Dealing with friends who just don't get FIFO

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"How can you sacrifice the wellbeing of your children for money?"

That was probably the most hurtful thing said to me after my husband and I chose to leave a remote mining community and begin fly-in, fly-out (FIFO).

Fortunately it was just an acquaintance, and not a dear friend, but it still felt like a slap in the face.

It seems I'm not alone either – we often receive emails here at MiningFM from FIFO and DIDO couples who feel like they're misunderstood and judged by family and friends.

During our time as a mining family, I've been asked on more than one occasion (by well-meaning family and friends) about why we were "dragging" our kids to yet another mining town? Or, completely the opposite, why we stuck with FIFO when there was a job available in some tiny residential mining town on the other side of the country (never mind the fact that there's few facilities and no extended family support).

Some people just can't seem to see beyond their own 9-5 lives.

At first I was defensive and angry. What right did others have to judge our decisions? Did they not realise we had carefully weighed up the pros and cons of each move? 

For instance, in our last residential mining town (which was fantastic except for the long hours!) my husband came home every night. But it was always well after our young children had gone to bed, and he was back at work before they woke up in the morning. Days off were regularly spent at the mine, too. So we made the decision to come home to Adelaide near strong support networks, and my husband began FIFO to ensure we had quality family time at least every fortnight.

After the first few hurtful comments, I realised that even my dearest friends just didn't understand our reasoning. I hadn't taken the time to step them through our decision-making process, so I suppose I was in part to blame for their inability to comprehend this strange new lifestyle.

Simple ideas to bring loved ones up to speed

Looking back to when we started FIFO, I would have done a few things differently with those family and friends I hold dear. I also wouldn't have given any energy to comments from people who don't know my family or our circumstances. So here's what I'd suggest if, like many FIFO and DIDO couples, you ever feel like people you love just don't understand:

  • Let them know the reasons behind your choices. They'll feel more at ease if they know your decisions are informed ones.
  • Help them to understand FIFO/DIDO, too. We usually fear what we don’t know. This includes explaining the benefits: more quality time with the kids, being near a support network of family and friends etc. 
  • Tell them what you find difficult and how they can help. Explain that this is the right decision for your family right now, but that doesn't mean it's not tough sometimes. Personally, I really struggled with the weekend my husband was away at work, as that's when my friends in 9-5 families have their quality time. Once I'd explained this to friends, they always made sure I was kept busy and involved.
  • Get your partner to take photos of the mine site and show them to family and friends. It will help them to see that it’s bloody hard work and not a choice easily made.
  • Show them the new smartphone Roster App. That way family and friends can feel more in the loop about when your FIFO/DIDO worker is home or away.

While I'm on this topic, I also want to thank my own Mum and Dad. They've worried throughout each of our six moves (and have visited us in all destinations). They fretted over numerous close calls during our two years in South Africa. They twice drove 13 hours to retrieve their heavily pregnant daughter from a remote mining community with no obstetric care, so she could deliver her kids in safety. And back when we were doing FIFO, they helped in too many ways to mention as we raised our kids with my husband so often away. Thank you, Mum and Dad, for never judging our decisions even though at times I am sure you didn’t understand them.

Remember, supportive family and friends will help to make life easier. Help them to understand, but also bear in mind that ultimately they don't know what's best for you and your family. Those decisions need to be left to you and your partner. And as for those acquaintances who feel the need to judge, just ignore them!