14 Ways to Overcome the Challenges of Being a LEO Family
Starting out in a Law Enforcement marriage was kind of like getting thrown into the middle of the ocean and being expected to swim to shore when you only know how to doggie paddle! I was able to do it, but I had to teach myself to be an Olympic swimmer to succeed, ha! I love, love, love being married to my Investigator husband. I wouldn’t change it for a million bucks. There are, however, many things in a LEO marriage that are unique and don’t usually arise in a “regular” marriage. Hopefully some of these tips will help you as you either begin your marriage to a Law Enforcement officer, or even if you’ve been with one for a while.
The Danger of the Job
The hardest thing to get used to might be the danger of his job. We’ve all heard of the recent spike in violence against police officers. The fear of something happening to the love of your life can be almost crippling at times. Believe me, I know, I’ve been there, done that (that being the freak out of waking up covered in sweat with tears on my face after a terrible dream involving my hubby’s job)! I’m here to tell you, it does get easier. The fear is never gone completely, but it does take a back burner to everyday life. I’ve found some things that help keep those nagging worries at bay.
Pray alone. Pray at the beginning of your day. Before I even step foot out of bed each morning, I pray. I ask God to protect my husband throughout his day, I ask that He give him the knowledge he’ll need to catch criminals, that He will bless him, and that He will give him the ability to be the many different men he’ll have to be throughout the day and the wisdom to know when to be which one. Robert may have to be kind and understanding to the victim of a crime one minute, funny and happy-go-lucky with a scared child the next, and tough no-nonsense investigator with a perpetrator still the next minute. Each day I may tweak my prayers, but every day, my honey is in them.
Pray all during your day for your spouse. Whenever I think of my husband, I say a quick little prayer for him. God doesn’t care how eloquent our prayers are, just that we come to Him. Italk to God on and off all day. You don’t have to necessarily be on your knees with your eyes closed to talk to God (although we should take time to talk to Him that way too). There are times when we just can’t bow our heads and close our eyes. I am sure the Lord does NOT want us to pray with closed eyes as we are driving our kids to baseball practice or chopping up veggies for dinner. That would probably add a whole new prayer request for healing to the list!
Pray together with your spouse. This will not only help with your fears for him, but also strengthen your marriage. Praying aloud with your spouse brings a closeness with God and each other. When my husband tells me he’s praying for something specific for me, I am overjoyed. I feel loved in a way that I never knew possible. I mean, wow, my honey is talking to the LORD about me! I have tears in my eyes now just thinking about it! It’s special enough to be told that you’re being prayed for, but for your love to hear you pray for them, or for you to hear them pray for you, is even more uplifting. It shows how much you love the other, and can even help you know what to pray for in the future. You hear the things that he is praying about, so you know what he’s thankful for, what he is worried about, and the things he finds most important in life. Try it for a week; you’ll see how much closer it brings you!
Study Your Bible
This is very important for Robert and I especially. God always puts a peace and comfort around me when I am delving into His Word. If you are feeling extra anxious about your love’s safety, say a prayer and begin reading your Bible. Look for verses on comfort, love, salvation, safety, marriage, or anything that brings you peace. When he’s home, study together. It’s extra time together, and you’re growing your Spiritual life at the same time! I have noticed that couples who stay strong in their faith together stay strong in their marriage and love life as well.
Don’t Worry About EVERY Siren
This one definitely gets easier with time. At first, I heard a siren and would start to think about every bad thing that could be happening. Do not let yourself do this! Most of the time, 99.9% of the time, everything is just fine. Usually a traffic incident. He’s probably speeding off to ruin some poor soccer mom’s day for driving way too fast because her kids wouldn’t get their shoes on fast enough, and now they’re super late for practice (I would have no ACTUAL knowledge of this, wink wink). I promise, after a few months, you will notice them less and less until you don’t notice them at all. If there is ever a problem, he’ll let you know. Don’t let every little thing scare you or get your heart rate flying high! You will burn out quickly like that. Trust in God to keep him safe, and trust that your hubby will let you know when something you need to know about happens. Also don’t let him tell you every little detail about the gruesome things that happen during his day if you can’t handle those things. I am one of those weird people who don’t mind gore. I wanted to grow up to be a surgeon (my beautiful daughter changed those plans happily), so I grew up watching real surgeries on TV, researching cow and pig hearts for science projects, etc. I can handle the gore, but I don’t want to hear a lot about bad things happening to children. Those things really bother me. Just ask him to leave out the things that really bother you when he tells you about his day.
