Make Time for Family

The Dunaways, Christmas 2009.

I’m so inspired by my children. I know you've probably heard this before, but kids are the best. My husband Mike (who’s also a deputy) and I have three children—all teenagers now. My little girl, Haley, is a freshman in high school; my middle guy, Tyler, is a junior in high school; and my oldest, Michael, is going to be 20 in December this year. Where did the time go? Mikey was only a toddler when I started in public safety.

I remember when mandatory overtime was so rampant at my previous center. I never knew if I would get to go home at my scheduled time so I could never make any plans. And if I didn’t answer my phone when the department called, they would send a unit to my house to mandate me to come in! I had to stop making plans with my kids because I never knew if I would have to cancel and disappoint them. It got so bad that I never knew if my vacation would get approved until the last minute because we had to rely on our coworkers (who were already stretched to the limit) to cover our shifts. Sometimes, I would get all the days covered except one—and the day not covered would be right in the middle of the requested time off! I remember one particular day when we were supposed to go somewhere but I had to report to work, Mikey said, “Mom, why don’t you just call in sick?” I tried to explain to him why that wasn't the way to handle the situation. He replied, “But everyone else does it.” Talk about a teachable moment!

Fast Forward 15 Years
These days my kids are pretty self-sufficient: The youngest two are in high school and Mikey recently moved out, but we tend to see him more now than when he lived at home—suspiciously around dinner time! So the other day, we were all sitting around the table talking and the conversation turned to work. I asked them if they felt like they missed out on anything because of their parent’s occupations. I was expecting to get “poor me” responses such as, “You missed my band concert,” or “You weren’t home for Christmas last year.” But the answers I received from my little angels almost brought tears to my eyes.

My oldest, Mikey, said that he’s proud to tell people that he’s from a law enforcement family. He says that since he’s older now, he realizes what our careers mean to us and that our job isn’t just a job—it’s a calling. I almost cried! He goes on to tell me that he used to be a little upset with us when we couldn’t be at certain events. But his grandparents were able to take him to countless family functions, birthday parties, school functions, band concerts, etc. Thank goodness!

My middle guy, Tyler, surprised me even further. He’s never been the one to express his feelings, but he told us that he’s glad of the hours that we kept. I was shocked. The first thing that came to mind was why? My mind started racing back over the years trying to remember if I’d missed something. Had he been up to something all these years and I missed it? Maybe I should check under his bed for contraband. He explains, “Mom, you don’t understand. When I go to my friend’s house, they can’t do anything for themselves. They can’t cook, they can’t do laundry. They’re always asking, ‘Where’s dinner?’ and ‘Where are my shorts?’ But you made me independent. If I’m hungry, I cook myself something to eat. If I have school tomorrow, I wash my clothes. I’m OK being by myself.”

I had never thought of it that way and have never been so proud! I looked at my husband and just smiled. I suppose it could have gone the other way. They could have been problem kids. I always told them if an officer or deputy ever called or came by the house it better be because there was an accident or that they needed a ride home from somewhere. Mikey told me once, “Are you kidding Mom? I told my friends that I was much more afraid of the cops that live in my house than the ones out on the street!”

My daughter, Haley, revealed much of the same. Her friends tell her that she shares too much information with her mother. She started high school this year and has joined the local Police Explorers and is on their color guard. She also surprised me this year when she joined JROTC and is trying out for their drill team. She can’t decide between law enforcement, military or the medical field. I’ve rarely had to intervene between her and her brothers or her and her friends when disagreements arise. I’ve tried to let them work it out on their own. Some people have thought that I'm too lenient with them, but they’ve never given my husband or me a reason to treat them any other way.

Strengthen Your Family Bond
To think, all this time I’ve felt guilty for the times I thought we’d lost as a family. I can’t tell you how blessed I feel to have such wonderful kids. But I can tell you that the times and vacations we do get to spend together are always such an adventure. We have the best times together, even if it’s just sitting around the table talking after Sunday dinner. When we’re apart, I get texts and calls from them every day. Poor Haley has three body guards that protect her fiercely. 

Let me share with you some tips on how to strengthen your family bond.

Build a Support Network
I hope that if you do shift work and have children, you’re able to have a wonderful relationship with them like I have with mine. I hope you have relatives who can help during times when you’re working or sleeping. If you don’t have family close by, find a good support network. Ask a close friend to help you out. I have a good friend that works opposite of me; we made a deal to help each other out if our kids ever needed anything while the other one was working (i.e. missed the bus, forgot something at home or needed a ride somewhere).

Introduce Family to Work
Find a way to include your family. Organize a shift get together to include your other half and kids. Bowling, BBQ’s, picnics at a local park or beach or start a softball team. Take it a step further and invite the field units or telecommunicators depending on which side of the radio you sit on. This will foster good morale and introduce your work family to your home family. You will start to see the “softer” side of your work family and appreciate them as regular folks.

Attend Department Events
I know one department has a family orientation that includes dinner and speakers to introduce the new employees and their families to their occupation and department. Our department is putting together a peer-support group for employees that may need a little stress relief. Another department has organized a spouse-support group. This is especially helpful for officer-involved shootings or other critical incidents. We all know that no matter how hard we try to explain it to people, only folks in public safety truly understand what we go through on a daily basis.

Show Pride in Your Career
If your agency will allow it, bring the kids to work to show them what you do and explain to them how important your career is to not only you, but the public and the community you serve. My agency allows visitors to plug in and listen to the radio traffic or do ride alongs (age requirement and waiver signed of course). Talk to your children and your spouse about your day—the good, the bad and the ugly. If you show pride in your career, they will pick up on it and before you know it, they will be telling everyone they know how proud they’re of you!


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