The Spill-Over Effect: 5 ways shift work and family dinnertime can come together.

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Supper’s ready!” (Our house is really loud.)

What’re we having?”


“What kind of food?”


“HaHa mom… Seriously.”

“C’mere and see for yourself.”

Meanwhile…(Stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp as kids come from all directions of the house, usually with one or two friends in tow.)

“Where’s dad?”

“At work.”

“Still?  Is he coming?”

“Well I texted him 10 minutes ago that supper was ready but he hasn’t shown up yet.”

“I’ll try again.”

“Put your phone away.”

“Dad’s not here again?  He hasn’t been here all week.”

“He probably had a call.  He’ll come if he can.  Let’s eat.”

“I’ll wait.”

“Then you’ll probably be waiting until midnight.  Sit down and eat.”

“What is this food anyway?”

Generally that’s what you’ll hear around 6pm at our house.  Eating dinner together as a family has always been super important to me.  This is when we put away the screens and actually talk about our day.  This is when we laugh until milk comes out our nose or bicker as we break bread.  In the early days we hoped Bulldog would be able to pop in for a family supper if he was out on patrol, or I’d give the kids a big afternoon snack and push back serving dinner if his shift ended close to meal time.  Then reality hit.  More often than not he’d be on his way and have to respond to a situation, or be 5 minutes before the end of his shift and get a call, only to show up for supper 2 hours later than we’d expected.The spill over effect is when the strains of working shift work spill over into the home.  Shiftwork has disrupted our lives in ways I couldn’t have imagined.  It’s been one of the biggest struggles we have had in dealing with how Bulldog’s work has influenced our family.  As a result we’ve had to get creative with ways to deal with the obstacles shift work has dealt us and adjusting family dinnertime was one of the biggest.

Here are some ways to support your spouse as they work shift work, and keep still mealtime meaningful.

  1. Keep a plate warm in the oven.  I have a warming drawer in my oven.  Before Bulldog joined the RCMP I’d only used it to store my frying pans.   Now when his chair is empty at the dinner table I dish up a plate for him and pop it in the warming drawer.  No more frying pans in the oven!
  2. Bring a family meal to the break room.  Work places are becoming more and more family friendly.  If you know exactly when your spouse’s break is going to be make an adventure out of dinner time. Pack up the kids and bring over a warm casserole to eat in the break room.  Not only will your spouse be pleasantly surprised, your spouse becomes a great role model for your kids as a hard working mom or dad.
  3. Keep homemade foods and meals ready to go in the freezer.  Often my day goes to hell in a hand basket.  Between 3 kids, 2 dogs, work, errands, homework, drama class, voice lessons, clubs, etc. supper together doesn’t always happen.  On those days when we just can’t eat together I have meals handy in the freezer.  Your spouse will love you for having something handy to quickly heat up when they come home in the middle of the night exhausted and starving.
  4. Have a pizza delivered to the break room.  The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.  If you can’t eat together then show that you’re still thinking of them by having a pizza they can share with their coworkers delivered to their workplace.  You’ll be the most talked about wife in the workplace… in a good way!
  5. Have a cooking day with the kids to make special single serving meals to have handy in the freezer and easy to pop into a lunch box.  Have the kids decorate labels with a special message for dad and stick it on top of the container.

Maintaining a strong relationship with someone who works shift work takes a huge amount of effort.  Usually they just want to feel included and thought of when they can’t be there.

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