Take Advantage of Shift Work
There is a reason that cops often end up in relationships with dispatchers, firefighters, and nurses; it's called shiftwork. This can be a real advantage as a parent. If you can arrange it, work a different shift as your co-parent to cut down on daycare time. I know many male cops and firefighters who cherish their Mr. Mom roles; my husband (yes, number three) is one of them. Plenty of child-rearing experts will tell you that kids need schedules and consistency, but I know plenty of kids raised in two-cop or single-cop households who are now well-adjusted, extremely adaptable people despite their hectic, ever-changing schedules. Children tend to react to how their parents and caregivers react, so if you're easygoing about change, the kids will probably follow suit.
Look to the PD for Child Care
I was so fortunate that my lieutenant's wife approached me about childcare. Before you look at outside daycare options, see if one of your co-workers has a stay-at-home spouse or partner who provides child care. I also employed several of my fellow officers' high school and college-aged kids as babysitters when I needed coverage in the summer or overnight. I also took turns with other working mom cops hosting sleepovers or playdates while one of us worked an extra shift or spent the day in court. I once paid the travel and expenses for one of my officer's wives to attend the national DARE conference with us in exchange for her watching my daughter during the conference. They brought their kids too and we all had a great time together and I had a guilt-free conference.
The Realities of Quality Time
In the 1980s (when I was a juvenile officer and reading lots of child psychology books) there was lots of talk about quality time. The theory was it was okay to put your kid in daycare for 12 hours a day as long as the time you had together was quality. In my unscientific opinion, this often resulted in kids who expected time with their parents to be what I called all Disney, all the time. There was no discipline, no chores, and no adults saying NO. Quality seemed synonymous with over-indulged, and an awful lot of these kids in our jurisdiction ended up in the back of my squad car and their befuddled parents sat in my office lamenting "but I gave them everything!"
Don't let your guilt drive you in this direction. Kids are pretty happy to be with their parents just doing normal things, whether it's folding laundry, playing a board game or cleaning guns (yes, that's a normal family activity at the Smith house, and besides, its a great time to emphasize firearms safety). Just be there with your kids, or as German-born author Eckhart Tolle puts it, "be present in the moment" when you're with your family. Try to turn off the electronics (step away from the Blackberry!) and be truly together, regardless of what activity you're involved in.
Guilt is an Officer Safety Issue
In the Street Survival seminar, we stress maintaining your mental edge, being in Condition Yellow (or higher) when you're on duty, but guilt and worry can rob you of a proper mindset. Feeling bad because you have to, or want to, work outside of the home doesn't do anyone any good, and it can be downright dangerous. Instead of allowing your guilt to distract you, use the love you have for your kids as motivation to train hard, stay aware, and make sound tactical decisions. The best thing you can do as police parent is to come home safe and well at the end of every shift.
As my daughter got older, I thought the guilt would subside. Boy was I wrong. Now I travel almost every week; something new to feel guilty about! However, she has turned into an independent, self-reliant teenager and I have learned that parenting is difficult, wonderful, and oh so fleeting. Live in the moment with your kids, when you're with them, be truly present. When you make mistakes (we all do), learn from them and move on, and when you're at work, don't allow anything to distract you from winning every confrontation so that can get back home to those you love. Be safe!