When I was growing up I was fortunate to have both my parents home every night and on the weekends. I didn’t realize how lucky I was to have that family dynamic until I was married with a family of my own. If your family is like many American families you may not have the luxury of a schedule like that. My husband and I actually work opposite shifts and do not have any of the same days off together. Many people like to call this split shift parenting. On one hand this schedule is a blessing because we haven’t had to put our kids in daycare, but on the other hand this schedule can be really tough on both parents as well as the kids.
In the six years since our first child was born, my husband and I have learned many tips and tricks for making it easier to split shift parent when one of us is away at work.
Set Routines and Stick with Them
Every parent knows that kids need routines. It helps them focus, it helps them stay calm and it lets them know what to expect from you. The earlier you can set up routines with your kids the better. You don’t have to be strict and controlling like Captain von Trapp from The Sound of Music, but the more order you can provide for your kids the better. In the classroom, we would call this having procedures. When you have routines or procedures you are simply establishing a series of actions that happen in a certain order. When you do this, your kids know what to expect and eventually they may even follow these routines without prompting from you. If you change the way you want things done all the time, it will only frustrate you and your kids.
Get Out of The House
If you are going to have days at a time where you and your spouse are not home together, you need to get yourself and the kids out of the house to give everyone a break. This is especially true when your kids are little. I know it can be terrifying to take little kids out of the house by yourself, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Just make sure you plan ahead with plenty of snacks, water, diapers and changes of clothes.
From the time our kids were very little we have taken them to the park regularly. You can’t beat the park. It’s free and it completely wears them out so they nap and sleep well. When it was too cold for the park, we would spend a few dollars for an indoor play place or go to the play structure at the mall. We also met friends for playdates, and enrolled in classes through our park district.
Since they were little, we have taken them to the grocery store and run other errands with them. It can be scary, but they adjust and so do you. I know it is so much easier to run errands without the kids, but sometimes you just have to do what is necessary. Just like your routines, set your expectations for them and help them rise to the occasion.
Find a Support System
It can get pretty lonely when you are constantly by yourself with your kids. Many of my friends say to me “I don’t know how you do it”, but honestly I don’t know life any other way. We all do what we have to. I know they are glad they don’t have our schedule and I admit I can be envious of friends who see their spouses far more regularly than I do.
That is exactly the reason why it is so important that you have a good support system when you and your spouse are not together with your kids. Find other friends or parents who may not have their spouses around to hang out with. It is also good to find friends who understand that your spouse won’t always be around and they invite you over anyway.
I’m lucky that one of my best friends is a “work widow” as much as I am. She doesn’t have kids so she graciously comes over and hangs out with my kids and me. I also have family in the area and it helps to spend time with them too.
Define Your Roles and Expectations
One of the hardest parts of being in a parenting relationship where you don’t see your spouse as often as others is figuring out your roles and expectations of each other. That may seem strange as you might think, “aren’t your roles already defined?”. Honestly though, once you are caring for your kids and homes on opposite schedules, you really have to figure out how to communicate and what you expect of each other. For example:
Which spouse will pack lunches?
Who will buy groceries and run errands?
Who will manage the bills?
How will you share important dates and events?
Who does different types of chores and cleaning?
Give Yourself a Break
Most parents are hard on themselves and feel guilty for taking time to themselves. Especially moms! In a situation where you and your spouse are “split shift” parenting, you need to find time for yourself. On the days you are all together, if your spouse offers you a break, take it. If you are on your own with the kids and you need 5 minutes of down time, take it. Let your kids watch TV for a little bit or play on their own within reason. Once they are in bed, make sure you find a way to unwind. Don’t spend the whole time they are asleep cleaning or picking up the house. There are days that you just have to let it wait.
Communicate with Your Spouse
On the days you have to be apart, communicate with each other. My husband and I talk three times a day on the phone. Once while I am at work and twice while he is at work. We have done this since before our children were born and I really believe it has helped us bridge the distance when we are apart. Be sure to talk to each other on the phone if you can and not just text.
Make a Date With Your Spouse
One of the most difficult parts of split shift parenting and being on opposite schedules is the lack of time you and your spouse get to spend together. To keep the connection with your spouse strong you have to be intentional with the time you spend together. Make it a point to schedule a date night with each other, even if you just grab a meal and sit and talk with each other.
Split shift parenting is not easy on either spouse. Most split shift parents would love to be on the “Pleasantville” schedule where Dad comes home every night at the same time to a home cooked dinner with mom and the kids. That is just not the reality for many of us and until you can make that happen, you have to make the best of it. It’s not as difficult as it looks. To be successful remember to set routines, communicate with your spouse and give yourself a break.