FIFO Survivor Auntie Sandy on coping with and without your partner

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Hi! I'm Sandy (although lots of people call me 'Auntie') and my husband works offshore in oil/gas on a 6 in 1 roster. We've been together for 27 years and are the proud parents of two daughters, aged 19 and 21. I wanted to write for Mining Family Matters to show you can survive FIFO.

Many questions have been asked of late about coping with this lifestyle. You can make it work  - we've been doing FIFO on and off for 21 years and we are still together. I still get the flutter in my heart when I see my husband on R & R. Would you get this if you where with him day to day? 

Communication is the key to the success, especially as we are now a family spread across three countries. We Skype at least every second night. Telephone is not reliable where my husband is, plus it's affected by seasonal rain and expensive. On a Sunday morning we spend about three hours Skyping family members. This way we can see faces and check facial expressions. Over the years we have had phone nights. These have been a great excuse for getting out of the ever-so-boring community meetings etc. How you choose to communicate is up to you: texting, Skype, emails. It's a  modern world and you will find which best suits you and your partner. Just don't let small issues get on top of you.

Reader question

Auntie Sandy, did you ever drive yourself crazy wondering if your partner was tempted by any of the girls on site? I know my man wouldn't cheat, but sometimes I catch myself wondering.

Wow what a beaut question. This might be a problem I suppose, but why should mine sites or oil/gas sites be any more of a problem than any other workplace? If I was to worry about this, I would probably also worry about other things that aren't going to happen - like getting mugged on the street. Remember, marriage is based on trust. Do you think your partner is wondering if you will take off with someone while he's away? So in short: No, I don't worry.

Before my husband comes home he emails me a list of things he needs. Who wants to spend what precious little time we have together shopping? I gather these items together and have them waiting on the spare bed.

I ensure the house is tidy and cupboards are stocked. This way I have a week off from housework duties. I do the basic tasks but forget about a lot of things that would normally upset me. When the girls where younger it was a struggle, although I did sometimes enlist the help of friends and family. One small trick we had was to use bins with lids and pictures on them when the girls where young. The bin with barbie was where those toys went etc. Gave me some sanity and helped when it came to picking toys up. You could use words on the bins if the children are older or even different coloured bins. Old fashioned I might be, but I do try to cook my husband's favourite meal too. This way I too am getting a change from what I normally eat. When he's away, dinner menus are different.

If there are tasks requiring input from my husband, I make a list and put them in order of priority. This way the most important get done and the rest are put onto next month's list. Also identify those that might require a professional to complete.

The first couple of days back are always interesting - giving each other space and learning to be together again. We usually spend those days catching up on the jobs or the dentist and any other appointments that may arise. This way we are together but out and about (and there might be the chance of a nice lunch out along the way).

We enjoy simple times together: a swim on the beach, fishing or a picnic. All those can include children and don't come at a great expense. Many of our days have been spent fishing - long line out and a quad bike on the beach to keep the kids out of your hair. Pass the time with a bottle of wine and a catch-up chat.

I enjoy having my husband at home and when he's gone I miss those cups of tea in bed (among other things). I also am an independent woman and the lifestyle has lead to this. I've done tasks that I would never have considered. Concreting  steps? Yes I did that. Moving from state to state and one country to another on my own. Job titles change like the days of the week. Supermum, labourer, referee, finance controller… Women in this lifestyle have to adapt and become resilient. We also have to swing between being independent and being in a partnership. Sometimes this transition is hard. It does require work. Personally I would prefer to be part of a partnership/family, so we do what we have to do to make it work. Remember girls, we are not superhuman and it is OK to have a melt down here and there. But you need to be able to pick yourself up and dust yourself off. Think of it as a curve ball in the path of life.

Not every relationship can cope with this lifestyle. There is nothing wrong in seeking the help of a professional. Don't forget this website has ideas from a psychologist. I have also been involved with a group called FIFO Families and found this a great way to meet others going through the same challenges.

We also have good time out on family holidays. Because of mining, we can afford holidays that some others are not so lucky to have - like Bali last year. My daughter had her 21st birthday in the States. You might think this extravagant, but she now has great memories where others have a sore head the next morning. We ensure the girls spend time off from university with us as much as they can.

Temptations do spring up in this line of work. We are all only human. You can window shop but don't take it any further. Alcohol seems to be a way to pass the time. This can cause conflict in households. Try and encourage a hobby. Model work is what keeps my husband busy and out of the drinking culture. Hobbies for those left behind are great too: quilting, scrap-booking, sewing. Try and learn something different, maybe even a language or a cooking class. Or how about volunteer work?

Do you ever worry about the kids not recognising Dad? We used to have a little photo brag book for the girls, containing photos of Dad or even family members who lived far away. Sometimes it had keepsakes gathered when Dad was around: a leaf picked up in the walk at the park, a shell from the beach. After each family holiday I made brag books for the girls with photos, tickets to shows and things. This way they could show their friends and remember family times. Daughter #1 who had the trip to the States made one for me upon her return. It contains photos etc for me to look at and aim for a trip to those far-off places.

Writing this has reminded me of one large learning curve I had early on - and it's the reason we set up Skype. Daughter #1 was 15 at the time and came home from a dinner with another family.This is a girl who is proud of her appearance and rarely has a hair out of place. This night though she was a little under the weather - her hair was messy and trousers wet. She denied being drunk and went to bed, but soon afterwards I heard someone throwing up in the toilet. "Well my darling, what have you been drinking?" Turns out it was Red Bull and vodka. She doesn't do things in halves. I woke her at 6am the next morning, asking that the toilet be cleaned. Her response? "I wouldn't have done this if Dad had been here." How powerful those words where. And so we set up Skye, to put Dad in the picture and ensure he was regularly online to talk face to face about family issues and help with family discipline. It's worked well for us ever since. 

And finally, I'll leave you with one of my favourite quotes from a bloke called Barnett R. Brickner:

"Success in marriage does not come merely through finding the right mate, but through being the right mate."

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