I’m a Mom and a Firefighter, and My Wife Works Full Time

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Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

There are many different ways to be a working mom. In Making It Work, a new column, women with kids and careers tell us how they organize their lives. This week: the firefighter, 35, with a 3-year-old.

I’m on for 24 hours, off for 48. On the days I don’t work, I take care of my daughter, Addison. On the days I do, she goes to preschool. Luckily, I’ve always had good crews who are super supportive of having my family come in for meals or visits, which has helped a lot. Right now, my crew is made up of two men and two women.

A lot of the guys I’ve worked with have stay-at-home wives, but my wife works full time. When I get offered overtime, I have to turn it down. Even though it’s smart monetarily, it’s detrimental to my family. I don’t like missing my kid; I miss enough as it is. That’s the kind of thing a lot of my coworkers with stay-at-home partners don’t understand.

There are definitely pros and cons to working 24-hour shifts. I love my job and being at the fire station. And I get to see Addison a lot more than someone with a 40-hour workweek might. I see what happens when my wife gets home. It’s a barrage of action: dinner, clean up, go to bed. If I had only that, I feel like I’d be missing out.

But down the road, when Addison gets older and has extracurriculars, knowing I could probably never be as involved as other parents are kind of bums me out. I just hope I’m more available by then.

And when I work on a Saturday or Sunday, we get only one day together as a family. It’s hard when you’re spending more time taking care of each other apart than together. That’s probably my biggest struggle as a wife, parent, and firefighter.

When I work back-to-back shifts or holidays, my family usually comes for lunch. I try to cook something my daughter will eat. Then I take a radio to the park across the street, and we play for an hour or so. Addison loves to look at the fire engine. If we get a call, we have to go. I’ve had my family here when a chief comes by, and he just says hi and introduces himself. Other people do it, too. My old lieutenant’s spouse would come by with her dog, and we would throw the tennis ball.

We average about five to six calls a day, and typically, only one or two of those comes in after midnight. I have some friends at busier stations, and I have no idea how they do it. If I get three or four calls after midnight, I’m a zombie the next day. But that’s very rare.

I’ve definitely had to adjust a lot of things since having a kid. I love working out. Before I had this job, I was a personal trainer. I’d go to the gym for a couple of hours when I got off work. Now I try to work out when I start my shift in the morning and then again before I go home; I’ll get up at 5:30 or 6 a.m. and work out before I leave the station. So I’m getting at least four to five days a week of exercise. It helps me handle stress, and I need to be in shape to do my job. I still have a gym membership, but they might see me twice a month versus just about every day.

I used to play in softball and basketball leagues; now I’m down to one night a week. I still have a lot of friends, but I mainly hang out with the ones who understand that I have to get my kid to bed at a certain time and I can’t find a sitter on short notice. They know we need a plan three weeks in advance. Spontaneity is pretty much gone in my life. I also like to hunt and fish. I used to take as many trips in a year as I wanted. Now I’m down to one elk-hunting trip a year and one weekend for deer hunting.

I look back at my life prior to having a child and I’m like, what did I do with all my time? I could have done so much more. If I don’t have Addison for a few hours now, I get so much done. I could have built a house with all the time I had! But you can’t understand that until you have a kid.

When I talk to my childless friends now, they’re busy with acupuncture appointments and personal-training sessions. They ask me why I can’t get together, and I’m like, I’m trying to raise a decent human being! I can’t just tie her to a pole and leave out snacks. I used to spend my time doing such trivial things — they were great, but they weren’t at all necessary. My attention to self has changed immensely.

Since becoming a mom, I don’t necessarily worry more about getting hurt. But I do worry about bringing home communicable diseases, like MRSA or hepatitis. Now if a patient has a cough, I wear a mask, whereas before, I often didn’t wear one. And I do a much better job of cleaning my gear and myself after being exposed to any carcinogens on a fire. The cancer risk for firefighters is really high, so if there’s any chance of breathing in anything harmful, I always mask up early. Before, I would wait until it was absolutely necessary. I’m more calculated and clearheaded when making safety decisions for myself and my crew. It must be the mom gene kicking in.