The FIFO-wife-life:  I don’t know how you do it.


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 is a 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 plays a big part okay).  I wasn’t born with a FIFO gene – I’m the same kind of me that you are.  What I realised though, are the things I do know.  [insert usual disclaimer, I am not a FIFO or marriage expert]

I do know that FIFO is not for everyone.  We choose this lifestyle.  It can be a stressful time for all parties and you must 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, my husbands 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 energy into being more optimistic about on-swings and made myself more aware of the positives that FIFO is affording us.  My husband and I 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 must 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 am certainly not perfect!

I do know the pros to FIFO life.  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.   It also means when he’s home 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).  It also means 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 also means there’s (usually, if nothing comes up) plenty of time for both of us to get some ‘me’ time and spend time together as a family.

I do know that I have great support and need to use them more.  Use your village to help you.  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.

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 must 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.

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 (that’s 2019 for those playing at home).  It could finish sooner but that is the absolute maximum.  Knowing this isn’t forever, for me, helps me cope.

The other thing I do know is that the mums that think they couldn’t do it, totally could.  If you were working together (team, team, team) and chose FIFO, then I have no doubt you could do it.   One thing I have learned about mothers is that they are friggin’ resilient.  I mean really, the amount of crap (sometimes literally) that gets thrown at them each day and they still live to face another day and love their kids more than they ever thought possible, that is a special kind of person.  One that I am very proud to be.