Preparing for a career in law enforcement requires more than just preparing yourself — you must also prepare your significant other and your family for the realities of a law enforcement life.

Since junior high, all I ever wanted to be was a cop. So, after graduating college, I jumped at the chance to become an officer. When I got married, my wife knew how much I loved the job. We dated long enough for her to know my work schedule and my desire to hold different positions within the department. She even pushed me to go back to school.

The first few years were hard. I worked midnights and she worked days, so we only saw each other for short periods of time in the evenings. Often times, I watched the kids while she worked and, when she got home, she would take over while I slept for a few hours.

It got even tougher when I had to work double shifts to help make ends meet. The only thing that got us through those difficult times was communication.

Talk to your family about the realities of police work

Family problems can easily come to the surface if your spouse is not fully on board. Here are points you should discuss with your family before accepting a position with a police department:

  • Officers are often on call 24 hours a day
  • Shift work, irregular days off and overtime hours are routine parts of the work week
  • Officers carry guns while off-duty and bring them into the home
  • Law enforcement is a stressful job
  • Spending time, on and off duty, with co-workers is expected
  • Travel is common
  • Any work day can involve critical incidents such as police shootings or assaults
  • Training is ongoing
  • Sometimes officers cannot discuss what happens at work
  • Benefits are available, including employee assistance programs, spouse support groups and family counseling programs
  • Sometimes families are harassed because of the because of the officer's job

It is essential that children know about the work schedule and understand that their police parent will not be able to make every ballgame or recital. If you do not discuss these job realities with your family early, it will likely lead to resentment and additional stress at home.

Tips for spouses adjusting to police life

Being a spouse of a law enforcement officer takes patience and understanding. Spouses must remember that officers are on duty 24 hours a day. Even when officially off duty, officers are constantly monitoring their surroundings. Spouses and children must be understanding and accommodating regarding this enhanced awareness.

Here are some examples of situations that law enforcement families may find themselves in:

  • At a restaurant, your officer spouse will want to face the door to see who is entering or leaving.
  • At a sporting event or movie, he/she will tell you the plan in the event of an emergency.
  • During a trip to the grocery store, he/she may tell you to go down a different aisle and not tell you why. Later you find out they had contact with or arrested someone.
  • Kids will likely be instructed on what to do during an emergency at school. The officer parent will often go over evacuation plans and designate areas for safe harbor.

These scenarios stem from the fact that officers encounter a lot of bad situations and want to protect their families. Being an officer is a hard. Being a spouse and supporting an officer is often just as hard.

However, if you talk to each other regularly about the realities of the profession and address issues when they surface, it can be a rewarding endeavor for the whole family.