A closer look at family life: Night shift work influences parents, children

Dennis Player packs the car before leaving for work.

courtesy of GeeAnn Player

Dennis Player packs the car before leaving for work.

by Lilly Player, Reporter

A typical father/daughter conversation for me takes place for the hour in the car between Libertytown and BWI Airport, roughly six times a month. That’s because my dad is a pilot for Frontier Airlines. Think that’s glamorous? It may seem so with free, or very cheap, flights to almost anywhere, but in reality it’s incredibly challenging for family relationships.  In addition to his travel schedule, our family schedule is upside down.  It’s hard for him to shift from pilot to dad to farmer in the regular 24-hour cycle.

Night shift work has many names, like “the third shift,” but it’s most popularly known as the “graveyard shift.” It is dubbed the graveyard shift due to its grueling hours, typically from midnight until around 8 AM.

Children of parents who work night shift or who travel for work often face unique problems. Studies find that children can become depressed or engage in reckless, rebellious behavior. It can also affect the relationship between the child and parent.

Jonathan Croswell, from LiveStrong, reported, “This can reduce a child’s familiarity with a parent, particularly if they are young.” I see this with my three year old brother, Ian, who takes hours each day my father is home to warm up to him. He doesn’t have a strong sense of familiarity since he only sees his father a few times a month.

My father has been a pilot since before I was born. He is often gone for days a time, sometimes working what pilots call a “red eye,” which is a flight that departs late at night and arrives early the next morning.

When he is home, he has to divide his time among five children and his wife, which is no easy feat. He is only home for a short period of time, and he is catching up on sleep or working on the farm.

Lack of sleep is difficult for my dad–it’s difficult for anyone!

Growing up with my dad being absent has been really tough, especially with a divorced family. Fortunately, I had my grandparents as well as my aunt and uncles to help raise me, but I still had to grow up faster than most eight-year-olds.

Parents feel the separation just as strongly as their kids

Dawn Wood, an evening shift custodian at LHS, said, “By time I come home from work, everyone is asleep, and when I wake up they’re gone. You’ve got Saturday and Sunday to try and fit everything in, but it’s never enough time.” She works from 2:30 until 11:00.

Basketball coach and teacher, Rachel Easterday, whose husband was a night shift police officer for four years, said, “I was taking care of two young kids by myself, and it was hard. When he came home he’d sleep all day, and then leave for work.”

My father, Dennis Player, said  “It’s tough being away from my family for half of the month. I don’t see them at all, which means I miss out on a lot of big moments with my kids.”

It’s a rarity for my dad to be home for birthdays, and he’s often gone most holidays as well, which I know takes a big toll on him. He’s missing out on monumental moments with his kids, like when they lose a first tooth or start a first day of school.  

Sometimes when you’re a teen, it’s too easy to think of the problems from only your own perspective.

A child’s point of view

My situation has also been complicated due to divorce and relocation. Our father/daughter time spent together is even shorter. It was extremely hard growing up with my dad away. It felt like I never saw him, and I became jealous of my peers who had their fathers at every event.

When our dad is home, I sometimes compete with my brothers for our father’s attention. Everyone wants to spend time with him one on one, rather than together.

This is not an uncommon phenomenon.

Rachel Player, my cousin, a freshman at Linganore High School, is no stranger to my struggles. “My life revolved around my siblings. In the mornings, I had to get them all ready for school and when I came home, I had to make sure they had food and homework done. My little sister even started calling me ‘mama’ because I was the one feeding her, changing diapers, and sleeping with her.” Her mom was a night shift nurse for almost seven years.

Ashley Yurich, a Linganore High School senior, and Torbyn Eakins, a freshman, are just some of many students at our school affected by parents having night shift jobs.

The Washington Post reported, “Fathers with non-standard schedules are less close to their children.”

For a long time I felt like this was true for my father and me. It felt that my dad and I were drifting apart due to his long hours away from home.

It took me until I was 17 years old to fully understand my dad’s reasoning for continuing in a job that took time away from his family. As a child I would often beg my dad to leave his job and work someplace else, but I didn’t fully grasp what I was asking him to do. I was telling him to quit flying, which is something he is so passionate about.

Even though he is away a lot, I know my dad loves his job, which is important when working. Growing up with him frequently gone impacted me in many negative ways, but it also helped shaped me into who I am today. It helped me to think about the kind of jobs I would like to have, as well as allowing me to grow in maturity.

It’s important not to let yourself feel isolated.  Talk to friends, family and school counselors.  There are more people who are in the same “boat” as you are.

This year, I’m excited for my birthday because my dad will be home.  There is sunshine and rain in everyone’s life.