Create a Code Together
Together you should create a short text code (or a call, whatever works for you) to let you know that he’s fine. That way if he knows that something has happened that will be on the news, he can shoot you a quick “K” via text so that you know he’s perfectly fine. When you do see it on the news, you’ll already know he’s fine so your mind can be at ease. Discuss the code you want and what it means between the two of you. That way when it comes, you’ll know what it means!
Shift work is so hard to deal with as a new couple or family. My husband went back and forth every month between day shift and night shift. It is a killer, I know!! It makes you unsure of when to even have food ready! I have learned a few tricks to help keep the bit of sanity you have remaining from slipping away!
Try to Keep Schedules the Same
For kids, especially, this is important. I was tempted to switch everyone over to night shift schedules every other month. I thought, heck, I love nights, hate mornings, and my little one isn’t in school yet and my oldest is homeschooled due to illness, why not switch schedules with him? When I did this though, the kids initially liked it, but they couldn’t play outside as much and the mood seemed to eventually turn down a bit in the home. Even I would start to feel a bit depressed. I learned that it’s best to keep everyone on the same schedules. To do this, you can make a “go bag” like I did. Each night while he was at work, I would gather everything I needed for the next morning. I didn’t want to have to come in and out of our bedroom and bathroom getting things, while he was trying to get enough sleep to go back on duty that night. Having everything I’d need for the day, allowed me to get ready in the other bathroom and let him sleep without interruption. I also still cooked the same amount whether he was working or not, and wrapped his plate up. I put it in the refrigerator so that he could have it for “his dinner” the next day. Once I kept the rest of the family on our normal schedules, it helped keep me and the kids sane and happy.
Fear of Being Alone at Night
If you are like me, you may find it very difficult to sleep while he works at night. I was terrified to be alone then, always worrying about the safety of the children and I. Don’t get me wrong, we live in a very safe community compared to most other communities in the world. Still, you hear stories from your husband, or maybe you’ve gone through something that causes this. Whatever the reason, you can find ways like I did to battle the fear.
- If you have protection, like many LEO wives, make sure you keep it in a lock box that you can get to and open quickly. Make sure that it’s safely put away from children or others that shouldn’t have access to it. Also make sure that you are properly instructed on how to use it, and have the proper legal documentation for it.
- Another way I feel safer is my husband. Our home was located in his patrol area. Anytime that I felt unsafe, I knew that I could call him and he would be there within a minute or two. Once, my son fell and busted his chin. There was blood everywhere. I called Hubby, and he was there in 3 minutes. No exaggeration. It put my mind at ease to know that I could call and he’d be there so quickly! Keep your phone right next to you at night so you know exactly where it is, and can call the cavalry if need be!
- Another great deterrent for criminals at any time of day, is a dog. Please don’t tell my husband or oldest daughter I said this! I will not let them get one (at least not yet). I guess I am incredibly weird, because I am terrified of dogs the way some people are afraid of snakes or spiders. I mean really terrified. My anxiety level hits the roof around them. I freak out that they might be covered in filth or germs or ticks and fleas or that they might come over and bite me or lick me. I know, it’s super weird. Most people love them. I guess being attacked by a stranger’s golden retriever at three years old while you’re just playing unsuspectingly in your own yard really scars a person. LOL! But, if you’re not like me, I encourage you to get one. It doesn’t even have to be a big one. Criminals are deterred by the sound of barking, worrying they might be caught because of the extra noise or that they’ll be attacked by the dog. My family is slowly wearing me down on getting one. I have promised as soon as we move, they can have one. They want a German shepherd… we’ll see about that!
