According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 15 million Americans work evening shift, night shift, rotating shifts, or other employer arranged irregular schedules.
The World Health Organization’s Agency for Research on Cancer listed “shift work that involves circadian disruption” as a probable contributor to cancer in 2007.
Have you ever noticed that it is our finest citizens (police, armed forces, security, fire, hospital, EMS, all service industry employees) that take one for the team? We live in a culture that is Peterbilt around the infrastructure of a nine to five schedule. Monday: children’s program. Tuesday: Bunko Night. Wednesday: church home group. Thursday: premier television. Friday: date night. Another day. Another week. Does anyone notice all the missing faces across the evening landscape? A spouse who carries a double load to compensate for the absent working parent. Children disjointed. A family disconnected from the cadence of their community.
It isn’t a malignant diagnosis, but it requires strategic planning to avert the disintegration that can result. And the best defense is a good offense. Shift families should not try to fit the mold of Nine-to-Fivers. It’s better to create your own unique family dynamic, playing into the very elements that could be the enemy.
In over ten years of marriage, we joined the Nine-to-Fivers for only one of those years. The rest of the time, our coping mechanism has been ever changing. For a while, we had Girls Only Game Nights. Picnics in a living room tent. Friday Night Movie Night. Breakfast Bonanzas instead of Family Dinners (read: distractions). But as our girls get older, it seems they need more relationship than routine. So we are brainstorming for new and fresh ways to stay connected with each other and the world out there where everything comes in even numbers and we always seem to come out odd.
Our latest idea involves three colorful journals. The children are now maintaining a conversation with their father through a mail slot installed in the kitchen. They write about their day and their thoughts. Friends and foes. Hopes and dreams and fears. And he sits in the silence of midnight to write them all back. Advice about bullies. Help with a math problem. Stories from his childhood. And between every hand-written line: love and affirmation.
Every day, I watch them race from the bus stop to the mail slot. They crouch in their private corners to read what Daddy has written (and giggle and glow with adoration). Then they pick up their pen and share another chapter of a small life quickly passing. And I know that we have found one more bridge to get us from today to tomorrow.
I hope that this will tie together the ends that fall loose as his chair sits empty at the dinner table. The celebrations and heartbreaks that unfold between five o’clock and the bedtime stories. And that maybe someday they will reflect back on these journals scribbled with childhood scrawl and an exhaustive love and remember a beautifully odd landscape. Where their father worked hard working late. Where their mother creatively filled the gaps with board games. And where the best memories came through the mail slot in the kitchen.