Skip to main content
Avg ER Wait
Checking ER Wait Time
The feed could not be reached
Grand Strand Medical Center
South Strand Medical Center

Shiftworking Parents: How to Stay Connected to Your Children

IMAGE It is hard enough for parents who work 9 to 5 to stay connected with their children. Imagine working the 3 pm to 11 pm or 7 pm to 7 am shift. For many parents, it means missing sporting events, parent-teacher conferences, and family activities, not to mention dinner and bedtime.

The good news is that many families make it work.

Accepting Your Situation

Making it work involves 3 things:

  • Accepting that you and/or your spouse work a nontraditional schedule
  • Communicating that to your children
  • Working within that framework to recognize and take advantage of the opportunities that nontraditional schedules offer

That may mean eating birthday cake for breakfast or celebrating Thanksgiving on a Tuesday. Valuing family time, whenever it happens, will relieve a lot of shiftwork-related stress.

Using Good Communication and Organization

Shiftworking parents make it work by:

  • Making a concerted effort to stay in touch with their children while they are growing up
  • Being organized and detail-oriented, arranging their schedules each week to make sure that all the bases are covered

Reducing Guilt and Stress

Many shiftworking parents assume a lot of guilt. The guiltier you feel about your work schedule, the more stress both you and your children will feel. Whining about your awful hours, even if your goal is to let your children know that you are just as unhappy with the situation as they are, is an invitation to them to join in the whining, thus increasing your feelings of guilt.

It is helpful to remember that there are a lot of options available to shiftworking parents and their children that are not available to those who work a regular day. Parents who work evening shifts are often able to help with classroom activities or serve as lunchroom monitors at their children's schools. Parents who work overnight shifts arrive home as their children are getting up in the morning and can better enjoy breakfast time because they are not rushing to get off to work themselves. Some households don't have to use daycare or babysitters because one parent is home or available.

Negotiating a Contract With Your Teen

If you have more than one child, work out individual, age-appropriate contracts with each. This may involve discussing curfews, rules for daily conduct, and responsibilities. Put your contract in writing and sign it. Meet regularly to discuss how the contract is working.

Being a Noncustodial Shiftworking Parent

Visits between a child and a noncustodial shiftworking parent can be more challenging. The means to success are to show up, be present, and be committed. Stay in touch with telephone calls, letters, email, and visits whenever possible.

Weighing the Pros and Cons

Teens whose parents work nontraditional hours may develop greater maturity and home management skills at a younger age. On the other hand, when shiftworking parents do not pay enough attention to detail and are not committed to being present in their children's lives, the resulting overabundance of independence combined with a lack of direction and boundaries can lead to behavior problems and difficulties in school.

Making It Work

Schedule Time Together

Here are tips for making the most of your situation:

The lack of contact that can result from shiftwork can make meaningful interaction difficult, so it is especially important to schedule time together.

Put everything, especially family time, on a calendar. Routine is important.

If you cannot make it to the soccer match or band concert, have a family member videotape the event and schedule a time when you and your child can watch the video together while they recount the high points. Want to attend a family party but have to leave early to go to work? Take 2 cars so you can get some enjoyment from the event without making everyone leave early because of your schedule.

Don't forget to set rules pertaining to acceptable reasons for waking a sleeping shiftworker.

Keep a positive attitude about your schedule and look for the opportunities it offers. Always find a way to be grateful for what you have.Share your positive attitude with your children by letting them know that this is how your family works and you're doing fine—you just march to the beat of a different drummer.

  • American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

  • Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians

  • Canadian Mental Health Association

  • Canadian Psychological Association

  • How to manage shift work and you social life. National Sleep Foundation website. Available at: Accessed October 14, 2015.

  • Ludden J. How to make shift work family friendly. NPR website. Available at: Published March 17, 2010. Accessed October 14, 2015.

  • The risks of shift work. American Academy of Pediatrics. Healthy Children website. Available at: Updated August 20, 2015. Accessed October 14, 2015.