The phrase I get the most as a FIFO wife is ‘I couldn’t do that’ or ‘I don’t know how you do it’
I felt called to talk about this some more because I don’t get a sense of people feeling like they want to understand how I ‘do it’ but usually feel mostly pity when people say it – like they really want to be saying ‘I’m so glad I don’t do it’.
It got me thinking about the things we do to ensure we thrive in this lifestyle, I realised there are actually a lot of tips that other women may find useful in their own lives, even if they aren’t a FIFO partner – but especially if you are a FIFO partner (and own a business!).
For us, this isn’t a forced lifestyle, we choose this for our family because it works and hopefully giving you insight into the inner workings of a FIFO fam may help you to understand exactly how it works for us- minus the pity.
- Why do we do FIFO?
- What was FIFO like before kids?
- What was FIFO like after having kids?
- Get on the same page.
- My top 6 tips for surviving the juggle of FIFO life
Why do we do FIFO?
We always knew FIFO was on the cards for us – it was a lifestyle years in the making.
When Kane and I got together all those years ago, he knew he wanted to become a commercial diver. He lives and breathes the ocean, so it made sense he would choose a career to be close to it. He is now a commercial diver and a skipper – he works in different roles, mainly offshore on mining projects in the maritime industry.
The thing about maritime work is that they generally have these big swings. 4 weeks on and 4 weeks off is a pretty typical swing for anyone in the marine side of mining. So, because we knew what we were in for – we had time to adjust to the idea of him working away. In fact, when he first got his commercial diving ticket, he worked in Tasmania on a fish farm for around 6 months to get experience – that was my first experience of him working away – I saw him a couple of times while he was away and we even got engaged in Tassie, I love it there and it holds a special place in my heart.
Since then, he’s had so many different jobs across different industries – he’s one of those people that always lands on his feet and he’s a hard worker, a total hustler (unlike me). But generally his swing has remained as 4 weeks on/off – sometimes it’s been longer and sometimes a bit shorter but that would be the average, for sure. For Kane, this is the work he wants to be doing right now and I support him. He has also been the financial planner in our household and I give him props for how he has invested our money to get us where we are today.
What was FIFO life like before we had kids?
It’s almost hard to recall what it was like before kids (BK) but shortly after the Tassie stint, Kane worked a 5 week on/off roster which was one of the longer rotations he’s done over the years.
I was still working full time as a nurse and I would find that I would get FOMO when he was home and would often try and clear my schedule when he got back. The reality though, is that he was home for a long 5 weeks – we would always get plenty of time together, I probably didn’t need to try and live in his pocket for those 5 weeks. I would feel quite lonely when he was away and to help this we eventually decided to get a dog.
We adopted our dog Pepa in 2013 and she became a source of company and purpose when Kane was away. I loved having her around – it was also a wonderfully social thing, meeting all the other dogs and their owners at the local park. We loved it. She was the best decision ever and continues to be my wing woman when Kane’s gone (plus she loves that I let her on the bed for snuggles).
Adjusting to FIFO with children.
I feel like successfully living the FIFO lifestyle with children is 80% mindset and 20% logistics. After the birth of our second child, Jacob I really started to feel the weight of the FIFO lifestyle. I just found the adjustment to two kids a lot harder than I was expecting and was really in the trenches with a toddler and newborn at home.
I became fixated on FIFO being the source of my misery and spent a lot of time pleading Kane to come home and work locally. In hindsight, it wasn’t FIFO that was really the problem (although it would have contributed, for sure), it was that I was totally burnt out. I wasn’t prioritising myself at all. We went to counselling to help us find a way through our differences – which is where my lack of self care was really highlighted to me.
It forced me to call in my support system which included seeing a psychologist, putting Jacob in daycare and eventually returning to work for a ‘break’ from the kids. It was a really tough time but I learned so many valuable lessons through that period and still reap the rewards of the inner work I did. I credit it as being the catalyst for a lot of inner growth and was probably the starting point of my journey to thriving in FIFO.
Get on the same page.
Resentment will eat away at relationships – especially the FIFO kind. Good communication is paramount to both of you having your needs met. If one of you isn’t happy with how FIFO is going, there’s a solid chance you’ll both end up unhappy with how FIFO is going.
If you are struggling to communicate or argue all the time about stopping FIFO, I highly recommend finding a good couples counsellor to talk things through with. Often mining companies have pretty solid Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) which will subsidise most, if not all of the cost for you, too. An objective third party can really help mend bridges so you can find a way back to each other.
The things that help me survive FIFO mum life while running a business.
1. Prioritising self care.
For me this looks like: regularly exercising (I love BodyRight Fitness for classes I can bring the kids to!), having a cleaner, daycare and vacation care, accepting offers of help for dinners/babysitting, choosing Netflix over housework if I feel like it, seeing a psychologist, giving myself permission to invest in myself by way of business coaching and group coaching programs.
2. Having a positive outlook about the good side of FIFO.
There are definitely some perks to being a FIFO family. Kane gets to be involved in the kids lives 24/7 when he’s home, he does the lunches, school drop offs and pickups, parent help, swimming lessons, after school activities – it’s so nice having a break from this when he’s home and I know a lot of people don’t get a break eve if their partner works locally because they are normally still at work! More often than not these responsibilities fall to mums and it’s nice for me and for the kids that their dad gets to be there for them.
