Being Their Rock: Tried and True Tips for Fostering Positive First Responder Family Relationships
Date:Monday August 16, 2021
First responder jobs can often be all-consuming, from long shifts to the heavy mental burdens that these workers often shoulder. As a family member, partner, or spouse of a first responder, you know firsthand that they may feel completely spent when they return home.
As a loved one, you can play a positive role, however, in keeping their social and familial network strong. What’s more is that your support can in turn help your partner or family member to have more energy and confidence to pour back into their relationships with you.
Here are some ways to build up that close family relationship:
- Make space to breathe: One strong choice for all close family relationships is to give each other transition time, specifically when arriving home from work. Most people don’t enjoy being told a bunch of things, negative or positive, the instant they walk in the door, and instituting a 10 or 15 minute transition space when your first responder gets home from work can do a lot of good.
- Develop language for the hardest days: First responder shifts really vary in terms of their level of challenge and even trauma. Whether your family prefers a 0-10 scale or just a “tough day?” question, giving each other a way to “temperature check” after a shift can help you calibrate your communication. For instance, if Mom had a really intense EMS shift, Dad can check in briefly and then start a board game with the kids to give her some space to herself.
- When they’re ready to talk, practice active listening: Whether you are both first responders or you’ve never been a first responder yourself, active listening is often one of the most valuable ways to help someone who is sharing personal experiences. Rather than relating it to your own life, reflecting back what you’re hearing can allow the person to keep speaking, processing what they want to say. Active listening shows you care but doesn’t presume to know everything about what they’re going through.
- Encourage rest and relaxation when not working: We all have our “default” ways to spend free time and our highest quality options; maybe you really decompress if you make it to a spin class but accidentally fall into watching television instead. If you can help your first responder family member make space for their most restful or relaxing events, it’s a great way to show care. Even just scheduling a tee time or dusting off their old board game set could start a positive routine.
- Acknowledge and accept workplace closeness: One way that first responder families have to adjust is that coworkers in first responder workplaces are often more like family than just colleagues. By recognizing the benefit to your partner or family member of having that team by their side, you can see how valuable they are as part of the support network for your family too. Get to know his or her colleagues if you can, since they may become some of your family’s best allies.
Resources to Support Your First Responder Family Member:
- A resource on how PTSD can affect whole first responder families from Armor Up Now.
- Focus on the Family offers ideas for TLC for the First Responder Marriage.
- Not specifically about first responders, but the Harvard Business Review discusses helping spouses with work stress, and has many useful tips.