INSIDE A THERAPIST’S MIND Shelley Shaffer, MS, LPCC
WTF? Who’s (your) Thanksgiving Family?
This is Thanksgiving week. While the majority of society is planning on gathering with family, Corrections Officers, Law Enforcement, First Responders, Dispatch, Jail Staff, Nurses, Doctors, our Military, and even Retail, Movie Theater and some Restaurant/Bar employees don’t have that same option. Does that mean they don’t get turkey? They’re not “thankful”? Heck to the No, in my opinion. They’re just gathering with their “other family” members while the rest of us go into our tryptophan comas in front of a football game.
− I get it. My husband and I have been together for 10 years, give or take. He had to work so many holidays/family gatherings that my nephew (then, age 3) asked where my “dad” was. I pointed out where (my father) Grandpa was and he held firm…he said, “No, your Dad, Dave” (aka my husband). My nephew was appalled that my “dad, Dave” wasn’t going to be a part of a family gathering. Now that he’s 10, he knows – “Dave had to work again, didn’t he?” This is accompanied by a hug that is supposed to be given to Dave when I get home.
− You see, I’ve always been “mental health” in the prison(s). We got weekends and holidays off. My family is used to me being at just about every single gathering since the beginning of ever. But as the daughter of a doctor, I was accustomed to meals being late, having an empty place at the table, or my mom hauling all 4 of us kids to Grandma’s solo while Dad stayed home because he was on call.
− I have made some solid friendships throughout my many years of working in a 24/7 environment. I’ve held holidays on “off days”. I’ve had four Christmas celebrations because of scheduling challenges and overtime. I’ve tried to hold onto the belief that “any day is (insert holiday name here) if we’re together”. Easy to do when you’re an adult. Not so easy to explain to a young child why their other parent isn’t there on their birthday, at their game, or to watch Dallas/Detroit play whoever during our Thanksgiving naps.
So, who is “family”?
Family is not defined by DNA, again, just my opinion. For many, their brothers and sisters in whatever color their uniform is, THAT’s FAMILY. The one’s that have your six, that understand the macabre humor, that are just as impacted by the stress of the job as you are. You spend more time with that family than you do with your DNA or “real family”. Think about it – there are 168 hours in a week. 40 hours (minimum) of work. The “recommended” 8 hours of sleep per night = 56 hours. Let’s say you have a 30-minute commute, and that adds on another 5.5 hours (buffered for traffic, those who think the left lane is for sight-seeing, and a coffee stop here and there). We’re at 101.5 hours and that’s just work and sleep. That leaves you with a whopping 67.5 hours for bathing, shopping, cooking, eating, watching football, fishing, hunting, changing diapers, doing yard/housework, helping with homework or doing your own, and scrolling online (aka bathroom time, am I right?). Oh, and hanging with friends/family. And we wonder where the time goes?
- Think about who we are eating Thanksgiving with. I know I’ll have no less than 18 people that share my DNA (or love people that share my DNA) this week, weather depending. I know I’ll have Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, homemade applesauce, lefse, gravy, and that green bean hotdish (I’m a Minnesotan, it’s NOT a casserole). There MIGHT be some concoction another nephew has termed “Floof”. It’s some pistachio pudding, pineapple, and cool whip mix but it’s really good…………….
- There’s a concept called “Friendsgiving”. I LOVE this idea. Whether it’s a group of friends who cannot travel, don’t have “family” nearby, college kids/single parents, those who have to work, or just plain out prefer to not hang with their families. They typically make it a pot luck event and it sounds amazing. We don’t always get to choose who we’re related to, but a Friendsgiving is who you have CHOSEN to spend this day with.
- I’m not spending time with offenders, consoling victims of domestic abuse, trying to save car accident/heart attack victims, putting my life on the line, or arresting drunk drivers. I won’t be on a mission in a country most people can’t find on a map. I don’t have to notify one family that another family member won’t be at the table again. Nobody will knock on my door, wearing a uniform, telling me my deployed loved one has been hurt, or has paid the ultimate price. Thankfully, all of my military DNA family will be stateside this year.
- Thanksgiving “dinner” might or might not include an actual dinner. For those working on Thanksgiving, they might get leftovers if they get home in time. IF they make it home. If they didn’t bring something to eat, they might look hard (IF they have time) to find an open drive-through. Some work families are able to create sit-down meals but could be called away anytime that tone goes off. They are all hoping to not hear that tone, but that’s the job. Three hundred sixty-five days a year. Twenty-four hours a day. While we sleep, while we shop, while we enjoy our gatherings.
SO THIS YEAR…
Please remember those who aren’t at the table, or who will arrive late. Remember those who may be isolated from their families due to the stress of the job. Forgive them if they “just can’t” today or tomorrow. But don’t forget them. They may be struggling with things you cannot see. They’ve seen things you cannot even fathom. The careers I listed at the top of this blog have the highest divorce rates. They have the highest rates of Posttraumatic Stress (I don’t say “Disorder”, so it’s PTS, not PTSD), alcoholism, domestic abuse, suicide, drug abuse, and withdrawal from society. So, they may not even “have” a family to sit down with this Thursday, for whatever reason.
- As you gather with your “family”, whether it is the family you were born with, the family you chose, or the family you are sharing your workspace with…be grateful. Be thankful. And be kind. To yourself, to others, and to those who are facing a day at work that most will never experience and wouldn’t ever want to. Thank you to all of you heroes that will be working to keep me and my DNA and Work families safe.
I’ll save you some floof, honey.
Shaffer Professional Services
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