Finding Support as a Law Enforcement Spouse
A career in law enforcement can be challenging, but being the spouse of someone in law enforcement can be almost as difficult. While their husbands or wives are at work, spouses are often left to cope with the worry, stress, and chaotic schedules that come with their partner’s public safety career.
Many of these spouses are finding that the best support comes from those who have walked in their shoes. Across the nation, law enforcement families are forming non-profit groups and creating online forums where they can discuss common challenges and find everything from a listening ear to financial support.
Shannon Gwaltney has been married to Captain Byron Gwaltney of the Pima County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona for 14 years and says few people understand the strain that public safety service can put on a family.
“They miss pretty much every holiday, they don’t make ball games, and they get called out during dinner,” she said. “His phone is ringing constantly, it’s always on his mind, it’s always in your house, and that is the life that you live.”
Some friends questioned her husband’s priorities, Gwaltney said, but she found that law enforcement spouses understood that working long hours and missing family events are often unavoidable parts of the job.
“You never have to explain anything to them,” she said.
It was this need for support that led Gwaltney to co-found the Pima County Law Enforcement Wives Club in 2007. The club has 100 female members, and Gwaltney said husbands are also welcome but none have joined so far.
Although the organization originated as a way to socialize with other law enforcement spouses, the mission of the club soon evolved to supporting families in need. Today, the club offers financial assistance, child care, home-cooked meals, and emotional support to law enforcement families that fall on hard times. For example, Gwaltney said, when the wife of a local officer unexpectedly died during the holidays, the club stepped in to provide food for the funeral and Christmas presents for the children. The club is also hosting a charity golf tournament in March and plans to participate in statewide officer memorial services in May.
“We are here to support each other, because it can be a hard life for families,” Gwaltney said.
The Law Enforcement Wives Club is just one of many groups across the nation where spouses of law enforcement personnel can gather to share stories, exchange tips, and offer support during hard times. Many police departments and sheriff’s offices have organizations for families, and there are dozens of blogs and online support groups for law enforcement spouses.
The National Police Wives Association has been online since 2005 and currently has more than 400 members across the nation, said Vice President Teresa Bushek. The non-profit organization hosts multiple online forums and provides a scholarship program designed to fund college tuition for the children of law enforcement officers.
Bushek said many women look to the organization for support that can be hard to find elsewhere.
“[Regardless] of differences, we have the common bond of being sisters bound by the badge and when one of us hurts, we rally and understand like no other can,” she said.
Gwaltney recommends that spouses new to the law enforcement community visit The Police Wife Life, an online community with more than 4,500 Facebook followers. On the site’s blog, contributors talk about creating holiday traditions that work with officer’s hectic schedules, give tips on issues like dealing with anti-police sentiment, and share humorous stories about the unpredictability of life as a police officer’s wife.
“Anniversary need spicing up? Just add LEO [law enforcement officer],” wrote site founder Melissa Littles in a recent blog post. “Instantly you add the element of surprise to your special day. Maybe that dinner will happen…..maybe it won’t. You won’t find out until you are showered, have your hair done and are drying your freshly polished toes in front of the fan.”
Whether law enforcement spouses find support online or within their own communities, Gwaltney said, it is important that they have a place where they can find understanding and share common concerns.
“After, all,” she said, “who better to talk to than someone who gets it?”