We have spent virtually our whole married life either living in mining towns or with my husband in FIFO -fly in fly out – or DIDO -drive in drive out – jobs to mine sites in SA and QLD. He spent much of the first few years of our eldest child’s life working locally in civil construction and never really considered it a long term option once we had children. However when the civil construction industry had a rather large downturn a few years ago we weren’t really in a position to choose. Of course like anything, its not always smooth sailing, all the time but we really love what it brings our family.
We have large chunks of time together and my husband is able to be very involved in the children’s school and kindy commitments on a fairly regular basis. Something he wasn’t able to do prior to FIFO. And the holidays! Oh the holidays. Five weeks holidays a year which, coupled with the time off he already gets in his regular roster, means we can have one month off at a time a couple of times a year. There are many other benefits but will leave that for another time.
The modifications to the FIFO life
Our life is really no different to any other family and the trials of motherhood are just the same. There are just a few little modifications needed to cope with the long periods of time apart. It can seem lonely and never ending sometimes but I think we all feel like that occasionally, FIFO or not!
As far as the day to day running of a FIFO household, it just requires a little bit of extra planning. I have several lists on the go that I can refer to, to make sure everything gets done. I really can’t say how important it is to bulk cook and freeze. Our favourites are vegetable pasta sauce (makes a million different meals and is super tasty) big batch butter chicken and then lots of quick and easy healthy snacks. It just takes the pressure off meal times and gives me time to focus on the children.
I try to plan a week in advance, covering every possible thing that needs to happen, write it down and that gives me a good plan to go by. Of course its not always fool proof but makes managing solo a lot easier.
Things to do with FIFO that were never a problem prior to having children seem very difficult to get used to in the early days with little ones. Weekends were the hardest initially. Everyone else seemed to have family days and activities planned and were less likely to have times to catch up or have a visit from a slightly crazy mum and children. As you get more comfortable and kids get older and have sporting commitments or outings by yourself are more manageable, it is much easier.
This is where I think having a few other families in a similar work position is great (provided partners are on the same roster). We organised catch ups and outings together on weekends to break up the days a bit.
For us, being a FIFO wife means I am able to work ‘just for fun’ so to speak. So I work 1 or 2 days a week in a very flexible arrangement when he is away. Its great to get out and have a change of scenery but know that when he is home our time is ours.
I’m pretty relaxed about most things, but bedtime is not one of them. I absolutely need that time to finish off the days jobs, put my feet up and relax (occasionally!) Of course I go with the eb and flow of the children and try not to get my knickers in a twist too much if bedtime is not observed to the second but it is defiantly a high priority of the day!
Sometimes reality hits, especially the day he goes back to work when its 5 o’clock and the youngest is continually crying in that long low mind blowing drone because he wanted the blue bowl not the green and older daughter having an attack of attitude, just because. Knowing that it’s just me to deal with it for the next 14 days is a bit overwhelming at times. But the reality is, that that is parenting for you. It comes with trials and tribulations and being a fifo wife is no different.
We are also very lucky to have supportive friends and family which makes it a lot more bearable.
The most common question I get asked about the FIFO lifestyle is ‘how on earth do you cope at night, don’t you get lonely?’. I am actually probably a little strange but I actually like a bit of alone time and quite enjoy some nights when he is away (don’t tell him that!). Don’t get me wrong, I love our nights together. But there is the draw card of no compromise over tv viewing, no interruptions whilst I do a bit of work, have a chat with a friend or get lost on the computer. And best of all I get to sleep in the middle of the bed! It’s always good to look on the bright side.
The second most common question is ‘How do the kids cope? Don’t they miss him?’
Well…yes they do, as we all do. Do they cry and get upset about it? No not really. I think this is mainly because we are aware that it could be an issue so we have put lots of strategies in place. They certainty didn’t get it from their mother but our children just aren’t interested in talking on the phone! So instead they love sending emails, drawing pictures and scanning them or sending picture messages.
They also LOVE receiving short videos or pictures from their dad. Particularly of seemingly uninteresting things (to adults) such as a wild goat he sees on site, a big dump truck or train, or a snake in the onsite toilet! Its all so very important for maintaining relationships.
