Advice for First Responder Wives


Dr. Rachelle Zemlok

As a police wife or fire wife there are many times when you have to be EVERYTHING: the decision maker, the disciplinarian, the problem solver, the protector etc. You have your own worries about the dangers of the job itself and what those dangers might mean for your first responder family. Your spouse deals with some of the most terrifying things human nature has to offer and you might take on some of those worries. You’re going to laugh at me when I say you have to put yourself first! I know you’re used to putting everyone else’s needs ahead of yours, it’s the role you have been given. I’d like you to understand that taking care of yourself is such an important part of your family being happy!

I’d like you to imagine a full pitcher of water. It’s meant to fill cups. Once the water has run out it has no more water to give, you wouldn’t expect it to continue to fill cups of water right? That’s burnout! It’s when you mentally and emotionally have no more to give yet you wake up each day expecting yourself to show up and give more even though you never refilled. If pouring water into cups is giving, then adding water to the pitcher is Self-Care. I think you’ll agree when I tell you the best thing to do is to try and avoid burnout all together. To be preventative means to be diligent about never letting your pitcher of water empty, being aware of when it is low, and refilling it as needed.

How do you do that? Well this can be different for everyone… but some basic principles apply. Take a moment to consider what fills you up emotionally. What makes you feel relaxed and rejuvenated. Take a moment to really consider what melts your stress away and brings you joy. Whatever came to mind is likely something you should start incorporating more into your life. When we have the time this might be a relaxing vacation or a weekend getaway. When we have less time it might be a massage, pedicure, a workout, a night out, reading a good book, taking a bath, indulging in a show or movie that makes you feel good or laugh, spending time with friends that bring you joy and ease, or a class you have always wanted to take. If you only have a moment or a couple of minutes it might look like stepping outside, taking some deep breaths, trying to clear your mind, reminding yourself of a funny memory, coming up with three things you are truly grateful for, or engaging in a brief moment of just clearing your mind and letting go. You get the idea. The possibilities are endless!

Now of course… there’s another angle to this equation of avoiding an empty pitcher. This is to pour less water out! The water in this metaphor is your energy and it’s precious! So don’t just pour it out freely into any empty cup! You can limit things that drain you emotionally and that make you feel more stress or worry. This might mean not bringing work or drama home and limiting talk about those things all together. If you work, and it drains you, this might mean leaving at a decent hour every day, actually taking a break to eat your lunch, taking mini breaks throughout the day to get outside or talk to someone about something besides work. You might need to limit social media, news or other forms of media that leave you feeling negative or hopeless. Maybe you limit time with certain family members, friends, or colleagues that drain you. You need to get good at knowing what empties your pitcher and develop the skill of saying “no” to tasks that you really don’t want to be doing.

Making sure your own pitcher stays full is a daily juggling act. Know what fills it and what drains it. Avoiding burnout means you are consciously choosing more things that fill you up on a daily basis. This can be hard to do, but your wellness is so important to your family being resilient and thriving. If you constantly feel drained you’re not able to give to your family in the way you really want to. So remember to schedule this in regularly like it’s a TO DO. If you need support prioritizing yourself, a therapist like myself can help! You deserve it.

About Dr. Rachelle Zemlok

Dr. Rachelle Zemlok is a licensed clinical psychologist in California specializing in working with first responder families and supporting parents with children diagnosed with ADHD or pose behavioral challenges. For more information on Dr. Zemlok or to connect with her please visit her website at