The challenges of being a FIFO parent
Summary: "The day I said goodbye to the red dust of the Pilbara and hopped on that final plane back home to my family, I felt elated."....
Something you may not know about me is that in my past life I was a Fly In Fly Out (FIFO) dad.
I started out working on a three week on, one week off rotation before transitioning back to a more 'family friendly' two week on, one week off rotation. The money was excellent, I had a whole week off every third week to spend with my family and our grocery bill was minuscule thanks to my absence of eating dead animals two-thirds of the time. Sounds pretty good, right?
Before I became a bereaved parent, I would say that one of the biggest challenges of my parenting life to date was spending that time being a parent in absentia to my first-born child. As an outsider it’s often seen that you get greater opportunity for travel, boosted wages and the opportunity for prolonged periods of leave. These are all nice little perks, but it overlooks some of the real challenges that come with being a FIFO parent. I’m not criticising those who choose to do it, nor am I suggesting there aren’t those who love it and make it work, but I think it’s really important that we acknowledge some of the challenges faced by those parents who do take up the FIFO lifestyle.
Milestones are missed
This was one that I found super difficult when working away. I used to Skype my family regularly and see my daughter as she grew, but it’s just not the same. I remember shedding several tears after I’d gotten off the phone to my family, having seen my daughter take her first steps and I was missing out. This was my first child and I’d missed a key milestone. That shit was tough.
Your habits and routines become different to theirs
Being on site is great from a housekeeping perspective. You have a team of individuals who cook for you, clean your room, change your bedding and basically take care of you. The trouble starts when you get home after being accustomed to these services - nothing pisses your partner off quite as much as unceremoniously dumping your crap everywhere and 'leaving the dishes to soak'. It’s not unreasonable to get shitty at those sorts of things and I totally understand it – what becomes hard though is that in your absence your family have started forming their own habits and routines. They might get up at a certain time, do specific tasks at specific times and go places on specific days – only to have this new person thrown into the mix who acts as a disruptor. It can be hard coming back to feel like an outsider – really through no fault of either person – simply because you’re functioning two thirds of the time on completely different routines. You try so hard to blend into their daily lives when you come back, but it’s harder than you think.
It’s lonely and negativity is amplified
Working in a remote location can be extraordinarily isolating.
You have a fight with your partner? You’re alone with your thoughts.
You have a rough day at work? You’re taking it back to your box to stew over.
Sometimes you’ll receive bad news at the start of your swing and you’re left to stew on it until your swing is over. Admittedly most employers are pretty reasonable when it comes to the more serious stuff and will fly you home, but life happens and even if you do head home, it’s a two-hour plane trip plus travel of stewing and dwelling before you even get the opportunity to start facing up to your situation.
Connections are temporary
You meet some great people working away and some of those connections are lifelong – but people have lives, goals and plans beyond your control and at a moment’s notice someone that you’ve formed a strong bond with may demobilise, move sites or decide to end their FIFO journey completely. This can be hard when part or all of your onsite support network suddenly disappears in the blink of an eye. You’re struggling with the fact you don’t have access to your family and the people you turn to are no longer there. It’s easy to see how depression can be so prevalent in many of the remote FIFO communities.
You feel transient
You never really feel like you have stability, when you’re living in temporary accommodation on-site and then spending your week off at home trying to play catch-up with life. You can’t join the local cricket team, catching up with FIFO mates on other rosters becomes impossible, and you feel like you’re not properly integrated anywhere. You want to feel like you belong somewhere, but instead you feel like you have two half-lives, completely fractured and split apart.
I’d like to think I’m pretty tough and resilient, but by the time our eldest daughter turned two, I’d had enough of the FIFO life. The missed birthdays and milestones, the instability and transiency, the mucked-up routines and the loneliness – suddenly, the pay cheque just wasn’t worth it anymore. The day I said goodbye to the red dust of the Pilbara and hopped on that final plane back home to my family, I felt elated. I knew I was very lucky to be able to 'get out' and find a similar-paying job close to home, and I know not every FIFO parent has that opportunity.