Working Holidays and Other Important Events
Getting used to this is really hard, especially if you’ve never been in a relationship with someone who does shift work or have done it yourself. We naturally want our family together and whole on holidays like Christmas or Easter. We also want them with us if we are attending important events like a wedding or funeral. Sometimes they may be able to put in a request far enough in advance and get off, most of the time, however, they can’t get off, and we have to go alone. I’ve come up with some ways that we deal with this issue; hopefully they’ll help you as well!
Ask for Plenty of Notice about Events
Most of your friends and family will understand that with his job, you need a pretty good month or two heads up about upcoming birthday parties, weddings, anniversary shindigs, etc. Explain to them that he’d love to be there, and he’ll try to work it into his work schedule; however, sometimes he just won’t be able to get off. If they love both of you, they’ll understand that it’s not a slight against them if he can’t make it. Be understanding if sometimes you have to go it alone. Trust me, he’d much rather be there with you, than trying to explain to some drunk why it’s not ok for him “to just close his eyes for a second at a red light” as he hauls him off to jail!
Create a Close Network of LEO Wife/Family Friends
If I have an event that I want or need to attend, but my husband can’t get off for it, I take my girls! They’re LEO wives too, so they get it. Their husbands were on the same shift as my husband was when he was on patrol, so all of our nights without husbands were the same. I met them after my husband and I started dating, and they became my lifelines soon after. These ladies are wonderful! They get it. I urge you to do the same. Law Enforcement communities are always close because of the danger of their job. They trust each other with their lives every day, so most of the time, they become close friends after work as well. At Law Enforcement events, talk to some of the wives, sisters, girlfriends, cousins, or whoever they may be, of the other officers. They will understand how tough it can be to be a LEO wife/relative. Cultivate those friendships. They are invaluable!! Those friends won’t mind being a backup for your husband when you have to attend an event, and you can do the same for them!
Make Your Own Holiday Schedule
There will be years that your husband will have to work on Christmas. On those years, create your own holiday schedule. If he has to work on Christmas day, but he’s off Christmas Eve or Christmas Eve’s Eve (as I like to call it), have your family Christmas then. If he is off the day after Christmas, have it then. If your children are young enough, they won’t even know. Just ask others not to let them in on your little secret. If they are older, they’ll understand since they’ve known what Daddy does their entire lives. You can spend Christmas day with your extended family (parents, grandparents, siblings, etc.) or with your extended LEO family. The LEO wives on the same shift will be there for ya!
Helping Him Deal with the Stresses of His Job
A career in Law Enforcement can be one of the most mentally taxing careers that anyone could choose. Each and every day they deal with the scum of society and see terrible things. They learn quickly that the world isn’t fair, and that there’s real evil out there. This can be hard on the mind and body! When we are married the Bible says that we leave our father and mother and cleave to each other, that two become one flesh. It’s part of our job to make sure those stresses don’t follow him home and keep him down. The things I’ve learned might not be right for everyone, but hopefully they’ll lead you in the direction of what will work for you.
This probably seems obvious, but it is very important and can be hard at times. He may come home snappy and seeming like he’s just trying to pick a fight. More than likely, it’s been a particularly trying day. Wrap your arms around him (even though you probably just want to fire a snappy comeback and walk away), tell him you love him, and missed him that day. I know if anyone did that to me when I was being ugly, it would make me feel bad for taking my bad day out on them, and I’d apologize and explain my behavior. It’s definitely not that you want him to feel bad, it’s that you want him to feel better! When I follow through with this practice with my husband, we both feel much better. We aren’t arguing or being snippy; we end up having a wonderful night together when it could’ve gone the other way. He tells me that he appreciates when I am able to do this. Also, tell him how proud of him you are for the job he does. He needs to hear this from you as often as possible. There are so many people out there today who hate him for the job he does and for the badge he wears. It’s sad, but it’s unfortunately a major truth these days. If people that know your hubby is a cop tell you they’re proud of him, tell him about it. Lift him up any way you can!
