Whether you work in mining or travel the country as a comedian, FIFO life can take its toll. Here’s five things worth trying to combat any negative impact on your kids and family life.
For the last five years I have spent almost half of my working life away from home. I’m a FIFO dad, part of a group of people who do fly-in fly-out (FIFO) jobs.
Probably the best-known FIFOs are those from the mining industry, but it covers a whole range of professions from IT, commerce and banking to politicians and nurses.
My thing is comedy. I’ve travelled all over Australia performing to all types of people in every pub and club. I won’t lie to you, it is a lot of fun but it comes at a cost — mostly to my family.
My children, for instance, are now at an age where they understand I’m going away but they don’t get for how long and why. I can’t just say “we need money guys” — that doesn’t cut it with kids.
My eldest son can get quite morose when he sees me packing and he has started asking if he can go to work with me. My wife says he is usually OK at first, but by about day four he starts getting down and dejected, and plays up a lot more.
My most recent FaceTime with my wife and son left me feeling pretty bummed as well. Archie, who is three and half, is now trying to block out his week by saying “OK, so tomorrow is daycare and then nanny is looking after us and then it’s a daddy day, right?”
Heartbreakingly, I had to say: “No mate, not yet, I’ll be in Melbourne for another 20 days”. This must seem like an eternity to a child.
I know there must be some impact on kids if you have to up and leave all the time. In fact, research shows that it can affect both children and couples.
Some children can act out or have behavioural problems, and the parent that is left at home can really struggle balancing the needs of the children while trying to do their own job.
What’s apparent in our home is that the partner is often left feeling like they are shouldering the whole burden. And on the flipside, the one “swanning in and out” can lose touch with homelife.
There have been times where I have felt like a boarder in my own house and a housemate to my own wife. A disconnect can happen very quickly, so watch out.
It is a challenge on relationships, although not quite as dire as it’s made out.
There is a misconception that there’s a high divorce rate among FIFOs. To keep on top of it in our house, my wife and I sat down to nut out our own checklist.
1. Do more before you leave
A lot of blokes think they’re doing enough at home, but the stats don’t add up. So check the bills, check the fridge and check the cupboard. If something needs paying, pay it. If something needs to be bought, go buy it. I make sure the fridge is stocked and the freezer is full of meals that are easy to prepare.
That doesn’t mean dropping the ball while you’re gone either. Track the bills while you’re away. My wife has a job, four days a week, that will move to full time when I return home from this recent trip, so she doesn’t want to have to do everything at home as well. Strike a balance.
2. Don’t complain
Never complain about how hard your job is on the road. Sure, you’re not on holiday, but you are away from the grind of homelife. To them, you are getting a break and it’s important to check in with them first to provide emotional support.
3. Do some dad stuff in advance
I’ve started videoing myself reading bedtime stories and the kids love them. Just don’t make them as animated as I did. I kept pulling faces and made funny voices which got the boys too excited before bedtime.
All you need is an iPad. Ask them what stories they’d like daddy to read. And upload them privately on Vimeo or YouTube so they can watch it on TV.
4. Make time for your partner
Organise a date night or something special you can do together that doesn’t involve talking about the kids or money.
To be honest, after being away for so long I just want to sit in my house and have no one bother me. I want to sit on my couch in my house and be around my things. But my wife has been stuck in OUR house, around OUR things for way too long, and wants to break the monotony, which I totally get now.
5. Dig in when you get home
Clean up around the house, do your own damn washing, and most importantly, give your partner some time away from the kids. It’s hard to find the right balance, but once you do you can feel like you are contributing as a family man and partner, and not part of the problem.
And one last thing — take your own pillow wherever you go, no matter how long or short the trip is.