Yes, mining life can take a toll on friendships

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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.

I hate to put a dampener on things, but sometimes things have to be said. And yes, I would be the one to say them.

Don't get me wrong ... I love this lifestyle and what it has to offer. It has provided some amazing opportunities over the years. Travel, a comfortable lifestyle and providing the girls with an amazing education, among other things. But there is a downfall.

The cost of this lifestyle would be friends and family.

When the man of the house did DIDO, it was alright. Invites came to gatherings when he was home, or were timed to when he was going to be home. But then there were those couples who felt awkward about inviting me to events when I was by myself. Some girlfriends tried and we did activities as "the girls". But before long these became fewer and then eventually stopped.

When he went to FIFO, events become harder to get to. They were 'couple occasions' mainly, and soon become too uncomfortable to go to.

Before we left our family home of 20 years, the man of the house had been doing a stint of FIFO for about six years. When people asked why I was leaving to move to a new country, I told them I wanted to be with my man. "What?" came the response. "Why didn't you tell us he worked away from home?"

Well, more to the point ... if you were what you considered to be a true friend, you would have known! Harsh but true. Did they expect a woman who was on her own for most of the year, raising two beautiful daughters, to advertise the fact?

There have been some truly loyal people over the years and I have managed to form some beautiful friendships. One in particular I have mentioned here and there in past columns. She lost her husband to cancer at an early age and was left with three young children. We are now their proud godparents. Our friendship goes back about 18 years. She is a truly amazing, strong person and a lot of people could learn from her values and standards. She is like a sister to our daughters and is there for all our milestones in life. So there was a stage when hopefully I was her rock, and she has been my rock through the ups and downs of this lifestyle. But I can't determine what has made this friendship last over all the years. It could be because we accept one other as we are. We do not expect the other to change, but learn to live with our differences. We are there for the happy moments and the occasional moments of strife.

One advantage of moving around is that you might meet someone, form a bond and then move on. Next project they pop again, and it's like you were never apart. We have got to meet a cross-section of nationalities and personalities. Also you can guarantee that most cities we will know someone or will meet a friend or a friend of a friend.

When you move around a lot, it's easy to meet people through work. But what about those of us left at home? If you don't have school-aged children, where do you go to meet and socialise? I have come across a group called FIFO Families and Nicole and her team run support networks for people doing FIFO/DIDO. You can guarantee that you will meet someone who's going through a similar situation (or has already gone through it). It is important to surround yourself with a network of family and/or friends to get you through life's little hurdles. To meet up and have coffee and adult conversation.

The cost with regard to family is hard to measure. Travelling around for work has taken a toll on some relationships, and made some bonds stronger. I am very close to my in-laws. They are there for us and make a real effort to stay in contact. If they miss Skype day, there is always a text to arrange another Skype date. They are not here for celebrations, but there is always a card to know they are thinking of us. Phone calls can be costly between countries, but there is email or text to keep us up to date with goings on.

I think the hardest question people have is why we choose this lifestyle despite the personal cost of it all. We all have different reasons and you have to do what works for you.

I recently came across something that sums friendship up perfectly: "It has been said that everlasting friends go long periods of time without speaking and never question their friendship. These friends pick up phones like they just spoke yesterday, regardless of how long it has been or how far away they live, and don't hold grudges. They understand that life is busy and you will Always love them."

So this morning I have been making those phone calls, and others are getting cards in the post (you know, those little items offering words of wisdom that used to mean so much when they arrived in the mail and not in the inbox?)

Go on, give it a go. Pick up that phone and give that true friend a phone call. Make the first step and see what springs from there. Old friendship rekindled. And if you receive that long-awaited phone call, don't be a grump and hold a grudge. Understand the person, make your friendship better and become a great confidante to them. 

More from Auntie Sandy:

If you've got a question for 'Auntie' Sandy or would like to make a comment about FIFO living, we'd love to hear from you. Click here!