The struggle for balance is familiar to most working parents in Seattle. Expensive housing, limited childcare, and traffic-jammed freeways create the perfect storm for stress. But navigating all of the above can be especially difficult when also working under extremely physically and emotionally demanding conditions.
Just three weeks after his son Sam was born, Tyler Kirkpatrick had to return to work on a commercial fishing boat out of Dutch Harbor, Alaska. During fishing season, Kirkpatrick worked grueling 12-hour days, seven days per week, with only a few days off.
“Back then I could call from town every few days, but if the weather was bad, it might be as long as five days,” he says.
Home alone in Magnolia with an exceptionally fussy newborn, his wife, Brenda, mastered the art of doing things with one hand and subsisted on trail mix. She kept a list by the phone of all the baby’s special moments. “If I didn’t write it down, when I spoke to him in a few days I would have forgotten and he’d miss out on all these little milestones,” she says.
When their daughter, Sydnee, was born two weeks before her due date, Tyler was stuck in Alaska trying to get in one last fishing trip. He rushed to the airport and waited all day for a seat to open up, but couldn’t get home in time. He wept as his mom gave him a play-by-play from the delivery room. “I still miss her birthday every year,” he says. “That’s really tough.”
Showing up for your children while maintaining a full-time job is a challenge even when you’re not working nights on the Bering Sea. For parents whose work requires emotional stamina, a quick mental shift is necessary to be present with their families.
For Gina and Shane Severide of North Bend— both nurses, he in the ER at Swedish Issaquah and she in the ear, nose and throat clinic at Seattle Children’s hospital — life with three kids and alternating shifts is a constant juggling act.
“We honestly live by our iPhone schedules; who works what shift, who is on point for which school picture, who has soccer pickup, etc. No two days are the same,” says Gina.
When the kids were little, whichever parent was off would call the other one at work so the kids could say goodnight. But the chats often backfired. “Usually it would end with the kids crying because they didn’t understand why the other parent couldn’t come home,” she says.
To decompress and reconnect, the couple routinely wakes up before dawn. “We work out at home together, have coffee, watch some TV,” says Shane. “Our days are crazy, and so for us this is a way to get time for ourselves before the kids are up.”
Carving out alone time is essential to coping off the clock. Ed Turner unwinds from his night job as a police officer for the city of Orting with a unique morning ritual before his two sons get up for school. “I sit down, try a new specialty root beer, watch Netflix and let my mind wander to what I am watching,” he says. “It’s how I reset.”
Once the boys are dropped off at school, Ed can sleep, and still be available to shuttle them to football practice in the afternoon. His wife Meredith, a human resources executive in downtown Seattle, usually meets them for a handoff so Ed can start his shift.
“I think for our kids and their schedule this has been right for us,” says Ed. “It has allowed both of us to work, save on childcare costs and give the kids a lot of solid time with their parents.”
But sometimes a balance just can’t be struck. When parents ask North Seattle mom Tiffany Greenberg how she does it all, she just laughs. “I am not a fan of the phrase ‘work-life balance,’” she says. “To me, that sounds like everything is in a serene state, and that simply isn’t the case.”
Before she had her daughter Ellie in 2015, Greenberg found working intense hours as a physician’s assistant in a reconstructive surgery office exciting. Some days she’d leave work at 4 p.m., others at 4 a.m. But when she came back after maternity leave, the frenetic pace began to take a toll.
“How a surgery and recovery will go simply varies so much patient to patient, it’s just the way it is,” says Greenberg. “It was too unpredictable of a schedule for me to feel like I could have a relationship with my husband and be with my daughter.”
She ultimately decided to switch to a job at a dermatologist’s office with more regular clinic hours. She took a pay cut, but the office is located near her daughter’s school and they get to share quality time together on the daily commute.
Working an intense job while raising children is a situation many Seattle parents find themselves in. Rather than trying to have it all, Greenberg says she’s accepted that being a working parent means that something always has to give.
“I feel like it’s about this continuum of sacrifices,” she says. “Sometimes I sacrifice time with my kid so I can study, sometimes I sacrifice my shower or getting chores done. Everyone is sacrificing something different every day, you just have to decide what can give that day and then keep going.”
More from our parenting package:
Survival guide: 5 tips for taking care of yourself
Dad Next Door: It's a wild ride. Try to enjoy it.
Shin Yu Pai: How becoming a mom changed me as an artist
Parental leave: What you need to know
How do they do it? Tips from parents with tough jobs