First Responder families: Work and family life

Different rosters

First Responder family life is often affected by rosters and call-outs. If the First Responder is on day shifts, this might mean a set of routines during the week. For example, it might change:

  • who is picking up children from early learning, school or extracurricular activities
  • who is helping with the children's homework, and
  • who is cooking and cleaning.

This can be more challenging for dual First Responder families.

Communicate with parents to help you understand what the family routines are on a regular basis. Support children by reminding them if a different adult is picking them up or if there are different arrangements for home time, such as catching a bus. It is good to remember that children are present-oriented, so if a parent told them what was happening next week when they were busy with an activity, it might not have registered with them. A gentle reminder can help.

Being on-call can mean they are not necessarily at work but must be available to work at any given time. It is important that children are told that although the First Responder parent is present, they might have to go to work at any time.

Paramedics might also be doing FIFO and DIDO shifts if they are part of Remote Work such as mining.

Using consistent language

Setting up a shared and consistent language is very important for families and for educators to be aware of the words the family uses. This reduces confusion and allows children to predict what might happen next. So, for example, a child needs to know what is meant by 'night or day shift' or 'on-call'.

Repeat the words often when you are explaining what is happening. For example, 'Sally will pick you up from soccer practice this afternoon because Mum is on night shift, so she will be sleeping'.

Unplanned call outs

Unplanned call-outs can be a part of First Responder family life. Take an interest in what is happening for the family to check what is happening in their routine.

Reassure the child that:

  • There will always be supportive people to assist them and the family even when parent's work can get hectic,
  • Parents miss their children when they are at work,
  • First Responders have a vital role in the community,
  • Being together is important to the family.

Understanding disappointment

Children and teenagers can feel a sense of bitterness when their parent is consistently called away, and they miss important events and family time. This can be especially difficult when they see other parents present at these events.

When children are repeatedly disappointed, they might try to emotionally distance themselves in order to protect themselves from potential future hurts. This might not be a conscious decision, but it can be challenging for parents.

Reintegration of parents into the household when they have been away for a long time can be quite challenging. The at-home parent might have become used to coping on their own, so they are less likely to collaborate on decisions that can be unconscious. This can lead to conflict within the relationship.

Children might have gotten used to being supported by one parent only. Therefore, they are more likely to seek out their support. Additionally, children might have developed during that time, and this can lead to misunderstanding when a parent tries to support them in a way they had done previously.

There are some resources that might support the child's understanding of these issues here:

1. Both of you, Mum and Dad

2. I feel lumpy, grumpy and bumpy

Applying theoretical models

Use the Dan Hughes PACE model:

1. playfulness

2. acceptance

3. curiosity

4. empathy.

Additionally, reframe conversations using the strengths-based approach.

Type 'Dan Hughes PACE images' into your search engine to find some excellent graphics. You can discuss these with children and teenagers.

This resource is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.

Last modified: Monday, 30 October 2023, 2:48 PM