Clever mum's guide to juggling work and kids when your husband works FIFO

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Deb Russo is a FIFO wife of the offshore kind. Her husband works on oil rigs and vessels. Typically, he does a four-week-on and four-week-off roster. They've lived their entire 14-year relationship like this. Initially Deb's husband was in the Navy, then he shifted to work in the mines and did the 28/7 roster (Deb's least favourite!) With this offshore roster, though, she wouldn’t change a thing.

Towards the end of last year I stopped being a full-time mum and went back to work. And every other working mum I met said the same thing: they were overwhelmed.

Panic stations, because "overwhelmed" is usually my middle name!

The first little while was fine, because my FIFO husband was home and I'd return after work to a clean house and a cooked dinner. But the thought of him returning to the oil rig made me slightly freak out — how would I make this work when he wasn't here?

I really enjoy working, always have, even if it's packing mangoes in the heat of the day. It's far from the plush hotels I once worked in, but it's no longer about career for me. With the kids now at school and more time on my hands, getting this right and making it work is what's most important. So I put on my thinking cap, developed a routine and carried out a trial run.

And so far, mission accomplished! Here are my strategies for making work days less frantic:

  • Meal plan and pre-cook the week's dinners, or at least prepare as much as possible. I now spend Sunday mornings cooking for the week ahead. It takes me three hours but saves me heaps of stress each night when I'm trying to help the boys with their homework.
  • Make time to stay connected to your partner, especially if he works away, and even when you're tired.
  • Set a bedtime for yourself. It's easy to be Facebooking at 10pm, but it's not a clever idea when you need to be up at 4.30am to pack mangoes.
  • Make time for exercise or something you enjoy each day. 
  • Pre-make the kids' school lunches and snacks. You can freeze sandwiches or Tupperware leftovers and assemble lunches the night before.
  • Pack school bags and have uniforms ready. If they don't wear uniforms, consider investing in them or choosing their outfits the night before because the mornings are hectic enough.
  • Have everything for after-school activities packed and ready to go. I do this on Sunday as well. Swimming and basketball bags are pre-packed and placed into tubs. On the morning of each activity, I pack them straight into the car.
  • Homework is the trickiest of them all for me. I found that threatening no TV for the rest of their lives worked best. Now each afternoon they have a quick snack and do their homework before the TV goes on. When I get home, we do their reading and have dinner.
  • Delegate jobs (if your children are old enough). Involve them in the running of the house. I found my children thrived and felt extra special when I stressed the importance of helping me out. If the kids are not old enough to help and you just can't get some jobs done, don't stress. You can't do it all.
  • Use a diary to list all appointments, kids' events and just to know what day it is. I also cross-check dates with the Evernote app so my husband can be kept in the loop even when he is at work.

Having said all that, do what works for you and don't sweat the small stuff. Ever. It never makes things easier or better. And that's not good for you, your kids or your employer. 

More columns from Oil & Gas Mum, Deb Russo:

Check out Deb's daily blog at and if you've got any questions for her, please click here.

And here's another oil and gas couple's advice on making FIFO family life work when you're working offshore