Can you be a single parent and a nurse?

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Being a single parent is tough. Parenthood is hard even when you have a committed partner at your side to help cook, clean, and earn the money needed to keep your child’s ever-growing feet in shoes. To accomplish this and so much more when you’re flying solo is even more admirable.

Nursing, though a rewarding job, is also a demanding one with long hours that can make it difficult for a single parent to find time for their children outside of their shifts, or find work that has the flexibility to support a family’s work-life balance. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Avoid working in emergency departments

Emergency care and emergency departments are critical parts of our health system, and the staff who work in them are to be applauded. However, the long hours and inherent unpredictability of ED nursing make it less compatible with the needs of single parents than other nursing fields.

If five critically-injured car accident victims come in 10 minutes before your shift ends and all hands are needed on deck, you can’t just leave because your children need to be picked up from netball training. Single parents know that they need flexibility in their schedules, and the ED is not generally a place where flexibility reigns.

Don’t rule out night shifts

Working nights can be taxing, but it’s a schedule that works particularly well for parents with younger children who go to bed early. A single parent working a night shift can tuck their child into bed, wake them up in the morning, and sleep while they’re at school. When you wake, your child will just be returning from school and you’ll be well rested for some all-important family time.

As your children get older, this schedule might not work as effectively, with high school-aged children generally going to bed much later than 7 p.m. Teenagers are usually more independent and able to take care of things like going to bed by themselves.

Focus on flexible hours

If you don’t want to work nights, that’s completely understandable. It’s important work and someone has to do it, but it can be difficult. Working during the day can offer shifts that suit you and your work-life needs. Some hospitals offer family-friendly shifts staged to allow working time during school hours. Morning shifts that start at 7am and finish at 3.30 pm allow flexibility to work and look after children. Kids can go to daycare or school during those hours and you will be home basically at the same time in the afternoon. If parents, extended family or friends aren’t able to help with child minding or supervision, then finding good before- and after-school care is important. It can be a significant and expensive challenge though requiring patience and planning to find appropriate childcare for shift workers.

Finding flexibility with shifts, or shifts of fixed times instead of rotating rosters, isn’t guaranteed and it is not unheard of for parents to be effectively shut out of good positions because of family-unfriendly shift hours. These issues aren’t exclusive to nurses, and any single parent shift workers are particularly at risk of facing this difficulty. There are, however, a few differences for nurses. Firstly, nurses are widely acknowledged as being selfless and rarely complain in any significant way about working conditions. Secondly, nurses are more likely to suffer from health problems than people of other professionals at the same age, in part because nurses are so willing to sacrifice their own needs for the job, not to mention the higher than average exposure to illness as part of the job.

Being a nurse can be hard. Being a single parent can make it that much harder. With the right plan though it can be possible for a single parent to follow the career path they’ve always wanted while maintaining the full family life they need and deserve. It won’t be easy but nothing worthwhile ever is.