Are FIFO wives with children the forgotten single mum’s out there. Yeah, yeah, yeah we aren’t single, we do have our partners but for most of us, we spend more than half a year without our partners home. Left to full parental responsibilities solo. So when I say single I’m not referring to our relationship status but the status of us as mum’s, single meaning, doing it solo. So a part time single mum, means doing the parenting part of the time as a solo person. I hope that makes sense because I’m feeling the death stares burning a hole in the back of my head already.
Now, before you get on your high horses….yep Karen, I’m looking at you. I’m not here to be dismissive of all the single mum’s out there doing it all alone 24/7. So you can call off the hoards with pitchforks. And, while we’re at it…. NO! The money our partners get paid does not make up for the lost time, so zip it. Your judgement is not welcome here. Go take it elsewhere. Cheers.
Being a FIFO family is definitely a lifestyle choice and it’s not for everyone. It comes with it’s benefits and also it’s down falls. One of those down falls being the time our partners are away. FIFO rosters vary from site to site from 1 week on site and 1 week home to 4 weeks on site and 1 week home or even longer away. My husband is currently doing 2 weeks on site and 1 week home. This means he is away more than 6 months of the year, more like 8 months actually. Hence me being a ‘part time single mum’.
“Due to tight finances, my husband started FIFO and there were some big changes to our family unit. Parenting became difficult as I was still working full time in a high pressure corporate job with 2 small children and no support. He felt helpless and couldn’t do anything when he was away but saw the kids and I were having a hard time. Even when he was home, I often found myself still solo parenting while he caught up on rest and took care of the kids while I was working. Things became strained as we struggled to get into the new routine and collaborate. Amongst some other issues around insecurities on his part while he was away, we ultimately divorced.
9 months after the husband and I broke up, I met my (now ex) partner who also worked FIFO. We both had children around the same age and communication was a big thing for us. Our relationship had a bunch of trust in it and the FIFO routine worked amazingly!! When he was home, we were the Brady Bunch. When he was away, my kids had my full attention without others around and I could do things with my friends without feeling bad for not spending time with my partner. We had some very strict rules and rituals to keep things alive for us and they worked. I had a beautiful partner but also flexibility and no qualms about balancing my social life. Something I wasn’t use to from my previous relationship. We stayed together for 4.5 years and are friends even after the break up NB: the break up was not due to FIFO at all.
I am now a single mum and have been for over a year. The kids’ dad is more active but no longer does FIFO. The kids are a bit older and more independent so it is a bit easier but not without its challenges. I still feel supported by the ex partner. Generally speaking though, I am the one that cleans the emotional messes and to cool tempers when things flare up. Being a part time single mum meant I at least had someone to turn to and ask for support. Someone who could talk to the kids when I was emotional and give a logical perspective when I couldn’t. I had a team mate backing me even if he wasn’t there physically. Now…. its just me. Being a part time single mum with the wrong person was draining, with the right person it was a joy. Being a full time single mum is a challenge. At the end of the day though, no matter the capacity, I am a mum and there is nothing more rewarding in the world for me.” – Maya : full time single mum (previous FIFO wife)
We have been a FIFO family for 10 years now. I was pregnant with my 2nd baby when my husband first started working away. Back then his first roster was working away for 21 days and home for 10 days. I won’t lie, the adjustment to our new life was extremely hard for me. I was raising a toddler, going through a high risk pregnancy and still working and running my day spa. My emotions were all over the place (pregnancy hormones played a huge part in this) and my mental health suffered. Dealing with an awful lot of stress and going to many medical appointments alone was almost too much to take (that story can wait for a future blog) but we got through it as a team.
Why were we putting ourselves through this stress you ask…. having our 2nd child meant I’d more than likely be working far less hours at the salon (I use to own a day spa in the city) and would mean needing to increase our employees hours to compensate. My husband starting a FIFO job meant we would have some extra money to compensate for my income loss. It’s no secret, we all know FIFO workers earn a good dollar, as they should…. my husband works over 13 hours a shift (day and night shifts) for 14 days straight. Also he would have his R&R time to spend at home with us as a family opposed to working everyday during the week, leaving the house before the kids were up, most weekends, late nights and only having 4 weeks holidays a year. Which is what we had previously been use to. Yes, I’m well aware that suits the majority of households. Chill, I’m not having a go. Now that I’ve gotten use to this FIFO lifestyle I actually don’t think I could go back to how it was before.
