How to communicate with tetchy teenagers and a husband working offshore

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Hi! I'm Sandy (although lots of people call me 'Auntie') and my husband works offshore in oil/gas. We've been together for 30years, many of them as a fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) family. In that time we've raised two daughters (both now at uni) and moved more than 19 times! I wanted to write for Mining Family Matters to show you can survive FIFO.

There's a lot written about the need for good communication in relationships, and particularly when it comes to FIFO families. So true.

My husband and I are lucky at the moment because we're able to talk each night on the phone. Is this obsessive? Not for us. We have been together for 30 years and married for 24 years this year. (Wow! That is an eternity when I see it written down.) We don't chat for long as he needs to get showered and then to dinner and bed early. If you live with your husband, when he comes home from work don't you ask: "How was your day?" It's no different for my husband and I, except that our conversation is via a phone. We chat about the day and what the girls are doing. He communicates with them but not to the extent that I do. He likes to hear all the little things they are achieving and struggling with and sometimes they don't bother him with it. We used to have the ability to Skype, but don't have this luxury at his current site. He works a month straight and is prone to poor phone and internet lines, thanks to the weather.

I must admit there have been struggles over the years. For some reason I find it easier to deal with day-to-day life when he is in a different country. I seem to be more accepting of the periods of absence. I know he will be gone for a set period of time and (realising that he can't return except for a real family emergency) just get on with life. I struggle more when he is in the same country and only a two-hour flight or six-hour drive away. Why can't he be here for all those milestones? No logic in this thinking, but that's me!

He finds it important to be able to Skype the girls, as needs the face-to-face contact. You can tell a lot from those facial movements. He gets to share in their milestones, meet their friends. Skype day in our house is Sunday, and all our family and friends know when to catch us. We recently moved into a new house and the neighbours sure did wonder what was happening one weekend, when we were repeatedly walking the laptop around the garden. Yes, we were showing off to family and friends. Also, I was having trouble with a plant and got a girlfriend to have a look at it via Skype. Problem diagnosed, and then I was able to treat it. Problem solved.

What about communication when it comes to children?

In the past our little family has been split between three different countries, so we've had to deal with time differences. And then there is the typical student: "Mum, I've got no credit on my phone." Because of this lifestyle, we made the decision to buy them good phones outright. This means that whatever country they're in, it's just a matter of swapping sim cards. We also have Skype dates with all family members. Sometimes there might even be four of us chatting online at once.

In their early teenage years it was a different story. Try communicating with them then! Be lucky if you got a grunt, let alone words strung together to form anything that resembled a sentence. If only I had known and I would have done a course in mind reading. I tried being 'the friend', then tried 'the enemy'. All to know avail. You have to try by any means. My girls are lucky in that my very close friend, who is younger than me, has always been there for them. She's more like a big sister. Even in those tough teenage years, they felt comfortable talking to her. So at least I knew if there was a problem, they had an adult they could trust. I still often have no idea what they chat about. I trust her advice and know she keeps things in confidence. I only hope I can do the same for her children.

So I suppose what I'm saying is make sure your children have somebody other than their parents to confide in: a close relative, older friend or godparent maybe.

There was a stage when the only way I could communicate with one of the girls was to text. She could be sitting in the same room and we would be texting. Bizarre, but that's what worked for us. At least those lines were still open. Everything I said in person was shot down. I was a freak as far as she was concerned! Good news though, she is back living with me after being gone for six years. Many parents say they wouldn't let their child come back home after such a gap. But my girls were young when they left and the door has (and will) always be open to them - and eventually to their own families. Anyway, we get on extremely well and chat about all things in life.

Daughter number two has always been open with us and has been fortunate to learn from her sister's 'learning curves' over the years. When you raise two daughters, you soon learn that communication is not just with them, but also their friends. I don't mean to the stage of becoming 'mates' with them, but being able to gather information (asking questions and getting truthful answers instead of some spun-out story!) It's a very good way of getting information regarding your own children.

Finally, my advice is to always actively listen to your children, even when you're arguing. Hear and understand their prospective. Also learn their body language and the signs that indicate they might not be telling the full truth. Learn to change the tone of your voice, rather than the level of your voice. Most of all, don't say something in anger that you might regret. Learn to walk away. Don't let emotion take control of the situation - try to remain in control.

Be open to all lines of communication and embrace this technological age we live in!

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