We also have a ‘Daddy Box’. Anything the children make, find or want to show dad goes in the box. When he comes home they pull out the box and have a little catch up on the happenings of the past two weeks.
Celebrate when we can
It can be a little tough when his roster doesn’t match up with important events. When you are flying by charter plane to remote areas of the country it is not easy to pop back for a birthday, Christmas or important event. We combat this by simply creating a new date to celebrate events when we are all together. Especially the more minor holidays such as Mothers and Fathers day. The children don’t mind in the slightest as they still get to celebrate, just a little bit differently. Times when it’s more difficult to change the date, we carry on with family and friends and keep in touch throughout the day with picture messages and video chats so that dad can be involved also.
Sometimes I want to practically throw the children at my husband as he walks through the door, other times its actually me I want to throw at him (yes I did just say that 😉 two weeks is a loooooong time!) but its our life and the good outweigh the bad.
My biggest tip if you are considering a FIFO lifestyle is that both of you agree to it, both of you know why you are doing it and set goals and stick to them. Especially if it’s the money that is the draw card. It is so easy for money to fly out the windows if you don’t have goals and stick to them. I also suggest not committing yourself financially to anything you wouldn’t be able to sustain if you weren’t in a fifo job. Mining is fickle and jobs can come and go quickly, particularly if it is a contract and not a permanent position which is common in mining.
And last of all communicate! However, and whenever possible. It often naturally happens when you see each other every day but just requires a little extra attention in a FIFO family.
Tips and tricks.
Bulk cook and freeze.
It goes without saying that this is a god send for fifo families. And of course mamabake has been invaluable for us. I also cook virtually every day he is back and freeze the remainder for use while he is away. I also have a list on my phone and on the fridge of the dinners I have shopped for so it is easy to know at a glance the possible options for each night.
Don’t try and pack too much in to the time your partner has at home.
It took us a while to work this one out. We ended up more exhausted than ever and started shift off both drained.
Now our friends know we kind of go awol for the week he’s back, give weekly commitments a rest and focus on our family. But we also have to make sure there is time for us both to do own thing also. So it’s a bit of a juggling act but I think we have it mastered now!!
Cleaning/ household chores
Try and do a big clean the day before your partner returns to work. It doesn’t take long when there are 2 of us and it just means the big cleaning jobs are out the way and you can start with a clean slate. One less thing to worry about.
4 Have a good tool box and know how to use it.
It’s funny how many seemingly simple things I didn’t know how to do as it had always been my partners job. Get your partner to show you, Google or YouTube the common home maintenance issues and solutions so you are well prepared.
5. Ensure you have a good network of friends and helpers.
We are lucky to have amazing friends and super supportive families. Everyone is different and I know oftenthis is easier said than done but the more people you have available to help the better. Friends, family, paid childcare, occasional baby sitter, a responsible teenager from down the road, the list is endless. Someone to grab some milk and bread you forgot to get or someone to pop over to watch the children for an hour or so at short notice for you can save the day sometimes.
6. Communicate continually about parenting decisions.
We try and talk regularly about the latest episode or phase the children are going through as well as what we’re going to do about it. Keeping a united front is important to us and it gives the children a lot more stability rather than different parents having different expectations.
7. Try not to attempt big changes while your partner is away.
Getting rid of a dummy, teaching a child to use the toilet or changing bedtime routines can be stressful enough even with the support of another parent. Unless you feel completely comfortable doing it solo I would suggest waiting until your partner is home.
8. Try not to discuss important things or make life changing decisions over the phone.
It is really hard to make decisions or to discuss things properly over the phone. We have a list on the fridge and he has one also that we write things down on and one night when he is back we sit down and work through the list over a few beers.
9.Pre pack bags.
I have a few large reusable shopping bags that are packed ready for outings and just require a few snacks to be added. It saves trying to organise hats, sun cream, drink bottles etc and makes the day a lot easier.
