By SARA ARTHURS
When one spouse works a different shift than the other, a couple doesn’t get much time to spend together, but they may find there are advantages, too, such as not having to pay for child care.
Take Marisel and John Brant of Findlay, both of whom work at Cooper Tire and Rubber Co.
Marisel, the lead credit coordinator at Cooper, works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. John, lead supervisor for tire assembly, works from 6:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. John, who works seven out of 14 days, said his schedule varies, often with two days on and then days off. On his days off he’s able to take their children to activities such as baseball practice, or have lunch with his wife.
On a typical day John gets home from work at 7 a.m. Marisel leaves at 7:45 a.m.
“That’s just enough time for me to make coffee and get her on her way,” John said.
The couple have three children, ages 17, 10 and 8. While the 17-year-old is fairly self-sufficient the younger ones require more care.
In the morning, John will get the children off to school and then go to sleep. He wakes up about the time they get home from school.
Marisel gets home from work about 5:15 p.m. and John needs to leave about half an hour later.
“We rush,” Marisel said.
The couple have been on this schedule for about six years. They like that they have no child care costs.
And they are both able to spend time with their children, just not at the same time, John said.
The family tries to eat dinner together as much as possible and Marisel said John likes cooking.
“It’s basically sit down, eat, goodbye,” she said.
John said working nights means sometimes he has to miss the children’s school functions.
But when he has had the opportunity to change his schedule to work days he has declined, preferring the arrangement they have now.
“There’s always an adult with the kids,” Marisel said.
John said spending some time away each day has advantages. Having some space and time apart means each of them has new things to talk about with the other when they are together.
The National Institutes of Health funded a study that found that “working nonday shifts may be a risk factor for depressive symptoms and relationship conflict.”
Researchers looked at new parents and followed 132 couples. Only a small number worked fixed night shifts but many worked fixed evening shifts. The researchers defined “evening” as between 4 p.m. and midnight and “night shift” as between midnight and 8 a.m.
The study found that it was particularly stressful when shifts rotated and the authors noted that research suggests that “constant change in work schedules is more challenging, both physically and psychologically, than fixed schedules.”
In the majority of families, when one partner worked an evening/night or rotating shift, the other partner worked days, the study found. Researchers also looked at whether couples had deliberately changed their work schedules to manage child care but found that only seven couples, or 5 percent of those involved in the study, changed work shift schedules during the time period around their child’s birth.
The researchers stated that working alternating shifts is “a growing trend among parents of young children” but that research has found it’s less often a parental choice to reduce child care costs and “more often a nonnegotiable job condition.” The researchers stated that about 16.8 percent of all full-time wage and salary employees work evening shifts, night shifts, rotating shifts or irregular shifts.
There are both advantages and disadvantages to couples working different shifts, said Andrea Mata, Ph.D., assistant professor in psychology at the University of Findlay.
“The children are always around one of their parents,” Mata said.
And, while there’s not necessarily anything wrong with having a child in day care, there is something to be said for children being raised by their own parents, she said.
Another advantage is that each person gets to “maintain their autonomy. … They keep their independence,” Mata said.
This means they get to do what they want to do with their spare time, watch what television shows they want to watch, and make these kinds of decisions on their own, she said.
“You don’t have to compromise with your significant other,” she said.
The disadvantages are that “we know that social support is a huge protective factor” and when someone is stressed at work, having health issues or otherwise going through difficult times the support of a partner is a great help. When that support comes mainly through phone calls rather than in person it could tax a relationship, she said.
Mata’s advice for families on how to make it work?
“Weekends, as much as possible, have quality time,” she said.
Mata said whether working different shifts is a good fit for couples depends on “how independent the individuals are” and the quality of the relationship.
“How good is their communication?” she said. “How good is their trust? … Trust is going to play a big role in this.”
For example, if someone thinks their significant other is likely to cheat, it can be particularly hard to have large quantities of time apart, she said.
But Mata said there are both “pluses and minuses.”
“It’s not necessarily a bad thing for couples,” she said.
Mata experienced something similar herself, although separated by distance rather than schedules. In her first year of marriage, she was completing a clinical internship in Omaha, Nebraska, while her husband lived in Texas. The couple got to visit each other about once a month.
Mata had heard that the first year of marriage is supposed to be one of the hardest, as each partner adapts to the other’s life. Instead, she and her husband each had their own apartment and could set it up the way they wanted to.
“It motivated me to get everything done, including my dissertation, when I was in Omaha,” so that when she visited her husband she could be sure to have quality time with him.
When psychologists talk about relationships, “we’re always looking at the quality, not the quantity of time,” Mata said.
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