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CLOSE TO HOME: Honey I’m Home


January 26, 2015
By Brian Krushel

Endless factors in the policing profession may threaten a stable and routine home life – but some effective practices allow police families to thrive, not just survive the challenges.

For most Canadian citizens, “Hi Honey, I’m home” is a bit of a throw-away line, simply announcing to our life companion we have arrived at our shared living space. What might follow is a barrage of instructions on which child needs to go where, when. “See you later,” we call over our shoulder as we head out the door. It’s just your routine end-of-the-day exchange, right?

It may be routine for some homes, but for the women and men in policing those ordinary occurrences may be luxury, or worse, just a fantasy. Shift work, overtime, court appearances on days off and critical incident debriefings – to name a few – can wreak havoc on home routines.

Ellen Kirschman, author of identifies six “givens” in police work that make home life unusually challenging, even when just some of them converge:

1) shift work,

2) long hours,

3) unpredictable and crisis-driven work,

4) public scrutiny of officers and their family members,

5) physical demands, and

6) separations or long deployments due to natural and man-made disasters.

I recently canvassed several officers during a lunch break at our local police service (lunch was about three hours later than for most people) with the question, “What’s close to most officers’ hearts?”

Kirschman’s factors were all mentioned but not in a complaining manner. They are just the realities of the career. Others added such things as sleep deprivation and managing emotions when sleep is at a premium or non-existent.

“How can you be commanding, ordering, and directing all day – hiding your emotions, hiding that you are afraid and then open the door and say, ‘Hi, Honey. I’m home?'”(1), commented one EAP director when asked about police work versus home tension.

It’s a good question that officers continually face. Thankfully there are some definite and practical ways to really be home when the shift is over.

First, here is a DON’T. Veteran officers and companions have learned that nagging, complaining or blaming each other for things neither can control only creates feelings of anger, frustration and guilt. Furthermore, these actions only alienate them from the ones with whom they want to be the closest.

Now, here are three initial DOs.

COMMUNICATE: Pardon the cliche, but communication is number one on the list of effective home life building blocks. A clear verbal commitment about the importance of home and personal relationships is the place to start. If an officer finds it easier to talk about home challenges with another officer rather than his or her mate first, take note! That may be a first indicator of diminished communication.

To launch a conversation try asking, “What do we value most at this time in our lives?” Include what is important physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually to both of you. The policing lifestyle can quickly take its toll on all of these areas if they are not monitored and discussed intentionally. Notice the question, “What do WE value?” is worded in the first person plural, so that the ensuing conversation is a joint effort.

UNWIND WELL: Let’s be honest. Coming home may sound idyllic, but the first hour at home after a shift can be “arsenic hour.” Everyone has needs and no one has anything left to give. Furthermore, everyone unwinds differently. Developing some positive homecoming habits can be helpful. An officer may need to decompress for an hour or a day before tackling home challenges. A hard workout at the police gym before heading home or an informal debrief with the chaplain can help reduce stress and make re-entry more relaxed. Again, clearly communicating one’s needs can go a long way to being fully engaged at home.

BE REALISTIC: Having realistic expectations for the mate at home and for the officer returning home are vital. If the one at home has been watching romantic comedies all day, dreaming of a similar scenario to unfold when the officer returns, disappointment may not be far away. The officer may have been dealing with a sordid sex abuse situation or violent domestic at work. It may take some time to wash away the distortions and become reoriented to a wholesome connection with their mate at home.

A healthy, happy home life is a major contributing factor to excellence in police professionalism. Creating that kind of home life requires just as much vigilance as the work of policing. The rewards are definitely worth it though, when the words “Hi honey. I’m home” are announced and received with equal enthusiasm.

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(1) Kirschman, E. (2006). I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know. Guilford Press, New York, NY.

BIO

Brian Krushel, , BTh, MDiv, DMin, is the volunteer chaplain for Camrose Police Service. He and his wife Val raised three daughters while Val maintained a career outside of the home. Brian is in his 30th year of full-time pastoral ministry at the same church and also serves as registrar for the Canadian Police Chaplain Association.