10. Get a good network of other mums in similar situations.
Don’t get me wrong, no need to ditch your current friends! In fact I’m not sure if I would have survived the first few months without my dear friends. It is just valuable to have a few friends in a similar situation to share the load, swap childcare or to spend time with.
11. Online shopping!
Going to the shops by yourself with kids that hate shopping gets a little exhausting and there is only so many ‘mum can I PLEEEEEEAAASE have….’ I can handle in one day!! There will always be the quick trips needed to pick up odds and ends but I like to at least have a weeks worth of staples delivered so as not to have to do a ‘big shop’ with the kiddies.
12. Send texts or emails about things as you think of them.
We often send text messages or emails throughout the day as soon as I think of something that needs to be discussed. That way I don’t forget to pass on important information and he can read it when he can and it’s a double reminder to talk about it on the phone.
13. Be careful and aware of guilt
Guilt. Lets talk about that horrible little word. Almost every other emotion, even negative emotions can have a positive side to them. Except guilt. It serves no purpose. I know almost every mother feels guilty at times but I’ve found fifo brings another whole list of things to feel guilty about. Its not just the usuals, its also questioning our decision to work fifo: are we giving enough time to the children? Will it do damage to their relationship with their father- dad not being at the important concert or birthday etc?.
I find writing them down and either find ways to fix the problem (if possible) or let it go. Make sure these things are talked about with your partner and or a friend as a ‘problem shared is a problem halved’. Also things seem 10 times as bad as they really are if you are on your own stewing it over in your head. Millions of children have grown up and thrived in millions of different family settings. Always look at the positives of FIFO rather than the negatives.
14. Plan plan plan
I’m a lists girl but if you’re not, I urge you to find a way that suits you to organise the weeks that your partner is away. I just use a weekly calendar and divide each day up into blocks. I plan dinners, shopping trips (or delivery’s) appointments, work, etc etc. especially when the children were younger I would organise visits with friends or grandparents for the blocks of time I know the kids will be the most difficult for me to manage. Children always seem to be better behaved in the company of others, and if they weren’t then there was an extra bit of support there. I knew that a whole day alone is a sure fire way for me to loose my marbles. So I made sure that we got out and about every day.
15. Bedtime/ bath routines
With young children it is hard to do this bed/bath routine on your own night after night. However it really just takes some tweaking and modifications. When we began fifo again after children I actually wrote down a timeline of how I would juggle dinner, bath time, feeing younger child, bed prep and bed time itself. I suggest really sticking closely to your plan to begin with. I am not a routine person really but we had a basic structure that we stuck to, to ensure I could manage it all. Slightly staggering bedtimes for each child can help ensure everyone gets a few moments 1:1 to be tucked in, joint bedtime stories, older children reading or drawing in bed while younger ones get put to bed can also help. I am not a fan of television but really needed to relax that rule a bit in the early days, just at specific times to give me 10 or 15 minutes or so to finish dinner or get pj’s etc ready. I have found youtube wonderful as you can watch just 1 or 2 short cartoons rather than having the tv on that is harder to turn off without a ruckus.
16. Visit your partners work site if possible.
Of course for obvious reasons this is not always possible but if it is, it is a GREAT way for the kiddies to get a bit of an idea of where your partner works, where they stay etc. I’m pretty sure that in the beginning my son thought dad actually worked on a plane in the sky for the whole two weeks he was gone. Once they had seen where he worked, where he stayed, met some work mates etc they were not only more comfortable with saying good bye but also more interested in talking to him on the phone as they could picture all the different things he was talking about.
17. Get out!
Especially when the children were very little I found playgroup, library story time or even a short walk to the creek down the road a relief from the four walls of the house. I found having at least one if not two activities a day great to keep everyone sane. Of course as they have gotten older it is so much easier as they often occupy themselves but i still find keeping busy the best medicine.
18. Research and network online.
There is a plethora of information and support groups online. You will find information about all aspect of FIFO work. My favourites are:
Mining Family Matters – they also have a great book ‘Mining Families Rock’ which was super helpful to begin with.
There is also a whole range of products for FIFO families including calendars specifically for children in FIFO families to signal when Dad is home or at work as well as mini miner uniforms etc.