Moms on night shift balance work with family, sleep
Robin Skindzier alternates between working 11-hour, overnight shifts for a few consecutive nights as a hospital pharmacist, and enjoying a week off with her husband, Matthew, and their three children.
The schedule might seem brutal, but the weeks off make the graveyard shift worth it, and the Skindziers don't have to send their kids -- Francis, 8; Theresa, 7; and Susan, 5 -- to day care. Family members eat dinner together every night before Robin Skindzier leaves for work. And though her body rhythm suffers, she forces herself to be up during the day during her off weeks.
"I'll pretty much deprive myself of sleep so I can flip back to what normal people do," says Robin Skindzier, 36, of Whitehall. She has been working this schedule for about 12 years, and her husband now stays at home with the kids.
"Right now, it's what works for us," she says. "It is a struggle, but we've made it work. This is the only shift that my kids actually know."
Skindzier is among the estimated 5 percent of working women -- more than 3 million -- in the United States who work between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m., according to figures from the Families and Work Institute, a New York City nonprofit that studies changes in the workforce. By contrast, 4 percent of men work these kinds of hours; and 6 percent of both men and women work earlier evening shifts, according to 2008 institute figures, which are the most recent available. Many of the women who work overnight shifts work at hospitals and factories, says Ellen Galinsky, institute president.
"I've interviewed women in a variety of professions who have worked the night shift, and typically they've chosen it, because they could be home with their children during the day or (with) an elderly parent," says Galinsky, who recommends that moms carve out specific sleeping times. "They could put their child to sleep and pretty well come home by the time their child gets up."
Women who work late shifts feel a sense of camaraderie with each other, Galinsky says.
"It's ... a team spirit, kind of a group that felt bonded to each other by doing this unusual thing," she says.
Val Hoffer, a therapist who has worked with many mothers working night shifts, says the women must perform a difficult balancing act with a lot of support.
"I champion those women who get out there and work those crazy hours," says Hoffer, who works for Family Services of Western Pennsylvania, which offers mental health services throughout Allegheny and Westmoreland counties.
"They might be in bed when the kids are getting up, and someone else is doing the caretaking," she says. "The kids are really missing that connection time. (Moms) don't know how their day at school went. ... They miss all that stuff. It is really hard."
Some mothers work the night shift because they have children with special needs, and need to be at home with them during the day while their husbands work, Hoffer says. Others would rather work a night schedule than send their kids to day care; at least one parent is usually home. Sometimes, the late-shift job was the only one that the woman could find, and she needs the money.
"They work whatever shift they can get," Hoffer says. "They're just trying to survive, and they don't want to pass up any shift because they have to feed their kids."
According to a joint study last year from the University of California's Center for WorkLife Law and the Center for American Progress, 26 percent of night-shifters choose the schedule because of child care. Other reasons study participants cited include going to school, caring for a family member and earning more pay.
Working the night shift to avoid day care isn't easy, Hoffer notes, but she says that with a helpful spouse, a good support network and good time management, people can make it work.
Raymone Thomas, 27, of New Kensington, thanks her husband, Raymond, and her live-in sister, Symone, for helping to make her overnight schedule work for the past two years. Raymone Thomas is a registered nurse at a hospital, and works 7 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. three times a week. Her husband works during the day, while her sister helps to care for the couple's toddlers: Raydn, 3, and Rayne, 1. Raymone Thomas also is working on a degree at Penn State-New Kensington.
The schedule is not as bad as it sounds, even though she averages 4 1⁄2 hours of sleep a night, Raymone Thomas says.
"I'm used to it," the nurse says. "I like the flexibility. I like that I can still make it to any daycare function and doctor's appointment. Of course, I'm sacrificing my own sleep, but if my kids are sick, I can stay home and be with them.
"It's mainly just a sacrifice of your own self, but when you're a parent, that's what it's about: You put yourself last," she says. It just comes ... second nature to me."
Catherine Sherbine, 39, of Hempfield, has worked from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. several days a week for more than a year at a factory making medical equipment. Her husband, David, works during the day. Catherine Sherbine plans to stay on this shift until her kids -- Kayla, 8, and Alexandra, 6 -- are older, and day care won't be needed during off-school months.
Sherbine, who says she often feels exhausted, goes to bed around 9 a.m. and gets up by the time the kids get home from school.
"It's stressful because it's hard to get stuff done around the house; you spend so many of the daytime hours sleeping," she says. "Sometimes, I just can't get myself motivated to do stuff during the day. ... I'm still trying to learn to manage my time."
Catherine Sherbine tries to cook meals in advance, to make dinnertime -- usually at 5 p.m. -- go more smoothly.
Robin Skindzier has been considering seeking a day shift at some point, but she is used to having a week off. She doesn't have to ask for vacation time, and she always knows when she's going to be off. Her job doesn't interfere with her and her husband's work as Scouting troop leaders. She wishes she could be at church more, but sometimes, sleep wins.
"You definitely have to have a balance, and you have to have a mindset of what is your priority and what is going to be the best, not just for your family, but for yourself."
The downside of her schedule hits her on holidays, Robin Skindzier says.
"With three little ones and Christmas morning -- that makes it hard on them and me," she says. "It doesn't seem like a holiday; it's just a normal day, because you have to work. It's definitely not for everybody."