What is family life really like for an ATC?

atc_fiancee

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1
Hello everyone. I hope it's ok for me to post this here.

My fiance just got his class date for En Route, and I've recently started finding out some information that's making me very concerned about this job and lifestyle. For some background information, we are actively trying to have a baby, and I recently started taking fertility medication (which hasn't been helping at all with my emotional state and anxiety about this job).

First, I was never told about the high divorce rates in this job, which apparently happens often enough for it to be a meme/joke on many internet forums. Apparently it's not that out of the ordinary for ATCs to have multiple divorces. I also only recently found out about how terrible the shifts can be, and how often my fiance would be missing not just major holidays with his family, but birthdays and anniversaries and weekends in general as well. I was led to understand that this would be more like a 9-5 job, which apparently isn't the case at all. I also read a post on another forum about a woman in a similar situation (newly married, just had their first kid), and she was talking about how for the first few years she was essentially a single parent, and they eventually ended up getting divorced, due in large part to his work schedule.

All of this has completely blindsided me, and I'm extremely worried about our future. If this is all true, then I honestly don't know if I want to even go through with marrying my fiance, much less have a baby with him. I grew up with an absentee father who had an extremely demanding job, he was never home for Christmases and birthdays and I probably only saw him a few times a month. I don't want the same for my kids. ATC has been his dream job for a really long time, and I don't want to be that girl who makes him choose between his career and his partner, it's not fair to either of us. So if all of this stuff is true, please let me know so we can make the right plans before it's too late.

Any information that could shed some light on these concerns would be really appreciated. Thanks for reading.
 
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PushingTin

Guest
The schedules suck and the morale at most Centers is fairly low; but irresepctive of FAA ATC the world is full of hardship, malevolence, and suffering. I wouldnt worry about things you can't control. The pay and benefits are great, but not enough to sustain happiness or find deeper meaning or life clarity. Same as any other path. All will be well.


In true love the smallest distance is too great, and the greatest distance can be bridged. 😁
 

vectorwagon

Trusted Contributor
Messages
174
I don’t have much to offer but I’ll throw in my two cents and you can add it to whatever else comes from here. Also — I really hope people can keep their responses to you respectful and not devolve into the usual shit ATCers do when someone shows vulnerability. I have a lot of respect for you and the maturity you’re showing by thinking about this now and considering both of your needs. So many people don’t do that. What your friend told you isnt wrong but it depends on the person and also I think you are imaging the very very worst case scenario.

It’s hard to say without knowing either of you, it depends on him and his personality too. I can say yes honestly probably expect him to be somewhat distant/stressed/preoccupied during OKC, during training at his facility, etc. And enroute lasts years so it will feel like forever. He may not be like that, he may have a more chill personality? Or you may be more independent, I’m not quite sure how to word what I’m trying to say. But it’s not unreasonable to expect that either. Have you talked with him about all this?

During training he may get lucky enough to be put on weekends off, after that obviously it’s based on seniority and maybe his days off will be Tuesday Wednesday or Wednesday Thursday, but sometimes holidays fall on those days. He will definitely miss family events but maybe not as many as you think, or maybe he has to work a day shift on Thanksgiving but gets to join you all at 4 PM that day or whatever holiday etc etc.. Hell you may want him at work out of your hair while you do whatever and he’s making double pay :)

Edit: also, if being gone weekends or missing ANYTHING will be an issue then yes you will have issues, need some flexibility from both sides otherwise it prob won’t work. But that could be said for any couple actually. Unless one is just a total pushover and lets the other walk all over them

Just some random thoughts.
 
