“I don’t know how you do it.” (How to survive the FIFO life)
This is a comment that I reckon I hear at least once a week, maybe even more during the weeks that my husband is away for work. ‘Doing it’ mostly means being upright, semi-presentable and managing to leave the house.
I have no problem with people saying it to me, it’s a pretty natural reaction for many mums and they must mean it because I can hear it multiple times from the same people (sometimes in the same day!)
They, too, are knee deep in toddlers, babies and household mess and they simply cannot imagine not having their partner walk in the door of an evening so they can tap out for at least a loo break.
The thing is though, honestly, I don’t know how I do it either (look, coffee features heavily). I never wanted to be a FIFO partner probably just as much as you don’t. What I realised though, are the things I do know.
[insert usual disclaimer, I am not a FIFO or marriage expert]
1. Be on the same team.
I do know that FIFO is not for everyone. We choose this lifestyle. It can be a pretty stressful time for all parties and you really have to function as a team for it to work. If someone is unhappy in the FIFO life, everyone will become unhappy in the FIFO life.
I say this from experience. After our second child was born I found it challenging in the leap from one child to two and then throw in our FIFO lifestyle, I was struggling. I began to resent my husband for working away and wanted to be like the ‘norm’. I wanted him to walk in the door every evening and I contemplated the thought of having to return to work like most mothers do, I felt envious that it was not a choice for them but rather, a necessity (go figure!?).
When my mood suffered, Kane’s suffered and my kids suffered (and maybe even the dog, too). It wasn’t overnight that I changed my perspective but I realised something had to shift. I focused a lot of my energy into being more optimistic about on-swings and made myself more aware of the positives that FIFO is affording us.
As a partnership we had to have many rational conversations about our goals and future and where we are headed. I guess a big part of me had to concede and trust in his guidance, that this will work out for the best.
Being on the same page is imperative in FIFO life because it can be bloody hard! You just gotta be able to support each other in those hard times, not tear each other down.
I must add here, that it is all good in theory too – I still have to remind myself of these things, sometimes daily. I am, but a mere mortal and I’m certainly not perfect!
Kane about to jump in at work.
2. Focus on the good things about FIFO. (hint: it’s not the money)
I do know the pros to FIFO life.
Obviously, the money is a pretty big bonus but it’s not enough. Money won’t compensate for living a life that you hate so I don’t think this is reason in itself to live a FIFO lifestyle.
Being a shift-worker (nursing), FIFO makes it so much easier to return to work with small kids. No worries about child care as when he’s home he has the kids if I pick up a shift, also the joys of working in the casual pool in nursing.
FIFO also means when Kane’s home, he’s home 24/7 and I get a huge break from the monotony and routine of life with kids. I’m not always the one getting up early with them, fighting them into their clothes and making lunches (or watching Peppa Pig for the millionth time).
He can participate in the fun activities we do during the week like park dates, swimming lessons and family outings. As he does rather large swings, when he’s home it gives us plenty of time for both of us to get some ‘me’ time and spend time together as a family.
We can also go on more holidays than most families because he has more chunks of time at home (and thanks again to shift work).
3. Use your support network.
I do know that I have great support and need to use them more. Find your village and use them. Frequently.
I am super thankful for the help I receive and even though I have gotten a tad better at accepting offered help, I still have to force myself to be a ‘yes-man’ instead of ‘no, no I can do it’ (note to self: you can’t always do it).
If someone offers a meal, a coffee, babysitting, a park-date or a shoulder to cry on. Say yes. Future you will thank you for it.
Sometimes if you’re reluctant, imagine if the shoe was on the other foot – you would gladly help someone else out (I hope!) so why wouldn’t others do the same for you?
If you feel like you don’t have much of a support network, maybe your family don’t live close or you’re new in town then it’s worth putting yourself out there and joining some groups to make some friends.
Playgroup is fantastic for younger children, chuck your name down on the school committee (people get so scared of comitting to these but really, it’s not much work), invite another kid over for a playdate with their mum or go to the coffee catch-ups when you’d rather avoid them. It’s hard to make new friends and yes, you’ll probably feel awkward at times but you’ll find your people if you keep persisting.
“Find your village and use them. Frequently.”
4. Communicate honestly with each other.
I do know that communication is key. I think this is the key to successful relationships in general, really.
It feeds into my first point about being on the same team. You need to be able to talk things out with your significant other in a rational way.
Hold off on any big decisions when you are angry, wait for the dust to settle.
Don’t ignore issues, always keep the communication channels open.
Same goes when things are going great, perhaps you have had a great day – the kids have been angels and everything has just worked (rare, but they do happen), tell your partner! Everyone needs a bit of positivity from time to time.
Positivity breeds positivity, right?
5. Have a game plan.
I do know that you need a plan. Again, this ties into a couple of the other points I’ve made (team, team, did I mention team?).
Decide what is going to work for you. Is there an end date you are working towards? Are you happy to go with the flow and live the FIFO life forever? Perhaps you compromise on a time-frame. Again, I think if you have a common goal, you can work through it together.
We made the decision not to do FIFO past the year when our eldest turns 5, which would have been this year. Turns out it was a bit of a shit plan as per Kane and he wasn’t happy. It caused a bit of mayhem and a rough period of time which saw us swap roles as the main breadwinner for a few months to change things up.
Anyway, the goal posts have moved but we talked about it a lot (see above point re communication) and once again, I feel like we are back on the same page and functioning as a team (see my first point).
6. Know that you can totally do it even though you think you can’t.
The other thing I do know is that the mums that think they couldn’t do it, totally could. If you are working together (team, team, team) and choose to live the FIFO life – then I have no doubt you could do it. Like I said, this was never really the life I planned on having nor really wanted, but here we are and I’m happy as Larry.
Something that continues to amaze me is how bloody resilient us mums are. I mean really, the amount of crap (sometimes literally) that gets thrown at us each day and we still live to face another day and love our kids more than we ever thought possible, that is a special kind of person.
One that I am very proud to be