This has taken our family years to adapt to this huge change. There’s been times I’ve hated it, my husband has hated it and even the kids have hated it. There’s times when either one of us is not in a good head space and we have to help the other get through it, via phone calls and text messages, when all you want to do is be able to hold them tight. When the kids were younger it was very hard to try to explain to them that Daddy would be coming back. Having your kids crying at the front door everytime their Dad simply walked outside just to put something in the bin because they thought he was leaving was awful. Absolutely broke my heart and made me wonder if we were doing the right thing. But they gradually got use to it and now they probably don’t even remember those heart breaking moments.
We got through the hardest of the years (baby and toddler stages) and once I made the decision to move my salon to home, life got far easier. If my husband was going to be away at work for weeks at a time then I needed to be at home as much as possible. Driving to the city for work and trying to get back to the kids before the day care closed was always an epic rush that was taking a huge toll on all of us. Why did I hang on to my day spa for so long…. ohhh that’s right, before I had my babies my salon was my baby. Having the salon at home now means having far more flexibility with my work hours and I can do school drop off and pick ups, go on school excursions and to assemblies and even take them to any appointments they need to go to. Plus no more day care or after school care.
“I have worked FIFO for over 10 years now. Alot of people think it’s the money. Yes the money is great but I made more in Perth, I just worked alot harder for it. The mining work is not hard work, but it’s long draining hours and you really have to put up with some hard to deal with people. If this was Perth you’d handle the problem people a lot better…. if you get me. The time away and missing the family plus your mates, the burlesque shows and car events suck not being there. But most of all for me I miss my sons alot, it really is a mental challenge. I don’t normally let people see that side. I walk tall and make it look like it doesn’t get to me, because when I’m home, I’m really home. I take my boys to school so my wife can have a sleep in. I get to have day time fun with my beautiful wife…. if you get me. Go out and do stuff at home or out and about it’s great. Every 2 weeks I get a whole week off, plus I take 2 weeks off I get 4 off. It really is a balance of up and downs, plus night shift wrecks you. But I can’t see me doing anything else. I like my job.” – Aaron : FIFO worker and my husband
I’ve always had people ask “how do you do it”? My answer is always the same, “I have no other choice”. Being a mum is hard work, as rewarding as it is (think of the good bits, when they aren’t making you pull your hair out) it’s still a lot of work but we as parents decided to make little mini-me’s so now we have to suck it up and raise them to the best of our ability. They are my kids and my responsibility. If my husband is away then it all falls onto me.
The weeks that my husband is away are hard. The kids out number me and sure as hell drive me insane for the most part. Things are a lot easier now they are both self sufficient and both in full-time school. Though when my hubby is away for 2 weeks at a time I get next to no help, if the kids are sick or have nightmares, I’m the one getting up to them, I do all the cooking and cleaning, help with homework, take them to after school activities, parties etc. Me, all me. There’s that part time single mum thing, again. Remember I also work too. I’ve had more than my fair share of sleepless nights and sleep deprivation because it’s just me. And yes, regardless if you have a partner to help out or not you still go through this, I know, I get it.
“I am a full time working Mum and FIFO wife since 2014. I have a two year old and a five year old.
Times can be tough. The pressure to get everything done can be completely overwhelming, however when you achieve what you have set out to do for the day, and you have done that on your own. You feel like superwoman. Hahaha
My biggest struggle is loneliness. Yes I have a great support network of family and friends but they aren’t around when the kids have gone to bed and you’re watching TV alone on the lounge eating your feelings with a packet of Tim Tams. The nights when the kids are sick and it’s just you that’s with them. (both of my kids usually get sick at the same time ….. so much fun).
However my husband and I are a team. We have known each other for 19 years now. He knows when he is home that he helps. He has always been like that. What I think people forget is that no matter how hard it is for the ‘stay at home’ parent, is that we are still here for everything. We get to have the school experiences. We are there for the birthday parties and the family times, our partners don’t and that’s hard on them. It’s hard but it’s our life. It’s what works for us. And the time he is home. Is AMAZING!!!” – Casey : FIFO wife
Asking for help has never been a strong suit of mine, I try my very best to use sitters sparingly if possible (babysitters can be rather costly). I’ve never used a babysitter or put my kids in day care just to have a break (100% my choice, and if you do it bloody good on you, we all need a break from time to time). I actually hate asking for a sitter but sometimes I have to work on location, have events on or I’m going out with friends to places kids can’t go. Plus sitters are 100% required for husband and wife time. Please, please for the love of all things holy and not, please still date your partner. Just because you have kids doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed time as a couple. Don’t even feel guilty about this one bit.