Let Him Decompress
There’ll be times when he just needs a while to himself when he gets home. There may have been a particularly bad situation or a person who really just pushed his buttons. You will usually notice when this is the case. Don’t blame him for just needing that extra time as he adjusts from hard-nosed detective to loving family man. I know that even as moms we need a time-out every once in a while to just breathe. Those days when the kids just won’t listen, have torn up the house just after you finished a marathon day of cleaning, and have generally pushed you to your limit. Before you lose your mind, you need a breather! He needs the same occasionally. Try to understand and support him, even if your bad day falls on the same day as his (this may have been our case once or twice, hehe). Just tell him, “Honey, it looks like you’ve had a hard day. Why don’t you take a moment to yourself? If you don’t mind, I’ve had a rough day too, so once you’re relaxed you can play with the kids while I take a hot bath?” Usually you both get some time to decompress, and that makes for better family time together! Sometimes he may need a bit more time to decompress on his days off. Let him have a guys’ day every once in a while. It does them good to have some time to be “manly” and just act like a dude. We women don’t get some of their “fun” (i.e. being goofy, tooting, burping, etc.)!
Have a Date Night
With a job as stressful as law enforcement, it can be really hard to keep a marriage together. The statistics show that many more LEO marriages end in divorce than other marriages. I want to make sure my marriage stays healthy and happy till death do us part! We try to have a date night as often as we can. It has really helped our marriage to take time for just each other. The date nights don’t have to be expensive; they can even be free. Just make sure that at least twice a month, you have set aside time to be alone together. If you can, have dinner and a movie out. If you can’t get away from the kids, put them to bed and cuddle up with each other and a bowl of popcorn and have a movie night, just you and him. Talk to each other, take time to really listen to the other. This will keep your marriage strong and happy if you really put effort into it. Schedule it in like a doctor’s appointment if you have to, just make sure it happens! Also, make sure to hug, kiss, and hold hands often. These things can go by the wayside after a while in marriage. If you make an effort to do these things regularly, you’ll feel more fulfilled and happier with your spouse. It’s also good for the kids to see how a loving, caring, and happy marriage should be.
Have a Family Night
Keeping your family strong and making your children feel loved and important is essential to a happy LEO family. Kids love spending time with their parents when they have their undivided attention. It creates happy children that turn into happy teens who stay away from drugs and other bad influences. If I raise children to become well rounded adults who are happy and healthy, I will have succeeded in life! Each week, try to have a family night. Have everyone sit around the table and have dinner together first. We have a sit down dinner together almost every night, but I know for some families, this isn’t possible. After dinner, have uninterrupted time together. Play a board game or watch a movie with special “family night snacks.” Make it feel special; name your snacks after your family, “Johnson-movie-corn with Jax-cola and Say-skittles). Kids love feeling like it’s different from every other night, a family tradition that will stay with them forever. If you want to get active, play a Kinect game together or during daylight saving’s time go biking or take a nature walk as a family. Our kids, like most, love playing actively with us. This not only helps everyone to bond, but it also keeps everyone healthy! Win, win! I promise, your children will not care what you all do, as long as you do it together!
- Use Your LEO extended Family
Your family in blue can be an asset here as well. They know what you’re going through as a family. Other LEO wives will understand your plight, and the officer will understand your husband’s. Have family days with their family at times. Talk with your friends when you need a sounding board, and be there to listen when she does as well. I’ve seen my husband’s buddies come to him in times of family crisis and vice versa. It helps to know that others have been there too, and it maybe isn’t as bad as you think. Really nourish those relationships; they are priceless!!!
I really hope these tips have helped you in your journey to be a happier LEO wife and family!! Let me know any other tips you might use in your day to day life. Leave a comment or email me! Follow us on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Google+. I’d love to hear from you. Stop by often as I’ll be posting several times each week!