The FIFO families that flourish

Communication basics ... Skype can be a big help for FIFO families.
Communication basics ... Skype can be a big help for FIFO families. 

A few months ago, when I caught up with one of my best mates to celebrate her pregnancy, I tentatively asked her about her hubby’s job. They’ve spent the past decade living and working in exotic locales around the globe, but for the last couple of years she’s mostly stayed in Australia while he works a fly-in/fly-out (FIFO) roster, spending much of his time overseas. Now that their much anticipated child was on the way, I was wondering if this was going to change.

She said they’d talked about it, but that they love the lifestyle it has afforded them, and that the career opportunities are simply better overseas for him. She also said that while he does often spend four weeks away at a time, when he is home, he’s home for four weeks – all day, every day. How blissful to be able to take a midday bath, or go back to bed after a heinous night’s (lack of) sleep, knowing Dad is home and happily bonding?

I thought about how things work in my household, and while the everyday support of my partner is fantastic, I’m no stranger to hanging by the front gate by 5.30pm, having taken care of all the day-to-day stuff. So I’m the first to admit I’m totally clueless about running the show alone for a month.

Fast forward a couple of weeks into my friend’s husband’s fly-out part of the roster, and I asked her for an update. For them it’s a case of so far, so good. She’s enjoying the ability to completely run the house, with only herself and bubs to worry about (Lite’n’Easy and convenience health foods like baked beans abound). She’s also surrounded by supportive friends and family, so gets plenty of rest and relaxation.

I also asked her about outside support groups that she is part of, and learnt that Debbie Russo, the author and creator of The Fifo Wife blog, is a real lifeline.  

Debbie is a 30-something FIFO wife and stay-at-home mum to three boys who are aged seven, five and three. She and her husband have lived the FIFO life for 13 years: four weeks on, four weeks off.

“I love the life it gives us, but you are either made for it or not, and that goes for your husband too,” she says. “It will either tear you apart or bring you closer together – and for us it has been the latter, which I am grateful for. I don’t say lucky, because I don’t believe in it – it’s hard work. Relationships can suffer with this lifestyle.”

Debbie admits she’s had hard times as a FIFO wife, and her highly helpful blog gives great insight and tips and tricks to deal with them. But be warned, there is no room for pity parties on her site; if you don’t like the life and you can’t both work at it, she recommends you give it up.

The FIFO Wife’s top tips

  • Have a routine: Make sure it sticks around when hubby gets home too. “Mine operates around meal times. We have a strict 7.30pm bed time that is not negotiable. That time after 7:30pm is my time,” she says.
  • Have the kids help around the house: Debbie’s boys started doing chores at age four. They hang their own washing, make their own beds, wash, wipe and put away their own dishes.
  • Plan meals in advance: “Knowing what I’m having for dinner is helpful, and I plan a week in advance. I try and have one day a month where I cook a bunch of freezer-friendly meals so I can pull one out after a long day.”
  • Being organised in general: With no outside help for appointments when her husband is away, Debbie uses a diary to mark all the long-term appointments and a weekly planner that’s written up every Friday. She also uses her iPod/ iPhone to mark appointments when she’s out and about.
  • Take ‘me time’: Debbie says she learned the importance of this one the hard way. She now takes half an hour every day on her running machine.
  • Put your marriage first: Remember that you fell in love for a reason. Take time to keep interests with and in your spouse.
  • Never say ‘Daddy is leaving again’: “I say ‘Daddy is off to work’, and show them where he is on a map,” Debbie says.

As a side note, I was actually a FIFO child myself: my dad worked away on a regular basis until I was two, but he gave it up when he felt he was missing out on building a relationship with me and watching me grow. I'm close to him now, and recognise the benefits his wages would have given us, including the fact my mum could afford to stay at home. Similarly, Debbie says she and her hubby save their pennies for the day their kids say they want out of the FIFO life.

Making a success of being FIFO seems to come down to good communication, organisation, a strong relationship and a healthy dose of realism. But as Debbie says, this is true of life in general, really.