One of the things I’ve heard most from those in relationships with officers, as well as from officers themselves is how difficult it can be to turn IT off when they transition from work to home. “It” being all the physical, mental and emotional properties of being a law enforcement officer. Officers have hours upon hours of training and then tons of street experiences that deeply seat mentalities and behaviors. But what happens when an officer is trying to raise his or her children and cannot separate the aspects of themselves that make them a good officer? What happens when an officer deals with his or her family like they would a suspect? Unfortunately, especially with teenagers, this happens so often. Many law enforcement relationships have fallen apart because the officer and his or her significant other have a hard time relating to each other and/or communicating in a way that is healthy. As parents, we’re not given instructions for raising our children to be happy, healthy, contributing members of society. So, when the only training you have is what you’ve gotten in the academy and on the streets, it can spell some rocky familial roads and can harm relationships especially those with children.
The “Police Officer Paradox”
Ellen Kirschman Ph.D. describes this paradox in her book, I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know. “The same work habits that make a good cop can be hazardous to being a good mate and parent,” she explains. Officers are trained to take control. Experiences often make them fearful and suspicious. They learn that any act of defiance is potentially life threatening. Officers are taught to get their way by using command presence and demanding compliance from others. During interactions on the street, in the capacity of their duties, this is essential to survival, keeping the peace and performing their sworn duties well. Kirschman explains, “The failure to get compliance raises an officer’s anxiety because he or she has been trained from the start to believe that a noncompliant suspect constitutes a threat to officer safety. Furthermore, when cops themselves are noncompliant, they risk getting disciplined or jeopardize their chances of promotion.” Due to this, officers are used to ordering people around. Unfortunately, this can backfire when you’re a parent.
What Children Need
Children need to be raised with a firm but friendly approach. So often parents ask, “What does my child need from me?” Parenting is a difficult job under the best of circumstances. Now add additional dynamics like one or both parents working in a highly stressful, dangerous job that requires extreme family sacrifice such as law enforcement. The good thing is that no matter what your circumstances, two parent, single parent, law enforcement or not, all children need just a few basic things: unconditional love (this does not mean acceptance of bad behavior or choices), healthy boundaries, acceptance of their identity(knowing which of your child’s characteristics to leave alone and which need some assistance to improve), healthy role models (this doesn’t mean your child needs to be a miniature version of you) and respect (this is not the same as fear).