When I decided to pursue meteorology for my career, the idea of having to work shifts never even occurred to me. I remember surviving my first midnight shift back in college as a volunteer intern at the National Weather Service, and then quickly declaring I would never do it again. In fact, it was a large part of the reason I decided to take the research path versus the forecaster path after graduating.
What I naively never anticipated was that my research path would eventually lead me to forecasting, and along with that the dreaded “right of passage” for forecasters everywhere…shift work.
The lyrics of Kenny Chesney’s song would have you believing shift work is for blue collar folk just trying to get by. However, with the reality of the digital age we live in, where we expect news updates every second at our fingertips and scoff at the idea of not having our online order shipped the next day, more and more people are subjected to round the clock hours. Long hours, overnight hours, inconsistent hours… hours that make you feel like you’re no longer a part of the norm.
And it’s not just the men, it’s us women, too. We’re pushing our way ahead in the workforce and striving to prove we’re just as good, if not better than, our male colleagues. We’re fighting for equal pay and respect, and oftentimes that means leaving our mothering duties aside to fulfill that roll. Something our mother’s mothers, and mother’s mother’s mothers rarely had to deal with. When that roll includes working while the kids sleep, leaving before they wake up for the day, or missing dinner and bedtime routines entirely, it just adds one more layer to the ever building pile of Mom guilt.
Sure there’s the initial guilt of not being able to spend time with the kids, something every working mother deals with on a daily basis. Shift work just means we’re missing out on a different part of the day. Then there’s the guilt of not being there to help out your spouse with the morning hustle or the oh so dreaded bedtime battles. Then of course you have that weird guilt when you’re “resting” (as if this even exists in a house with kids!) to prep for an overnight shift while your kids are screaming at your husband in the kitchen for more cheese puffs.
Part of you is like, “ha ha sucker…glad it’s you and not me!” But then the part of you that can’t help but cringe at that high pitch whining sound starts to feel a tiny bit bad that you’re laying in bed while your husband attempts to appease the beasts. Later when you’re struggling to stay awake at work at 3 a.m. you realize that maybe appeasing the beasts isn’t such a bad gig after all.
The truth is, I’ve only just started working shifts and it will only be a small part of my job going forward. So maybe I’m not the best person to sit here and tell you about the woes and guilt and hardships it seems to bring, as if they are somehow different or rank higher on some fictitious scale of hard mothering. But I can’t help but feel empathy for those moms out there doing this day after day, week after week, like the amazing ones I get to work with every time I’m on shift. This is their everyday.
It’s a mix of emotions really. On the one hand I feel lucky to work somewhere where women are not discriminated against because they have kids, are pregnant, or just the simple fact that they have a vagina. Yep I said it. But sometimes a part of me kinda wishes I could catch a break for those very same reasons once in a while, well minus the last one. Sometimes I just want to pull the “BUT I HAVE KIDS!” card and not feel the guilt from the work side.
I am woman, hear me roar…yes of course. But dangit, being a mom is hard.
I also just really really like my sleep.