- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 17, 2002

Andrew and Jacque Hoeffler, both nurses at Inova Fairfax Hospital, work odd hours. Some days, they might see each other in passing at work or have a conversation at home when one of them is half asleep.

That is why they say they make the best of their time off. One of the benefits of shift work is often a reduced schedule, such as a 36-hour workweek.

"I guess a plus of working shifts is it allows us more time off," Mr. Hoeffler says. "It allows us to do other things."

When the couple is off together, it is often when the rest of the world isn't, such as a Wednesday afternoon. But they make the best of it, Mrs. Hoeffler says. Even running errands can be couple time if you make it, she says.

"It is kind of nice to have a day off here and a day off there in the middle of the week," says Mrs. Hoeffler, of Dumfries, Va. "We don't have to fight the crowds. When we are off and the kids are in school, we'll plan a big day. We'll go to Lowes and Target and have lunch at Ruby Tuesday. That's when we have time to talk. Maybe we'll take a walk around Potomac Mills before school lets out. Or we'll work on our house."

People like the Hoefflers are doing a good job at trying to find time to be a couple while working chaotic schedules, says Gigi Stowe, a licensed clinical social worker at the Women's Center in Vienna. The center provides career and personal counseling.

"Whatever family time you do have, it is important to find that balance," Ms. Stowe says. "It is important to really talk. Many couples realize what they are doing is not communicating, but conveying information. If a couple is not solid, a family is not solid."

Ms. Stowe says it is important for couples working shifts to have regular discussions about what they expect. The division of labor, for instance, is bound to change when one spouse is home all day and the other works at night.

"In the old days, women were at home and the men worked," she says. "In situations like this, there needs to be a clear division of labor."

Of course, alternate sleep schedules can also be a problem for couples who work opposite shifts. Mrs. Hoeffler says she knows her husband won't remember a conversation they had if he is half asleep. When Mr. Hoeffler worked strictly nights, Mrs. Hoeffler learned to wait until he was up and had something to eat before telling him anything important, she says.

Cindy McAlister, a Fairfax County police lieutenant, says a good cell phone calling plan has been key for her family. She and her husband, Michael, also a Fairfax County police lieutenant, work opposite schedules to spend more time with their two young children.

"Get a plan where you don't have to worry about minutes," she says. "If it wasn't for that, we would have lost a lot of communication. My husband is great at notes, but I am too busy to keep up with it."

Susan Wilson, a mother of four who is also a nurse at Inova Fairfax Hospital, has been working night shifts for more than 10 years. Keeping her children ages 6 to 10 on a strict schedule helps the whole family stay organized no matter which parent is at home, she says.

"Lights out by nine," she says of her home in Stafford County.

Another difficult part of working shifts can be that places like hospitals, fire stations and police stations never close. That means there is a good chance of working Christmas, Thanksgiving or even a Saturday night when a big party is planned.

"A lot of times, we will take two cars (to an event), and then I will just go to work after a while," Mrs. Wilson says.

Other families have learned to schedule social activities that fit into their schedule. The McAlisters, for instance, like to have breakfast with their neighbors every Sunday after Mr. McAlister returns from work at 7 a.m.

"You end up hanging out with other people who work the same shift," Mrs. McAlister says. "But once your hours get switched, that all changes."

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