I also really enjoy the chance to recharge my batteries when he’s away. There’s something quite liberating about having the bed to yourself, watching what you want on Netflix, being able to listen to a meditation in bed at night, not waking up to someone else’s alarm/snoring/nutribullet blasting in the morning.
And let’s not forget the ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ thing, too. People say ‘I don’t know how you do it’, well, I don’t know how you find the inspiration to have sex with your husband when you’re both tired and in each other’s faces all the time. Being apart definitely helps keep things spicier.
The most obvious pro, for us, is the money. People think this is the only reason we do FIFO but as I mentioned before, this was always the sort of work Kane was going to do and it’s become about much more than the money now. It’s nice though, not gonna lie. The financial compensation means less pressure for me to return to work and I don’t think I would be as keen for FIFO if the pay wasn’t right.
3. Knowing my energy patterns.
This process has taken a while to get familiar with – but I credit a lot to:
- Getting familiar with my menstrual cycle.
- Learning more about my Human Design.
As women, understanding and embracing our natural, cyclical patterns can really help us to exist with more ease and flow. This translates to our work, too.
Knowing when I’m most likely to have lower energy and mood levels as well as require more rest, enables me to plan my days and weeks to honour this. It also makes it easier to give myself permission to rest, when my body calls for it.
My first encounter with Human Design, I had my chart done for me and found out I am a Projector type. This was a real experience of coming home to myself. A pure ‘aha’ moment where everything clicked about the way my energy levels fluctuate and how I can be filled with energy, enthusiasm and efficiency sometimes and then others feel like I need to zen out for a few days.
I used to get so frustrated with myself, but now I practice more radical acceptance and know that resting allows me to return to peak performance mode, in due course.
If you want to learn a bit more about HD – check out my podcast episode with Cat Skreiner where we dive into all things Human Design for mums.
4. Time blocking and being aware of what I can get done.
This ties into the previous point of recognising and embracing my fluctuating energy levels. Within my business and my life, I know generally how long tasks are going to take me.
I know if I need a solid 5 hours to finish a client project, how long it will take to work on a custom illustration or the amount of time I need to allocate for emails and I know just how long I like to procrastinate on my social media schedule each week.
I also know what I can and can’t expect to get done when I’m home with the kids.
For example, I can most likely do some inbox management, send voice messages or send an invoice or two throughout the day when I have the kids home with me, but if I’m trying to do anything that takes longer, I know I’ll be interrupted constantly and feel frustrated (which then results in a lack of nervous system regulation on my part and lots of loud, shouty words).
So it’s better for my mental health as well as my children, that I don’t try and attempt anything too momentous when they are in my care.
My time to work is when the big kids are at school, the little one is in care or napping and I often toil away on my laptop after they are in bed and the house is silent (making sure I stop with enough time to wind down and get some decent sleep).
Use a calendar system that works for you
I also use my Google calendar religiously because I always have a million balls in the air and I will forget things. If it isn’t in the calendar, there’s a good chance it isn’t happening (I also share this calendar with Kane so when he comes home, I’m not caught up constantly doing a ‘handover’).
5. Loving myself through not having it all together, all the time.
This means fishing laundry out of the clean pile for days because I haven’t made the time to put it away. It can look like having eggs on toast for dinner twice a week and putting the TV on during dinner.
Sometimes the kids have too much screen time and sometimes I leave the LEGO all over the floor because I know it will be out again the next day.
I forget library days and lunches, I double book myself and can’t volunteer for things.
Looking after 3 kids when my husband is away is tiring and this means I cut corners when I need to and I’ve learned to stop beating myself up about it.
I try not to engage in guilty or shameful thoughts for taking the path of least resistance, instead I give myself a high five for getting things done at all. Self compassion is where it’s at in motherhood, especially FIFO.
Oh, and I never make our bed, either…
6. Ask for help and take help that’s offered.
I have this habit of waiting until I’m on the verge of a mental breakdown before I ask for help. It generally looks a bit like me breaking into a sob while chatting to someone about how much I’m not coping. This is when I know I need to surrender to the process and outsource things to fill my cup once more.
My message to you though, is: don’t wait until it’s that bad.
It’s okay to have a ‘day off’, take time out for yourself even if your kids are all in school full time, or you aren’t ‘working’ in a typical job. Hell, it’s necessary!
It’s like there’s this unspoken ‘rule’ about being a mum, that you have to sacrifice yourself entirely for your family but all that happens when we do this is we become miserable and project all that heavy energy onto our children. If your friend offers to make you dinner, say yes, even if you feel like you could manage to whip dinner up that night – it means you can have a night off cooking.
Organise a babysitter to come once a week for a couple of hours so you can do whatever the hell you want – even if it’s just going into the next room and lying down with a book. Give the kids to Nan and Pop in the holidays for a sleepver so you can zen the fuck out. Not only do you deserve to fill your cup, you NEED to.
Surviving and thriving can look messy AF
In a nutshell, how I ‘do this’ is that life looks messy, a lot of the time.
Whether it’s the physical mess or the emotions and limiting beliefs simmering away beneath the surface.
I’m learning to be okay with existing in the messy middle. I know my children won’t always need me like they do now and that life won’t always be like this, we just have to ride this wave for now.