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Shikaka

Legendary Member
Messages
2,065
Not center, but this jobs pays more than an enough for my wife (who was pregnant during my academy time) to be a stay at home mom to my son (who was born during training). Honestly, yes it can suck at times, but before this I was middle management corporate and wanted to suck start a shotgun. Before that I was military for 8 years...so my comparisons might be skewed. Either way, this is the most cushy job I've ever had and have never had more time with my family. Added perks are I no longer desire to slip a tongue on a 12 gauge and for the most part I haven't been shot at lately
 

TimShady

Active Member
Messages
47
Schedule is by far the worst part of the job, in my opinion. It’s a bit of an alternative lifestyle compared to a 9-5, but there are pros to it as well. Weekdays off are really nice if you stay home with the kids since you can do things without the crowds, for instance.

Also, training aside, there’s not many other jobs where he can make this kind of money working 40 hours a week and not being tied to his phone or email while at home. I love my job, but when I’m at home I don’t think about it or worry about it. In that sense, it can be low stress since you’re not worrying about closing a deal or meeting a deadline, etc.

I don’t personally know any controllers who are so stressed out about the job that it’s apparent in their personal life. Again, training aside. The first few years there is a lot to learn and a lot of pressure, which can affect people’s mood, etc at home.

You would have to come to terms with him working weekends and at least some holidays and not resent him for it, or at least be willing to try it for a few years if he agreed to figure something else out if it turns out to be completely miserable for you (but I don’t think it will, lots of people work on weekends). Obviously you and the future family need to be more important to him than this job or you shouldn’t be marrying him!
 

DL0509

Trusted Contributor
Messages
339
I agree with others I personally like having weekdays off, and the schedule allows me to still plan certain things on workdays. For me personally this job had improved my marriage and quality of life with my wife and kids. The hard part will probably be during training, but after he checks out the stress level should drop alot.
 

JNev

Forum Sage
FAA
Messages
590
Facility
BWI Baltimore Tower
Also if a certain holiday is incredibly important I check which day of the week it falls on and try to have it be one of my RDOs. Another option to get a holiday off
 

GulfBravoPapa

Forum Sage
Messages
1,190
It is definitely not a 9-5 job, especially at a center. Centers are open 24/7/365. Depending on the center there might be quite a few people on the midnight shift. If you cannot handle him not being home every night and weekend it is not going to work. The typical ATC schedule is night shift, night shift, varies, day shift, day shift, two days off... Plus or minus a midnight shift.

In my ten years of experience controllers tend to either have multiple divorces or six kids. I've known more than one controller who has married and divorced the same woman twice.
 

Phillyman2633

Legendary Member
Messages
817
I got married last year and everything is working out fine. I have almost no seniority at my facility, Wed/Thu off with a rotating schedule (4pm, 3pm, 1pm, 7am, midnight shift), so it fucking sucks for a normal relationship but you make it work because you can retire at 51 with a 40% pension. It's a necessity to have a significant other that understands the constraints of the job and doesnt try to crawl up your ass to have the same stupid ass fight every other week talking about "why cant you get off this Saturday?"

If you know what his schedule is going to be like going into it, either be all for it or all against it and rip off the fuckin Band Aid. Last thing he needs is you to pretend like you're going to make it work for 3 years and then you start fighting about "I know you're off Wednesday/Thursdays Richard but if you loved me you'd take off every other Saturday." That's not how this works...it's not how any of this works.
 

vectorwagon

Trusted Contributor
Messages
174
Good point about the schedule other than just working night/weekend. If one of you is M-F 9-5 type, depending on what he gets, you’ll be opposite and almost never see each other except coming and going or for any amount of time except at night during sleeping hours. But some people get along great that way haha! I sort of take for granted not having a family I think because I don’t feel like my schedule is weird, it just is what it is and I live my life, I only notice it when I try to date “normal” people. And it doesn’t really work for me lol jk

Again, I think it’s good that you’re thinking about it realistically now but what if you just not add anything permanent to the mix like a baby or a marriage and just see how it goes for a few more years. I know you prob feel like “but if it doesn’t work I’ll have wasted 3 years when I could have met someone and started a family” Realistically it would take that long to get to that point anyway so if you decide this is going to work for you at least you’ll still be with the same person, and if not it’s only a few years behind with a more compatible situation, it feel like forever but in the grand scheme of life a few years is like nothing ya know what I mean?
 
