By Michelle Beshears, professor of Criminal Justice at American Military University
In honor of National Police Week, it is important to recognize the sacrifices made by law enforcement families. Due to the nature of police work, being a police officer can have major impacts on an officer’s family—especially on their children—so it’s important this week to honor both officers and their families.
[Related article: Prepare Your Spouse for a Law Enforcement Life]
Impacts on Children of Police Officers
Children of police officers know all too well the danger their parent faces on a daily basis. Children see news reports and social media postings about officers killed in the line of duty. They also hear negative comments about police officers in the news, in school, or in public that can leave them confused and scared.
Children often feel disconnected from a significant part of their parent’s life because there are so many things about an officer’s day that he or she cannot and should not share with children or other family members. It is important for officers to address issues in the news and talk to their children about the job to help alleviate their fears.
It is also important to talk to kids about the reality of the work schedule. Officers often miss holidays and special occasions because of their jobs. In reality, officers sometimes go many days without seeing their children due to shift work and overtime hours. Children need to understand the work schedule so they know what to expect and understand when their parent cannot attend some of their events.
As hard as officers work to protect their families from the horrors of their job, the stress that they feel can be sensed by their children. Children may not know the specifics of why their parent is stressed, but they see the concern in their face and hear it in their voice.
[Related article: Coping with the Stress of Police Work]
One challenge in sharing stressful situations with family is that often officers cannot comprehend it themselves. How do you explain to an 8 year old about how a mother or father could have killed their own child? How do you tell them you had to shoot a man who pulled a gun on you without worrying them? How do you share that an officer in your department pulled someone over for speeding and was shot in the face as he approached the driver’s side window?
There are no easy answers about how to share these situations with children. It is a tough balance for an officer to explain why they feel stressed or upset without providing information that could cause worry and stress for family members. However, as hard as it might be, communication is critical for law enforcement families.
Officers should work to keep an open dialog with family members, especially children. They need to know about times of particular stress. Officers should also frequently ask family members how they feel about the job.
[Related Article: Law Enforcement Family Stress: When Counseling Counts]
During National Police Week, as we remember and honor police officers around the country, be sure to remember their families. Officers take an oath to protect and serve; however, many times this duty is at the expense of their own family’s well-being.
About the Author: Michelle L. Beshears earned her baccalaureate degrees in social psychology and criminal justice and graduate degrees in human resource development and criminology from Indiana State University. She most recently completed her PhD in Business Administration with a specialization in Criminal Justice. Mrs. Beshears served in the U.S. Army for 11 years. She obtained the rank of Staff Sergeant prior to attending Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia where she earned her commission. As a commissioned officer Mrs. Beshears has led numerous criminal investigations and worked with several external agencies as well. As a civilian she has worked with the local sheriff’s department, state drug task force and FBI. Mrs. Beshears resides with her husband Michael, their son Hunter, and daughter Malia near Norfork and Bull Shoals Lakes, in Clarkridge, Arkansas. Michelle is currently an assistant Professor of criminal justice at American Military University & American Public University and is full-time faculty in the School of Security and Global Studies. You can contact her at michelle.beshears(at)mycampus.apus.edu.