Parenting in shifts: ‘Preparation and organisation is absolutely vital’

Taking turns to parent and to work takes a lot of organisation

Laura Guckian, her husband, Brendan, and their three children: They both  organise their work around childcare, with her working evenings and weekends while he is on a more traditional schedule

Laura Guckian, her husband, Brendan, and their three children: They both organise their work around childcare, with her working evenings and weekends while he is on a more traditional schedule

 

Being a parent can be one of the most fulfilling and joyous roles any of us will experience in our lifetime, but it can also be hard work, not to mention expensive.

For previous generations, parental tasks were largely divided into two specific roles (more often than not defined by gender) – namely carer and breadwinner. But thankfully these days, most couples divvy up these tasks and, where possible, both continue to pursue their career while also being hands-on parents.

However, between childcare costs, the effects of the pandemic and the logistics involved in trying to juggle a career and family life, many parents have taken to caring for their children in shifts.

Detective Sergeant Rachel Fitzpatrick works in the Divisional Protective Services Bureau in Dundrum Garda station. Her partner, Niall Kennedy, is also in the force and together they have a six-year-old daughter and four-year-old twin sons. She says their home and family life is hectic, but having good organisational skills has meant that, so far, everything is running smoothly.

“We work at the same station and both work shifts with me doing four days on and four days off while Niall does six on and four off. Usually we try to work back to back so we can take over from each other, but sometimes that doesn’t work out if our shifts overlap, in which case, I will try to do work at home to make up for any missed time.

“I am very focused on the logistics and do a spreadsheet which we keep on the kitchen fridge with information on what days each of us is working, who is doing school runs, pick-ups and taking to activities – also who needs to take leave to mind the kids if our roster is overlapping. We often meet in the station to switch cars depending on who has done the school run and who needs to pick up so there is a lot of organisation involved.

“Sometimes we end up having rest days together which is great, but it also means that it will be chaotic for a few days afterwards and one of us is likely to need to take leave to cover childcare.

“Of course it can be stressful as we both want to prioritise time we spend with the kids, but having been at it for six years, we are used to it and we’re now both studying as well to further our careers, so there is even more going on.

“So, despite the busyness of it and the nightmare we sometimes have juggling it all, there are a lot of positives, the biggest being that the kids are always with one or other of us – apart from the odd time when we have to get someone to mind them if there is a short crossover with us both being at work – so it is amazing in that respect.

“My advice for anyone else who might be considering doing this is that preparation and organisation is absolutely vital for this to work. Both parties have to be up to speed on what is required and who is doing what. Of course, there are sacrifices when it comes to the parents’ relationship as there is so little extra time for that, but we believe it is worth it as it is hugely beneficial for the children. Sure, it’s not for everyone and it is extremely difficult when the kids are very small, but it gets better in time, and I really believe that the long-term gain outweighs the negatives.”

‘We’re very fortunate that if there are times when our shifts clash, my mother can help out’

Noelle Fahy is also a garda. She works in Longford town while her husband, Noel, is a supervisor in a factory and together they have three children aged one, four and nine. They both do shift work, so not only do they organise their home life around each other’s roster, but also factor in Noelle's sister, who works in a hospital and if she needs someone to mind her kids, they will cover and she will do the same for them.

“Noel works both day and night shifts, so his hours are quite unsocial, and I work shifts of two earlies and two lates so 7am to 7pm and vice versa. Life is very busy and there is a lot of organising involved in making sure that childcare is covered and whoever is at home does everything with the kids.

“But we’re very fortunate that if there are times when our shifts clash, my mother can help out. Without her, we would be goosed as some days we both need to be gone by 6am so she will come down and be with them until they go to school and then either she or my sister will pick up if both of us are working.

“We do a roster once a month to work everything out and sometimes there is nothing for it, but to take leave to mind the kids. However, my sister and I also help each other out. She works shifts as a nurse so when I’m off I will take her kids and she does the same for me.

“Of course, the fact that Noel and I both work shifts means that there is very little family time, and it is really rare that all five of us are together. But on the flip side, one of us is nearly always there so between us we are there for bits of every aspect of their lives. And it’s particularly beneficial when it comes to childcare costs as if we had to pay for three children, it would make life really difficult.”

‘Getting time together as a family can be challenging’

Laura Guckian lives in Tipperary with her husband, Brendan, and their three children aged five, two and seven months.

She runs her own life coaching business – Mind Mommy Coaching – while he works in financial services and although they don’t work shifts, they work from home and organise their work around childcare, with her working evenings and weekends while he is on a more traditional schedule.

Laura Guckian, her husband, Brendan, and their three children: They both organise their work around childcare, with her working evenings and weekends while he is on a more traditional schedule
Laura Guckian, her husband, Brendan, and their three children: They both organise their work around childcare, with her working evenings and weekends while he is on a more traditional schedule

“Thankfully Brendan no longer has to commute to Dublin, and this has been really beneficial in supporting our childcare needs and our wellbeing as a family. He now gets to see the kids in the morning and also puts them to bed as I do a lot of work in the evenings. I’m usually exhausted at that stage as after spending the day taking care of the children, I’m often ready for bed when they are, so it can be really hard to face into a few hours of work.

“Also, we don’t have as much time to spend together as a family at weekends because sometimes I am working, and the children don’t always get to have time with the two of us together. So while we both get to spend lots of time with them, getting time together as a family can be challenging.”

The pandemic, along with working from home, has shone a light on the need for parents to divide and conquer

While it may seem as though their entire lives is a balancing act, child psychologist Peadar Maxwell says parenting in shifts is “as normal and natural as any approach to parenting”.

“Parents have been dividing up their responsibilities and duties since we were hunting and gathering,” he says. “Differences in our work, traditional gender roles and preferences all meant that we tended to do certain things and the pandemic, along with working from home, has shone a light on the need for parents to divide and conquer.

“With working, maintaining the home and cooking, we can’t be available for our children all the time, so dividing things up can give one parent a break or time to get things done.”

Between childcare costs, the pandemic and the logistics involved in trying to juggle a career and family life, many parents have taken to caring for their children in shifts. Photograph: iStock

But the Wexford-based expert says the division of labour has to be equal. “It needs to be fair for both as well as ensuring that neither avoids any aspect of their parenting relationship. In other words, no avoiding something tiresome like the washing up, the shopping or the bedtime routine,” he says. “If one parent seems to be ‘on duty’ more than the other it can cause resentment, so a plan is essential and it is a good idea to be clear about the time each person needs for work, exercise and some child-free time to connect with other family and friends.

“Couples should divvy up household tasks as equally as possible but try not to do everything separately. Busy parents can use joint parenting or co-housekeeping to chat and share a laugh. Children will learn a great lesson from witnessing this sharing of labour and seeing their parents get along. But if shift parenting [and housework] is the only option, then planning some time together separately is also important.”

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