Not saying I get no help from my family, I’m very lucky that I do. So many people out there either don’t have family, live to far away from family or just don’t get any help from what family they do have close by. 3 years ago we moved next door to my parents which has been an absolute blessing, if only we did this when the kids were younger. Having family to help you even just so you can have an adult outing or even pop into the shops alone from time to time is so good. You know what I mean, don’t you.
Having some what of a routine is very important. This can be hard sometimes and I feel like that routine farely often goes out the door the week hubby is home. It’s taken some time to get it into some order but you make do. Having friends to talk to and spend time with on the weeks hubby is away is super important too. Having hobbies and things to keep you busy also helps. The loneliness and isolation can become very hard at times. Going to events alone is always a tough one. You feel like there’s a piece of you missing. It’s even tougher for my hubby, as he misses out completely and I feel guilty for going out and having fun without him. But life goes on and sitting at home is much worse mentally than going out by yourself. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions that you have to juggle. I am very lucky that my hubby fully supports my hobbies and all my work commitments and encourages me to go out and have fun with my friends.
“We have been a FIFO family for almost 9 years. There are good and bad things. It has given our family many opportunities to improve our home and way of life. I am able to work part time. And when he is home, he is really home. No rushing off to work and coming home tired at the end of the day.
The hardest part I feel is, it gets very lonely and isolating. When he’s away and everyone has family plans your left by yourself. The old “we were going to ask you to come but thought you’d already have plans” can be too familiar. At the end of the day when you just want a break, it’s all me!! Everything is up to me!!!” – Abbey : FIFO wife
“We have been a FIFO family for 10 years. Since I met my partner he has always been in work that requires travel to different countries and also to go offshore on the oil rigs. He can be away for a week or up to months at a time . We have 3 children 6,5 and a 7 month old baby. It’s tough with children and a partner who works away for many reasons. The hardest part for me personally is the mental exhaustion, not really being able to switch off and get a break. The stress of looking after 3 children on my own sometimes takes its toll . It can also become very lonely which is why a good friends and family support network is very important. I find routine and organisation are key elements to surviving FIFO life” – Sarah : FIFO wife
I’ve talked about FIFO life but there’s others out there that spend even longer stints away from each other, defence force families. Many of my friends have partners in the navy and even my brother in law is in the navy and has done many long trips away for months on end. I’ve seen my sister look after her 2 kids, run her salon, spend many nights in hospital with a very sick little one and even get through her first year at uni studying nursing all whilst her husband was away on a 9 month deployment. Only seeing him once in that whole 9 months. Now that’s tough. Come on, you have to agree that’s frigging hard going.
“My husband has been in the navy almost 20 years, we have been together just over 7 years and 4 years of that has been with children. So for me I always knew this would be a “way of life” but nobody tells you exactly what an unusual lifestyle it can be, he can be home for such a long time then away for 9 months straight, also crash postings like on the day of our engagement party finding out he is sailing 2 days later for an unkown amount of time. I guess you roll with it. I’m not sure if military spouses and fifo partners are the strongest around or we just are completely nuts and probably have to much wine “mummy juice” as my kids say.
The longest we have spent away from each other is 9 months. Last year with him completing a deployment in the middle east, this also included weekly running and work ups the year leading up to the deployment. This is something alot of people don’t realise, the work going into these deployments and how much time away they spend before these trips in preperation. Its a LONG time!
We planned to have the kids when we did as we knew he had a long deployment coming up, we felt there would end up being a big age gap if we waited to have our second child, so we decided to have 2 close together so he would be here for our daughters first year. 2 under 2 is a challenge! When he left for his deployment they were 2 and 1 they actually coped quite well. They were so very young so they adapted to our new routine. As they say children are resilient and they certainly are! But now they are 2 and 4 and I’m not sure it would be the same. He leaves in the morning for work and they’re asking what time he’s gonna be home so I think the age of the kids is a big factor.