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PushingTin

Guest
I feel like I could write a book about what a Center does to your psyche and how living that grind in the area has a creeping effect on changing your personality.... the only problem is it would be very esoteric and only about 35% of the people would relate; as it is all dependent on what personality type you guys are. If he is more "easy going" then there will presumably be less issues and he can roll with the punches and management incompetence and short staffing during thunderstorms in the middle of July working 2 hours 30 mins a session and come home to your nice upper middle class house and play with the kids and live happily ever after. If he is more neurotic,passive,sensitive, and/or easily offended... then he liekly will not enjoy himself at work; and it stands to reason you might not like being around him when he gets home.

All that to say... it is an understandable and sincere question that you ask... but the answer is not clear and its one of those things you really cant fully completely pre-plan. "you dont know until ya know" . the downsides are clearly as ppl have said the schedule is atrocious and being a trainee for 2-3 years at a center i would liken to a mild form of hazing. The biggest upside is the pay and benefits and the fact that "you arent exactly digging ditches or pounding big rocks into little rocks". It takes a far greater mental toll than a physical one. That said, the sedentary work life isnt helpful. Once certified I find that the job becomes very boring and stagnates your ambition. You arent exactly being challenged to be your best and keep pushing to learn more and obtain career progression. Only if you are self motivated on your own. NATCA (the federal labor union) is extremely powerful and influential for a small labor union (for better or worse). The made men at the top are hell bent on privatizing ATC with extremely little transparency...so theres that too.
 
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bigfooten28

Trusted Contributor
Messages
155
I feel like all these things people are complaining about are still better than everyday I was in the military..........living in shit holes, getting paid crap, working 6-7 days a week 12-15 hours a day, controlling for no less than 3 hours at a time. This is all actually making me happy.
 

Cmsgthokage

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Messages
519
I feel like all these things people are complaining about are still better than everyday I was in the military..........living in shit holes, getting paid crap, working 6-7 days a week 12-15 hours a day, controlling for no less than 3 hours at a time. This is all actually making me happy.
Where were you working that you worked more than 6 days in a row more than 10+ hour shifts??
 

DankVectorz

Legendary Member
FAA
Messages
1,488
Facility
N90 New York Tracon
I work an average 54 hours a week, 6 days a week and feel like I have a decent home life. My schedule rotated weekly between day shift (7-3) and swing shift (3-11) with overnights thrown in every couple of months. Been married 3 years now and the schedule has never been an issue for us and I’ve never had weekends off. Honestly I don’t want weekends off because where I live 40 million other people have weekends off and it’s not worth the hassle of trying to get anything done on sat/sun. The sacrifices I’m making now in terms of holidays or weekends I think are worth it since I’m planning on retiring at 50.

Honestly my dog throws a bigger wrench in plans than my schedule because she makes doing overnight trips a pain in the ass trying to find a dog sitter.
 

vectorwagon

Trusted Contributor
Messages
174
I feel like all these things people are complaining about are still better than everyday I was in the military..........living in shit holes, getting paid crap, working 6-7 days a week 12-15 hours a day, controlling for no less than 3 hours at a time. This is all actually making me happy.
These things are all definitely better but the original poster wasn’t asking for comparisons of military experience vs the faa :boo: I’m sure there are plenty of things in this world that are 10x better than someone else had but still wouldn’t be for you. ??
 

Cmsgthokage

Trusted Contributor
Messages
519
Deployed military life.
Didn’t think the AF could make you do actual air traffic control duties for more than 10 hours a day and more than 6 days in a row ever.


Also, OP hope you give your fiancée a chance. I’ve had to go through the training demand, shitty schedules, long distance, etc. We both had demanding schedules too, she was going to school and a RN. So we made the most out of our time together and made sure we always had time to just forget work and chill. It’s hard at first, but doable.
 
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