A police officer recently confided his concerns about being a good parent...and if that is even possible in policing due to shift work, unsociable hours, the stressful nature of the job and CONSTANTLY being kept on at the end of a shift as well as the inevitable missing out on precious family time. I replied, of course it's possible!
I believe good parenting is actually about providing ‘good enough’ parenting and police officers are no different to anyone else on that score. Quality time with your children far outweighs quantity - providing fun, warm and happy memories for the kids builds the foundations for a good parent/child relationship to flourish as they grow. Remember the simple things – playing ball in the park, making a camp in the back garden, laying on the trampoline watching the clouds – these are the types of things kids really like to do...especially if these activities involve you as well.
Working for the police can prompt a view of the world that is different to the average person. You know what utterly sad, distressing and tragic events are going on every day. Hopefully you are able to manage this as best as possible by making the most of your rest days and down time to counteract this view, being careful to not be too overprotective with loved ones. Security and stability are important, extremely important, but overprotectiveness can be stifling and ultimately disempowering.
This might sound obvious, but it's important to tell your children you love them regularly and when you are proud of them – don’t assume that they automatically know. Putting words to your emotions might take practice for some but it eases the path for your child to return the honesty of feeling and be able to approach you when sadness and anger takes hold, as well as expressing joy. If you are a shift worker or family life is going through a period of instability and you aren't around at bedtimes or other important times of day, try having a particular cuddly toy that is with your child at bedtime or first thing in the morning that reminds them of you for when you can't be there. That way, your child can still feel connected to you.
Again, communication flow maintains relationships and taking an interest in your children’s hobbies, school work, who their friends are, helps everyone to feel more included in family life. The positives to shift work is that you do get to experience the odd school drop-off and collection so combine this with a trip to the park occasionally to build in positive associations.
I know as a police officer, you may experience some very bad days which can lead to a build up of stress, impacting on your mental health and wellbeing, let alone the pressures of having a young family mixed in. Share with your children in a way that is age appropriate, what is going on for you by using words in a calm tone to explain how you feel. For example, “Daddy is a bit sad at the moment because ………….but I am going to ……………to try to make things better.” This way your child will know that they are not at fault for your change in mood and feel reassured that you are going to take action to improve things (no matter how small). You might think by keeping your thoughts/emotions to yourself you can keep your child okay, that somehow they shouldn't know when you are suffering as this might show weakness or cause them to be distressed. The truth is, they will know. You will show them you are not okay by leaking negative behaviour - snappiness, avoidance, irritability and if there is no explanation, then a child may think that they are at fault and the causation of your distress.
The most important advice I can give any police officer is to seek support from a source you trust when you are struggling emotionally for any reason. Putting a brave face on at work often means that your nearest and dearest will experience the opposite. If you are consistently angry, irritable and tearful at home then you owe it to yourself and your family to get some help…there is plenty there for when you wish to take that step.