How do I handle it? This is a question that honestly depends on the current situation, my husband’s last deployment…. juggling a sick child who had 9 admissions in 7 months in hospital trying and to juggle both kids, a house, 2 dogs, work and I also decided it would be a good idea to start a degree so I wasn’t bored while he was away. Note to self…. you are never bored in a deployment with children. Honestly I have no idea how I handled it but tbh I had no choice I had two little people depending on me to look after them and be the mummy and daddy, somehow we just push on. So many women I know say “I couldn’t do it”, but I think you would all surprise yourselves. The hard things that you never think of is attending parties, birthdays, dinners and kids activities alone. You always turn up wrangling two kids and really don’t get to socialise or relax (lol).
I found between juggling everthing there really wasn’t time to catch up with so many friends and family. I found that hard and I felt bad for going weeks or months between talking to people but honestly I just had to do what I could to survive. Your true friends and family dont hold grudges if you don’t see them all the time. Speaking of family, my one advice is you do need support and I had that in my mum. She literally stepped in as the other parent helping raise my children and looked after them. She spent nights in hospitals, weekend after weekend at my house helping. When I had my youngest child in hospital I sat my final exams while she stayed with her overnight keeping in mind she also had a job and other commitments too. Sounds cliche but I couldn’t have done it without her….LITERALLY!
Like everyone I have my good days, I think yeah this is just our life and I do fine, other days I fall in a big heap and think this is “f@kd”…. as long as there is trust and communication, you’re a team that can get through anything. I was completely aware of what he did when we got together and I’m thankful of the stability of employment my family has.” – Tanya : Navy wife
Not only are defense force workers away on deployment for lengthy periods of time but a lot of the time they have no contact for weeks or months on end and even unable to disclose their location. Depending on where they have been deployed to could mean they are unable to get home to help a sick family member, attend funerals or even be at the birth of their own child. My friend’s husband almost missed the birth of their first child, it was only lucky that he was still in Australian waters doing work ups that he was able to get home, literally, just in time.
“Being a Navy wife can definitely be tough. We had our daughter, Audrey in February and by June my husband left us for deployment 6 months on a Gulf trip, Audrey was only 4 months old and being a first time mum it was terrifying! but I count myself one of the lucky ones because I have my family here in Perth, not a lot of defense members are from Perth so they are away from their families. That 6 months was spent living back with my parents and honestly could not have done this without them! but I was not the same without my partner, the endless sleepless nights, screaming baby and usually me ending up crying on the floor because I had no idea what I was doing. That time definitely made me tougher but also appreciate everything my husband has done for us, he missed out on so many milestones, first solid foods, crawling, laughing and talking. When he did get home Audrey didn’t recognised her own daddy for about 3 days, it was heartbreaking. 3 years later and she is daddy’s little girl! and he has been lucky working back on shore. He has done this for our family and so I don’t go insane again.” – Elise : Navy wife
Having a partner that works away can certainly be hard. Not only is it the time away that is hard but the fact that they miss birthdays, anniversaries, events and so much more really does suck. Honestly I think it’s harder on him being away and missing all these things than it is for me not having him home to share these special times. But there’s also the benefits. With my husband’s current roster (2/1) he takes 2 weeks off and gets 4 weeks off. The week he is home he is able to do school drop offs and pick ups, while the kids are at school we can have date days. I am beyond lucky to have such an amazing partner who is a very hands on Dad. The week he is home he gets up to the kids during the night, makes dinner when I’m working evenings and leaves me to sleep in most mornings. Yes, I’m very lucky. Sure is nice after 2 weeks of doing it all myself.
Yes, FIFO (and defence force) is a career choice (for the most part) but try to remember your friends that have partners working away. We are the ones that people forget about, the forgotten single mum. Although we aren’t technically single and do have our partners please just consider how hard it can be for us on the weeks we are home without our partners there each night. Check in and see how we are doing from time to time and don’t forget to invite us to stuff, just because our partner isn’t home doesn’t mean we want to be stuck at home all the time. Also, check in on the men. They are away and have no one but the people they work with. Think about how hard that is. No, we don’t need pitty, just understanding. And again before you get all uppity at me, Yes…. we know there are mums out there doing this 100% alone. Regardless of our situation, all us mums out there need to have each others backs. Team mum.
Love Delza xoxo