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When You Work Odd Hours

The only constant in Toni Isaacs's work schedule is constant change. An airline-supply technician in San Francisco, she works from 6 AM to 2:30 PM for six days straight before she gets two days off  -- days that differ each week. This erratic routine wears on her daughter, Lexie, who goes to daycare in her pajamas, often on weekends. As Isaacs' sixth workday nears (which she calls "my Friday," no matter when it falls), her 3-year-old gets clingy, wondering when the week will finally end: "Is your Friday here yet, Mommy?"

Night and weekend shifts, as well as rotating work schedules, are becoming increasingly common as service businesses, such as restaurants, stores, and health-care facilities, operate longer hours to stay competitive. Today, nearly one in five American workers has nonstandard hours.

What can be hard hit is family life. Mom may miss Saturday outings; Dad's only chance to sleep is when the kids are awake and want to play. To help ease the toll on children:

Be in Two Places at Once

When you go to work, keep reminders of yourself at home or at daycare for your child. Examples: Give a toddler a sweatshirt with traces of your regular soap; he'll feel connected to you when he snuggles it. Record yourself reading his favorite story or leaving a loving message.

Ignore the Clock

If you can't be there to tuck her in at night, re-create bedtime bonding during the day by cuddling over a book or rocking her to sleep at naptime. "What's important is that one-on-one time with your child happens, not when it happens," says Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute.

Keep Life Predictable

Try not to let a rotating work schedule disrupt your child's daily routine  -- children need consistency at home to feel secure. Keep order in his life by having the same caregiver watch him, and by making sure he eats, sleeps, and bathes at set times. Decorate a calendar with yellow sun stickers for days off and blue stars for nights off, to help children understand when to expect you home.

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