By Matthew Loux, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice at American Military University
Preparing for a career in law enforcement requires more than just preparing yourself—you must also prepare your significant other and your family for the realities of a law enforcement life.
Since junior high, all I ever wanted to be was a cop. So, after graduating college, I jumped at the chance to become an officer. When I got married, my wife knew how much I loved the job. We dated long enough for her to know my work schedule and my desire to hold different positions within the department; she even pushed me to go back to school.
The first few years were hard. I worked midnights and she worked days, so we only saw each other for short periods of time in the evenings. Oftentimes, I watched the kids while she worked and, when she got home, she would take over while I slept for a few hours. It made it even harder when I had to work double shifts to help make ends meet. The only thing that got us through those tough times was communication.
Talk to Your Family About the Realities of Police Work
Family problems can easily come to the surface if your spouse is not fully onboard. Here are points you should discuss with your family before accepting a position with a police department:
- Officers are often on-call 24 hours a day.
- Shift work, irregular days off, and overtime hours are routine parts of the work week.
- Officers carry guns while off-duty and bring them into the home.
- Law enforcement is a stressful job.
- Spending time, on- and off-duty, with co-workers is expected.
- Travel is common.
- Any work day can involve critical incidents such as police shootings or assaults.
- Training is ongoing.
- Sometimes officers cannot discuss what happens at work.
- Benefits are available, including employee assistance programs, spouse support groups, and family counseling programs.
- Sometimes families are harassed because of the officer’s job.
It is essential that children know about the work schedule and understand that their police parent will not be able to make every ballgame or recital. If you do not discuss these job realities with your family early, it will likely lead to resentment and additional stress at home.
Tips for Spouses Adjusting to Police Life
Being a spouse of a law enforcement officer takes patience and understanding. Spouses must remember that officers are on-duty 24 hours a day. Even when officially off-duty, officers are constantly monitoring their surroundings. Spouses and children must be understanding and accommodating regarding this enhanced awareness.
Here are some examples of situations that law enforcement families may find themselves in:
- At a restaurant, your officer spouse will want to face the door to see who is entering or leaving.
- At a sporting event or movie, he/she will tell you the plan in the event of an emergency.
- During a trip to the grocery store, her/she may tell you to go down a different aisle and not tell you why. Later, you find out they had contact or arrested someone.
- Kids will likely be instructed on what to do during an emergency at school. The officer parent will often go over evacuation plans and designate areas for safe harbor.
These scenarios stem from the fact that officers encounter a lot of bad situations and want to protect their families. Being an officer is a hard job. Being a spouse and supporting an officer is often just as hard. But if you talk to each other regularly about the realities of the profession and address issues when they surface, it can be a very rewarding endeavor for the whole family.
About the Author: Matt Loux has been in law enforcement for more than 20 years and has a background in fraud, criminal investigation, as well as hospital, school, and network security. Matt has researched and studied law enforcement and security best practices for the past 10 years.