When I reflect on how much our lives have changed since we first embarked on FIFO life, the word rollercoaster comes to mind.
I remember the days in the beginning of our journey, marked with loneliness. In fact, we got our dog Pepa because Kane was doing large 5 week swings and I felt so lonely at home when he was away (side note: getting our dog was the best decision ever). I kinda wish I’d enjoyed that time before kids more but I was a different person back then and I guess hindsight is always 20/20 like that. Plus, I would hand-on-heart do everything again because it has lead me to where I am today.
It’s been a journey, that’s for sure but I can honestly say that I’ve reached a place amongst the chaos of 3 kids (and Pepa) where I feel truly contented.
The biggest change and challenge by far was when we welcomed children into the fold although these lessons from FIFO life aren’t only focused around being parents and definitely still apply regardless of whether you have children or not.
What I’ve learned from 10+ years of FIFO life.
1. Self care should be a non-negotiable.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
I’ve learned that if you don’t prioritise your wellbeing when your partner is away, no one else will.⠀It took me reaching breaking point to realise the value of self-care as a FIFO wife.
When our second child, Jacob was about to turn 1 – I was totally burnt out. I blamed my unhappiness purely on our FIFO lifestyle. I begged Kane to stop working away. I resented him when he wouldn’t consider changing to local work. I cried almost every day, it took the tiniest of things to tip me over the edge.
Thankfully I have really supportive parents and my mum was the first to suggest that maybe I wasn’t coping and could do with some help.
I put Jacob in daycare for a day a week with his sister. On the first day he went, I cried (again) and took myself to a hot yoga class that I had wanted to try for ages. I sweated out my emotions and it felt so good. I also started seeing a psychologist regularly around this time. She helped me recognise the importance of filling my cup in some form every day and she also metaphorically held my hand while I figured out the logisitics of putting myself first, because everything felt hard and it felt easier to do nothing about it.
It can be easy to blame our kids on those hard days, too. It can feel like they are out to terrorise us. Remeber, though – kids aren’t physiologically wired to put our needs first (yet!) – nor should they have to.
Parenting is relentless. Make time for a break, whatever that looks like to you. Do it regularly and without apology or guilt.
2. The biggest obstacle to my happiness is not the distance, it’s my mindset.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
For so long I blamed my misery on our FIFO lifestyle. My happiness hinged on Kane coming back to work locally.
Every day felt long, monotonous and well, just hard. I resented just about every early morning, nappy change, snack making, dog walk, bedtime routine. It all felt like a grind and I had a story on repeat in my head that if only Kane was working in Perth, I’d be happy. When in reality, even if Kane worked in Perth, I would still be doing all of that stuff alone during the day because he would be working long hours.
In my experience, mindset is the hardest work to do when it comes to this FIFO life. The joy started to creep in for me, when I started to reframe those stories and thoughts I was having every day. To start shifting things, I simply wrote down 3 things I was grateful for each day. They didn’t have to be big things, even just being grateful for an extra 10 minutes of sleep or the way the light came in through our front window in the morning.
Over time I started to notice things I was grateful for in those every day moments I previously hated. I began to celebrate the micro miracles in each day. And finding happiness in the micro lead to a lot more happiness in the macro.
Humans are resilient, we can find light in the darkest of times (must-read on this front is Mans Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl).
Doing ‘the work’ and becoming aware of the stories I was telling myself about, well, EVERYTHING, has been pivotal in finding joy, positivity and happiness every day, not just when my husband is home.
3. Communication is everything.
Communicate, communicate and then communicate some more.⠀
The physical distance we experience can sometimes start to translate to emotion distance in FIFO relationships.
All relationships take work, the work can just look a little different for a FIFO couple. Verbal/written communication is everything because it’s all we have to rely on when our partners are away. There’s no possibility of physical touch or acts of service like the opportunities we have when our partner is at home.
It doesn’t have to be a huge, deep and meaningful conversation every day. It could be via message or email sometimes, or even a voice memo like WhatsApp or Voxer. The way we communicate looks different for every person and every couple. Do what feels true to you and don’t be afraid to express what it is you need.
Finding time to connect with your partner (like, not when you’re trying to bath the kids and they’re all screaming and trying to fight over FaceTime) is important.
Talking about the shit times but also being able to celebrate the good times, matters. Find your communication style and talk it out.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
4. I am strong and can withstand more than I would have ever thought.
If you’d asked me 15 years ago if I would be cool with this lifestyle, it would have been a HARD NO from me. But here we are. I can confidently say that I’ve learned to not only survive but thrive, in FIFO life.
A book that helped shift my perspective on this front is Self Compassion by Kristin Neff. It taught me how to stop beating myself up for my shortcomings (or not even shortcomings, just to stop picking myself apart for stuff that didn’t matter). it also taught me the power of being kind to myself. It has shown me that by being gentle with myself, I feel more accomplished and satisfied in life.
We don’t give ourselves enough credit as women, as Mothers. We manage some miraculous shit each and every day. Spend 10 minutes talking to any mum at school pickup and you’ll realise the extent of what we go through some days.
We bend- we sometimes break, but somehow we find the strength to pull ourselves together, wake up and do it all again the next day. We are resilient AF.
Oh, and PS: Get a a dog!