Kristin and Ron Thompson feel like they are single parents although they are happily married and live in the same Huntington Beach, Calif., house.
That's because when Ron's working as a firefighter on 24-hour shifts, Kristin stays home watching their two school-age sons.
Then, when Kristin heads off to her 12 1/2-hour shifts as an emergency-room nurse, Ron is home to cook meals, manage homework and get his energetic sons off to football, baseball or karate.
It's not an ideal situation -- the couple can go more than a week without sitting down to dinner together -- but these Huntington Beach parents feel they are doing the best for their boys by keeping them out of child care and saving money along the way.
"Ultimately, we feel it is fortunate we are raising our kids," said Kristin, 38, as she displayed a calendar showing their convoluted schedule of who is doing what when. "It's cheaper, and neither of us has a regular schedule."
The Thompsons join a growing number of families who are choosing "split-shift" or "tag-team" parenting as an innovative way to stay home with their children while working two jobs. For some, it's also a way to avoid the alternatives -- costly and sometimes low-quality child care.
As the world moves increasingly into a 24-hour economy, more and more families are making the same choices, social scientists say.
One-third of two-earner couples with children under 5 have one parent working nights, evenings or a rotating schedule, according to a study by Harriet Presser, a University of Maryland sociology professor who studies work and family.
The majority of these folks are split-shift parenting, Presser said. And many of these families are breaking stereotypes, too.
While a father's ideology about sharing domestic tasks may be more egalitarian among educated and wealthy families, Presser said, fathers who are at home with their children often are in municipal and service jobs with around-the-clock schedules like firefighters, police officers and maintenance workers.
"Men rarely say (they want to stay at home with the kids), but they do it," Presser said. "They don't take the jobs because they want to do child care. They save some money and they may not want strangers to take care of their children. So this is the only way if they want two incomes."
Take Gerardo Yanez for example. The Santa Ana, Calif., father of two comes from Mexico, where woman traditionally stay home with the children and men go off to work.
But life changed for him when he immigrated to the United States a decade ago. Yanez works 8:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. as a janitor.
Then his day shift begins -- caring for his infant son while his wife works selling cosmetics. Later, Yanez picks up his 6-year-old daughter from school.
Yanez said he has had opportunities to work a day shift, but then he would have to find alternative care for his children. This would be costly. He's also nervous about where they would go.
"I don't trust other people. You don't know if they eat or how they were treated, we hear so many things about how they are being mistreated," said Yanez, 38, sitting in his one-bedroom apartment.
But there are challenges. A 2000 study written by Presser showed that parents who have one person work the night shift are up to six times as likely to get divorced than other couples. There's little time for couples' time together.
When Yanez comes in after a night's work he showers, tumbles into bed and mumbles a few words to his wife, Graciela Ochoa, who is getting up to take her daughter to school and get to work.
The couple rarely go out on their own and have little time to themselves.
"It's difficult because there isn't much communication ... or intimacy," said Ochoa, 36, sitting on the couch by the bedroom that holds the couple's bed and bunk beds for the children.
There's also the exhaustion factor. Working full time and taking care of the kids during the day is double the work.
Yanez says he sleeps a few hours in the morning and a few hours before he heads out for the night. He's often tired, which can make him lose his patience. But for the most part, he's used to it. Weekends, he tries to catch up.
Many nurses also choose to work nights and stay home with their children during the day. They are trying to provide the benefits of stay-at-home moms while earning an income, too, nurses and social scientists say.
Some question how healthy this is.
"People feel really good, that 'my kids are not in day care,' but, right, you are falling asleep all day while you are taking care of them," said Angela Hattery, author of "Women, Work and Family: Balancing and Weaving."
"I think it is open for discussion whether these arrangements are best for the kids."