The lifestyle and culture of law enforcement affects more than just the officers. Companions and family of law enforcement officers play an integral role in an officer’s health and wellness. The IACP’s Family blog series highlights the importance of the dedication and support that law enforcement officers receive throughout their careers from their families. This blog series will cover various issues that law enforcement family members face, and provide successful strategies for work and home.
Guest Bloggers: Jacqueline Ehrlich, Assistant Chief, U.S. Border Patrol, Visiting IACP Fellow and Steve Ehrlich, Program Manager in the Office of Field Operations under Customs and Border Protection
My husband, Steve, and I have a combined law enforcement experience of approximately fifty-seven years. Steve and I both began our careers in local law enforcement in the Midwest prior to joining Customs and Border Protection and the United States Border Patrol. Steve and I have been a law enforcement couple for more than 15 years. Over the years we’ve been together, through trial and error, we have discovered what works for us to maintain a healthy relationship and family life while dealing with the challenges of being a law enforcement family. Below are five lessons that have helped us sustain a positive relationship and family life:
- Give one another space – We each understand the stressors of the job. Whether it is the long hours, travel, bureaucracy, time-sensitivity, or physical aspects, we respect the need for quiet time, to collect one’s thoughts, recharge, and have alone time. It is not uncommon for one of us to take a day off without the other, just to have a day with no responsibilities or demands. These occasions help us to maintain relationship civility and not bring work frustrations home.
- Plan family time – When we were working in the field, we would often go 10 days at home without seeing one another, while living in the same home. Early in our relationship we recognized the need to schedule time for one another. Just taking the time to catch up, connect with one another, talk, or plan, was enough. Now that our careers have taken us down the administrative path, and we have a young daughter, our philosophy toward family time has strengthened. We make more of an effort to create special memories for our daughter and try to keep work discussions away from her.
- Share the workload – Throughout our years together, at least one of us usually has a multi-week trip a couple times per year. Consequently, there are no “my jobs” or “your jobs” around the house. We both cook, clean, do laundry, yard work (yuck!), car inspections, child care drop off/pick up duties. Although the transition to a short term single parent home is never seamless, we manage by sharing the work.
- Leave work at work – Work takes a big part of our time—it does for many couples. It can affect many other aspects of our lives if we let it. To try to mitigate work infiltrating the rest of our lives, we limit the amount of time allowed to discuss the daily work activities to 10 minutes per day. It can be too easy to always feel like we have to be there for our work demands, but we try to limit our availability, which can be a challenge with the many ways work can reach us.
- Maintain a healthy appreciation for the job – Anyone who has a relationship with someone in law enforcement—parents, siblings, spouses, significant others, children, etc.—understands the risks associated with putting on the uniform and badge, and carrying the firearm. We recognize the dangers the other faces. We put them in perspective and do not let those thoughts consume us. Sometimes that allows us to read between the lines when one calls the other during an event. We can relate to what the other is going through and talk about it when the time is right.
Family support is critical for law enforcement officers to maintain healthy, balanced lives. All families have their own unique ways to navigate the challenges and opportunities that come with a life in law enforcement. Adhering to these five lessons has served us well throughout the decades together.
Assistant Chief Ehrlich will be facilitating the Supporting Those Who Support Law Enforcement Roundtable Discussion at the 2017 IACP Annual Conference on Monday, October 23rd from 8-9:30 AM. The roundtable will discuss the roles and challenges of law enforcement families and how IACP and the profession can provide resources to better address these needs. All IACP Conference attendees are welcome to attend. Please contact ICPR@theiacp.org for details.
For more family resources, visit http://www.theiacp.org/ICPRlawenforcementfamily.