Post Preview: Firefighters know they need to focus on their mental health, but what about their Family’s? These activities at the Fire Station can help nature positive family relationships.
Firefighters are really big when it comes to family, after all, it is a family tradition.
Working in the fire service is one of those things that sometimes takes away from family time. Like many other worthwhile careers, Firefighters have to sacrifice some time away to work and improve their skills.
My Firefighter and I make it a priority to spend time together on and off shift. We are doing what we can to help all of us have good mental health and low levels of stress. Check out 5 easy ways you can do this below!
Why does Family Time matter for Mental Health?
Often times we talk about doing things as a family and then… well… life happens! Plans get changed, somebody is sick, somebody else is grumpy. I know that I’ve had days where we just turn the car around and go home!
But Family time, especially positive family time has a huge impact on the stress levels of everyone. Not only does spending quality time reduce stress levels but it also builds healthy relationships with your kids. Many studies are now showing that children that don’t receive quality time with the family unit are at higher risk of emotional and behavioral disorders.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration has a program called “Building Blocks for a Healthy Future”. Quality family time is vital in that program for healthy development and can lead to better choices in the future when it comes to abuse or poor decision making.
By spending time together, Your child will get to model your behavior, develop better communication, voice their thoughts and feelings, and get to experience loving relationships. That’s just the tip of the iceberg! There is so much to be gained when you make a concentrated effort to have everyone together.
And honestly, if your family (first or second) is in a good place mentally, it makes things so much easier for you!
What if you can’t visit?
Some people will say that they aren’t allowed to visit their firefighter. To that I say, BS. Family is the foundation of the fire service, so have your firefighter talk with others and the chain of command to see how it can be arranged for family to have time to visit.
I know for our station, it’s highly discouraged to come by during working hours from 8-5 (and sometimes later just depending on what they tasks are that day). So we don’t visit a lot during the week and try to make plans to see him on the weekend after his list of duties is done.
That is compromise and it works well for our family.
I do understand that there are many stages to the fire service, some are in military, some are hotshots, some are volunteers. Those all look different- but that doesn’t mean that you can’t set aside a special visit to see where your firefighter works.
If it is really unavailable for you to visit (due to sickness, danger, or location) make it a priority to video chat. It’s important to have visuals so you can understand where your Firefighter spends his time and for everyone’s mental health.
The Activities at the Fire Station
So you know that family time is important and you have a time set up to see your firefighter. But what do you do at your visit? Do you sit around and just chit chat? Sure. But if you have kids, you are going to want to keep them entertained somehow!
Here’s my list of favorite ideas that build those family relationship- and the kids don’t even know it.
- Wash the truck (or something else like a golf cart that won’t get damaged)
This is one of the all time favorite things for us to do, and other firefighters at the station love to do it with their family as well. This is one of those chores turned family time type things that allows for a clean apparatus and a happy family!
Our kids love to wash the truck, but we also have several other vehicles they can wash so that damage doesn’t accidentally happen.
2. Cook dinner together (or bring dinner)
Food, YUM! Everyone loves food. Theres’ nothing like getting together with your firefighter and his second work family over a meal.
Cooking food is a great option, but I do understand that some stations are really busy! In that case, decide if its better to bring food in or have someone who isn’t the firefighter in charge of cooking.
3. Have a Pajama party
Lots of people live far away from their firefighters work zone, so coordinating schedules can be hard with school and other family members jobs. Especially when you have kids Cue the Pajama party!
Get the kids home from school, feed them and put them in their Pjs. Drive to see your Firefighter and then, when they *hopefully* fall asleep on the way home, you can just put them in bed. Thats a win/win in my book!
4. Participate in a parade or community event
This may seem like a no brainer- but if you don’t plan ahead you are likely to forget. I cant tell you the number of times my firefighter would spring an event on me last minute. (I took matters into my own hands and got a calendar!)
Going to an event where your firefighter works can be a lot of fun but you do run the risk that they are busy! We try to weigh it out ahead of time based on how the event was last year or what the event is for. Chances are, my firefighter will have a good 10 minutes to hang out and sometimes he’s had even more time!
He doesn’t work all the events though, so sometimes we visit him because its a family event. This could also be anything from a charity that they get together to support to a holiday event.
These types of activities are the perfect ways to get involved with your firefighter because family is expected to come. So if you suffer from some anxiety about stopping by during shift time, this is the perfect time to do it!
5. Have breakfast together
We already know that firefighters love food, so a super fun way to spend time at the station is with breakfast! The cool thing about breakfast is that it can be done before, during or after shift.
WIth such a versatile time frame this is a fun activity that can be low key and low stress. Just grab some pancake mix and syrup or bacon and eggs. My personal favorite is muffins since I can bring enough for everyone and not have to worry about clean up.
Enjoy your breakfast, have some coffee and hang out at the station. This is the perfect Saturday morning if you ask me!
Bonus Tip! If possible, do a movie night at the station. This will require some planning since you want to schedule this on a “ low call volume” day (which can be hard! I know). But if you are able to do it, think about how much fun it would be! Even if they do get a call, you can leave the kiddos watching the movie and then catch up with your firefighter gets back to the station.
And these ideas don’t even cover all of it. Where theres a will, theres a way! Family time should be protected.
The Importance of Work Life Balance
There has been a lot of talk about Firefighters and mental health. Part of that discussion is asking difficult questions like, “Do I work too much as a firefighter?” “Am I getting enough family time” “How do I control my stress levels?”.
When you have an appropriate amount of work time balanced with the appropriate amount of regular life, you are able to manage your feelings and stress levels better. You feel better. You sleep better. You can “turn off work and leave it at work”, NOT bring it home.
Spending time with family, especially healthy time where you are actively engaged, can significantly improve mental health– which means you will be less angry, less anxious and less likely to snap at someone.
Working too much- especially in a high trauma arena as a first responder is stressful. We all know that higher levels of stress have a negative impact on firefighters.
Work Life Balance is so incredibly important for firefighters. We all assume that because they work different hour shifts or that they volunteer that work life balance doesn’t matter. But I’m here to tell you that it does in every professional sense (Degree in Human Resources) and personal sense (married to a firefighter).
Find a balance, find time on shift for family, and see the benefits it adds to your life.
Family Time is so important! Even if your firefighter has a crazy schedule you can find ways to make it work so that the kids can get the best of both worlds. Plus, the benefits to mental health for the entire family can’t be overlooked, especially with something as fun as spending time together.
Kids are never going to remember their best day of TV, they will remember all the times they got to spend at the station and do fun activities with their firefighter!
Tell me Fire Family, do you have any other activities to recommend? Did you try any of these at the station?