For separating and divorcing parents, sorting out children’s care schedules can be a challenge even in the best of circumstances. It’s even more difficult when one or both parents have work hours that vary from week to week. This situation is exceptionally hard on children and parents. Recent research, outlined in the Washington Post, examines the negative consequences associated with just-in-time scheduling and erratic shifts, which are becoming a routine feature of many jobs across North America today.
In the article, the researchers outline the scope of the issue based on a survey of 84,000 people working in food-service companies and retail chains.
Only about one in five of the people we surveyed work a regular daytime shift. About two-thirds of workers receive their weekly work schedule with less than two weeks’ notice, and one third get less than one week’s notice. Sixteen percent get less than 72 hours’ notice — a scenario that makes it basically impossible to plan child care, family meals or homework time.
A particular onerous task demanded of retail and food-service workers is to work a closing shift and then, immediately afterward, the opening shift (say, closing the store at 11 p.m. then returning to open a few hours later). That’s called a “clopening,” and half of our respondents said they’d worked one.
More than a quarter reported they’d been asked to be on call — meaning they set aside a block of time for the company but might not end up working or getting paid.
Parents and children feel the effect of shift work
The scheduling challenges separated partners who do shift work have is something we at Evans Family Law encounter often. However, as family lawyers, I think we sometimes focus exclusively on the effect that a schedule has on the children without fully considering the challenges faced by the person trying to manage an unpredictable schedule.
Such situations underscore the value of involving parenting coaches as part of the separation process, which is a staple of collaborative law work. Parenting coaches usually have credentials as social workers, psychologists, or marriage and family therapists.
What a parenting coach has to say
I reached out to Judy Baskerville, a parenting coach in Winnipeg, to get her thoughts about the challenges of shift-work when it comes to helping families reorganize their lives and schedules as a result of their separation. Here is what Judy had to say:
Shift-work has existed as far back as ancient Roman times when deliveries were limited to night hours to decrease traffic (Monk and Folkard, 1992) with it really taking off in the late 1800s with the invention of the light bulb.
The demographic trends in which many individuals work rotating shifts, split shifts, non-day shifts, and irregular shifts can have harmful effects on them. Research shows that shift work is associated with higher levels of stress, depression, anxiety, and lower levels of psychological well-being (Jenkins et al., 2007).
Furthermore, Harrington (2001) points out that one of the most critical physiological problems associated with shift work, and night shifts in particular, is that working, eating, and sleeping phases are changed, thus increasing the risk of accidents and cardiovascular mortality. As Saulle et al. (2018) state, shift work may change dietary behaviour since those who work shift work are more likely to consume snacks rather than full meals.
Couples with children in which one or both parents work shift work can experience real challenges, particularly so when life changes have resulted in separation and divorce as they struggle to find work-family balance. Not only is the separating couple with children met with the potential for an increase in relationship conflict as they re-organize their family, as parents, they are met with a multitude of challenges including but not limited to:
- Developing a parenting schedule with their former spouse or partner
- Lack of time with the children
- Lack of routine meals with family
- Missing significant milestones in the children’s lives because they are unable to get time off to attend events
- Cost of childcare and before and after school programs
- Continuity of care
- Reliance on family and friends to provide childcare
- Dealing with their mood and energy level after working a shift
- Arranging for the children’s activities and lessons, helping with homework, attending extracurricular activities
- Not being able to share a complementary shift in which at least one parent can be with the children
Coaches, in collaboration with families, can assist with the day-to-day challenges of family life by helping to manage conflict and optimizing communication so that the couples can successfully move through the separation and divorce process and co-parent their children.
Needless to say, someone of Judy’s knowledge and expertise brings a completely different and beneficial perspective to the process of reorganizing a family than a lawyer might bring to the table. Having a parenting coach, such as Judy, assist with the practical realities and emotional and psychological impacts of separation is invaluable. Many aspects of family reconfiguration go beyond what legal provisions can address.