Half an hour is all you have to go from mommy to cop and back again before or after a shift. During this transition period you not only change your clothes, you have to mentally prepare to change yourself. All too often our bodies are in the right place at the right time, but our minds haven't caught up yet. Just got off work and can't concentrate on your daughter's math questions? Burning the macaroni on the stove? Still wondering if you got all the exhibits into the exhibit locker or handed in all the paperwork on your last arrest? You are not alone. Vice versa, do you find yourself driving your patrol car, thinking about what you can do to progress the potty training a little faster? Or whether or not you packed enough bottles and diapers for the daycare lady? You are still not alone.
There are countless articles and lectures that talk about balancing work and home and how to prioritize and communicate with your spouse to make things easier. But policing can add challenges. If we are not "in our game" 100% of the time, things can be dangerous, not only for ourselves but for our partner and possibly the community. With traffic stops being both mundane and also indicated as one of the most potentially dangerous situations an officer can get into, it is easy to fall into the trap of not being totally "with it" if your mind is somewhere else. This can be fatal. As a patrol officer we must be ready at all times, just in case.
But we cannot shut off the "mommy switch" as soon as we get to work. Our minds don't function that way. In fact, just like when we can hear our biological clock ticking, I think there must be a biological reason for us to think of our children whenever our mind allows us to. As a mom, I think it would be impossible to do only police work during your entire shift every single day. Who is going to take the phone call from the school about little Bobby puking all over his desk? Who is going to be there when your kid wants to tell you he "pooped by myself" for the very first time? Some of our lunch breaks are taken at the daycare or at the school so we can tend to some of our kids' needs. Then we go back into the patrol car with hunks of Play-Doh on our butts or baby drool down our backs. Heaven forbid you are still breast feeding--that would be a lot of fun through the bullet proof vest. There are probably some of you who say they never take a phone call from family during a shift and that your lunch beaks are taken at the station instead of at home. That is fine--congratulations, you have officially separated home and work. Or have you? Emotionally detaching myself from my son for an entire ten-hour shift is something I am not willing to do. The key is to find a balance.
So what does this balance look like and what do we need to consider?
- Give yourself permission to think about your family while at work and stop beating yourself up for thinking about work while at home. It is normal. Accepting that concept alone will decrease your stress.
- If tending to family needs becomes a burden and interferes with your work you need to address it and have other family members and/or friends assist you with your family needs.
- When you pin on that badge or put on that vest for the day/night, tell yourself it's time to get in the game. Take a few minutes to drive out family thoughts and get ready to do your job. If you can't, take time off.
- Have a coworker or partner be your watchdog, someone you can count on to set you straight if you are no fully prepared for work on a given day.
- Make your family the reason you want to stay alive by balancing their needs and yours.
- Keep healthy so you can handle situations of stress both at work and at home, because you know they will likely happen at the same time.
- Laugh when you burn the macaroni because you are thinking about work, and nuke a pizza pop instead. Shake it off and start over.
- Consider applying for positions in your police service, if available, that do not require as much of an operational edge. These can include community services, crime stoppers coordinator, training, or planning and research.
- Look at job-sharing opportunities if your police service offers it.