the holidays. They put out the presents and get the kids ready for special moments all by themselves. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help at all. Sometimes you can share the load from where you are or do things ahead of time, around your schedule.

There might even be an occasion when you’re not working a special day and you’re able to experience that day all together. Since that’s not the norm for first responders, we have a few suggestions to help.

Ways to Celebrate Around a First Responder Schedule

Depending on the occasion and the age of your kids, you might celebrate your special moments just fine, even if you’re working the holidays. Here are some ideas to help you navigate your special celebrations.

Dinner Dash

Whether you’re coming or going, shift your family dinner time just enough so you can get in early or come late to have a bit of sit-down dinner with the fam. They should know what you do by now and understand. If not, well, communication is the key. Get whatever minutes you can and enjoy time with loved ones, then take something to go if needed. On second thought, it’s food. Take some to go.

Flexible Holiday

No matter the holiday, Christmas, Hanukkah, Anniversary, Birthday, or you-name-it, you can celebrate when it works for you. Church-goers pick a service they can make. Party planners get ahead of the game by working around their schedules. Military families or firefighters serving weeks at a time all know to plan ahead as much as possible.

It’s okay to open presents early or late. It’s okay to have a special meal or event outside the socially accepted calendar designation. Just find a time to celebrate with your loved ones, especially when you know you’ll be working the holidays.

Spousal Support

For those with little ones, it’s hard to tell them Santa is coming early or late for your family (but you can.) If you want to run things the normal way, you can still help your spouse. Wrap ahead of time or prepare special treats in advance. Make plans with your spouse to help be a part of Christmas morning (or whatever the celebration) as much as you can.

You can help with the purchasing, the decorating, the wrapping, the planning… There are plenty of ways to take part and lessen the burden on your spouse. Your other half supports what you do, and you can share that support too.

Zoom and Zoom

No matter the distance, if your shift is long or short, find a time to video call. Most first responders (though admittedly not all jobs) allow for at least a few minutes for a phone call, especially for those working the holidays. Do a quick video call to wish your kids and loved ones a happy holiday. Chat while you can and when you have to go, you go. Tough signal? Record your greeting and well wishes and send it off via email, text, or however you can.

The True Meaning

Holidays aren’t there to celebrate a date on the calendar; keep in mind their true purpose. You’re celebrating a person or an event or being thankful. It doesn’t matter the exact date you celebrate, so keep the true meaning in mind and share that value.

Communicate with your spouse or family what your shifts are around the holidays so you can plan to be part of celebrations. Make sure everyone’s on the same page. Communication is vital to your job and it’s vital to your relationships too.

If you’re working the holidays, no matter how you celebrate, FRC wishes you and your loved ones a happy and safe holiday. Take care of each other out there.