RELATIONSHIPSFamilyMarried To A Firefighter… Plan on Not Planning

Married To A Firefighter… Plan on Not Planning

By Kimbra Baker

This week’s been a strange one. In our family, there’s a lot to juggle. I work full-time, my husband is on call to go fight wildfires as well as work his regular shifts, and we have two kids who are highly engaged in sports, friends, and activities. 

Take this past summer. Typically, summertime beckons with a multitude of open weeks during which we can be flexible with plans, days filled with opportunity, and a whole lot of activities we don’t normally have time for. In my mind, I had visions of family excursions and outings to the mountains and the lakes, exploring and learning new hobbies during our downtime as we enjoyed the nice weather. 

But the reality was more chaotic than anticipated, and the plans that I had to master mountain biking or enjoy paddle boarding every sunny day were squelched by the commitment that we made as a family to serve our community. We had to say no to our loved ones more than we were able to say yes. We had to tell friends we couldn’t make a birthday party. I had to tell my mom we couldn’t have her when she wanted to fly out to see us. We had to scale down the level of commitment we wanted to make to the people we care about, because we needed to slow down and care for our family first. 

First responders live in the unexpected, the unknown, and the immediacy of the now. As spouses and family members, we support our communities by slowing down and allowing breathing room to be a family in a culture that is hard-wired to be filled with commitments. 

We’ve often heard it said that one yes is worth a hundred nos and that’s really a loaded statement. We are a society hard-wired on FOMO, YOLO and the ever-increasing pace of a 24/7/365 world – and there’s so much to love! We have our friends and family, and endless invitations to upcoming events through our social media and local connections.  Before we know it, our seven-day week is overbooked with activities – dinners, practices, meetings, fantasy team drafts, and a schedule that never seems to stop. This is true even for those who work in industries with built-in flexibility and rhythm. 

It’s hard to relate to a first responder’s family. We don’t live life on a schedule with the routines and rhythms that a typical software engineer or accountant might enjoy. It’s important to remember that our families are uniquely formed to serve when the unexpected arises, which means that we aren’t always able to commit to the everyday norms of those working a 9-to-5 job. And, that’s okay. I wrestled with this truth for a long time, living in a region filled with husbands who work flexible schedules, and wives who have husbands who make enough money to enable them to afford to stay home. 

Committing to the yes that works for your family is key to creating thriving, successful homes that foster healthy boundaries. The yes will come for us all at some point, but we can’t say yes to everything. We simply don’t know when the next late night or early morning will be. We don’t know when we’ll be single parenting for chunks of time while our spouses are off serving others. The mental capacity it takes to manage the unexpected is exponentially larger than if we were working a Monday-to-Friday normal schedule. 

Committing to the yes means saying no to others who may not understand the nature of the beast that is firefighting. And that’s okay. It’s okay if people don’t truly understand the reality that we live day-by-day in the world of uncertainty. Each shift brings a different set of social, emotional and physiological challenges that our spouses or loved ones need to handle before they are able to go out and be normal people again. Regardless of understanding or offense, it’s important to make prioritizing commitments and saying no to over-committing (even if it is to a family member) a part of daily life. 

Sometimes our people need to sleep. Sometimes they just need some downtime to decompress with their kids or friends. Sometimes they need to reschedule plans and get outside for some fresh air after a rough night. All of these alternatives are reasonable in the line of work that they are called to. While our culture tells us that tradition requires a commitment to certain norms, fire families can stand firm in the knowledge that balancing service to our communities and caring for our families looks a bit different.  It may not be “normal.” But it’s our kind of normal. 

Kimbra Baker is an academic administrator and the wife of a first responder in the Seattle area. 

Photo by Stephen Baer

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