Striking the right balance between parent and friend as the kids grow into adults

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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.

As Mum to lovely young adults, I have to reach a happy medium between reliving my younger years and being the responsible parent in the relationship. It's so important to find the balance between Mum and friend!

I am close to both our girls. Even though I'm 4800km away from one of them, we still touch base every couple of days. There is the regular Skype date on Sundays, but dependent on her study commitments and the time difference, we try and sneak another one over the week. The ability to see their faces tells a lot.

When the girls were at home we had all the usual pressures of growing up, such as alcohol and those hairy members of the opposite sex who were suddenly quite attractive. With a FIFO Dad away so often, I was the one who had the 'talk' with the gentlemen callers. (A friendly reminder that I knew their parents and all it would take was a phone call ... well, something along those lines.)

Actually, we've always had a fairly modern view about life and what goes on with young people. Much to the disgust of some of my friends, my bathroom cabinet has always been accessible to the girls and their gentleman callers. One drawer had perfume samples, lipsticks, foundation and tampons. The other drawer was for the blokes, with anti-perspirant, a comb and condoms. Yes, I can hear you gasp! But let's face it, we were all young once and know what goes on. Best that they be protected. I didn't encourage the activity, but didn't put my head in the sand about it either.

Because we lived in a rural area, most of the girls' early social outings were at someone's house or shed. I must admit their friends all took drink driving seriously. They always had a dedicated driver or relied on a parent.

Can I count the 3am runs? Actually, one does spring to mind. And gosh I can be a ratbag. Picked up the daughter and her young suitor. They'd been drinking whiskey and had managed to grow some very big boots while out. They got in the car and said: "I can't see what the big deal is about drinking whiskey." Time for a life lesson by mother. Heater on full, every bend in the road taken with a careful square corner. Not long and I heard the words: "Pull over Mum, I'm going to throw up." Pull into a siding on the road and who is sitting opposite, but a member of the law enforcement! The daughter rushed from the car with the young man in pursuit doing the gentlemen thing of holding the hair up. I could see the officer opposite us with a grin on his face. He knew exactly what was going on. There was a careful approach to whiskey after this!

The balance between being a friend and being that person who is a mother, a freak, old and doesn't know anything is hard to find. There must be boundaries and rules. Sometimes these can be bent or adjusted, but they have to be there. There also has to be consequences for breaking the rules. They don't have to be severe, but certainly have to exist. Each family is different, and that's OK too.

It's easy to fall into the trap of seeing youngsters enjoying the party life and wanting to join in and be young again. I've seen this go on with some parents, and the memories still bring a smile to my face. From my experience, it's then a case of 'who is in charge?' and who's the adult in the relationship? What if something was to go wrong and some hard decisions had to be made.

Part of the reason I'm referred to as Auntie is that other kids relied on me too. I would arrive to pick up my girls and end up doing three trips with car loads of kids dropped off across the district. Our house was where they could sleep on the couch, get a decent meal, or just find a friendly face. I would listen to their issues, hopefully give them a piece of good advice or point them in the right direction. Unfortunately, some of the children did not have a motherly role model - an emotional caretaker, provider of unconditional love, a person of responsibly.

Friendship is based on equality, and I don't think that's possible when you're the parent. Mothers and daughters can't be best friends, as there is a imbalance in the relationship. There might be an intimate relationship, but it will always be that of mother and daughter. Children need parents as authority figures - someone who sets boundaries. They want boundaries. As parents, we have life experiences, we're wiser and able to guide them. By being a parent you are teaching them respect. We are the
ones who teach them, the ones that they depend on.

I'm happy that I've found the balance between friend and mother. Our girls are 22 and 20 and still open with me, able to confide. I enjoy being the one who loves them, the one they call in times of joy and crisis. I don't need to be out clubbing with them  - they've got their friends for that!  

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