Deb Russo: the oil & gas mum

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Planes, boats, oil rigs and exotic locations ... a recipe for James Bond? I always joke that my husband must think he's 007 when travelling to work. How many other jobs in the world involve a plane and a chopper flight to get to the office?

We are a FIFO family of the offshore kind. My husband works in the offshore oil and gas industry on oil rigs and vessels.

Typically, we do a four-week-on and four-week-off roster and have done for the past seven years and now I wouldn’t have it any other way. We have lived our whole 13-year relationship like this. Initially he was in the Navy, then we shifted to work in the mines and did the 28/7 roster (my least favourite!) He would just get home and away he went again. We then moved to a 14/7 roster and it was good, but this four-and-four roster is best and I wouldn’t change a thing.

An oil and gas couple's advice on making FIFO family life work when you're working offshore...

Recently someone suggested that there's a difference between offshore and mining for FIFO families? Being offshore, there is no room for drugs or alcohol and the rosters are different. But having experienced both, I’m not sure the differences go far beyond that.

We all have the same issues to deal with: loneliness, depression, stress, illness, tiredness, relationship strain, kids playing up. Actually, they're the same issues all families deal with, FIFO or not. FIFO just makes it a little trickier, but FIFO is a choice. If you want to make extremely good money, there are some downfalls. That's life in a nutshell and that’s how we see this FIFO gig. Everything is a choice. You can’t blame FIFO on your drinking problem, nor can you blame it solely on your depression or your marriage failing. We all have a choice about how we handle things. I know I have been there, done most of that and still I love this lifestyle. In fact I’m so passionate that I blog about it as The FIFO Wife.

We have three boys aged six, five and three and they know no different. This is a normal way of life to them. We have always made a point of telling them that daddy is going to work because, well, that is what daddy is doing - "going to work". He isn’t going "away", he is going to work just like any other daddy. Difference is that our daddy doesn’t get the weekend off when he has finished work - he gets a whole four weeks. Four weeks of quality dad and husband time. We are literally in holiday mode every second month. It’s fantastic.

For the four weeks he is away, I treat it like a job too. I am a full-time wife and mum. I run my household like a company. You keep yourself and the kids busy and maintain a routine. A routine is a must when you have kids, otherwise they will run all over you, especially when you're tired. And this parenting gig is hard enough, let alone having daddy on the other side of the country in the middle of an ocean and not able to back you in a battle with an over-tired three-year-old! I have had a routine ever since my husband left for his first offshore job when my first baby was four-days-old. Four days and he didn’t come back for six weeks! I was on my own because I have no family close by, so my routine was my saving grace. Other parents say I’m hard on my boys but I don’t know too many other kids with their level of manners, respect and happiness to hang out their own washing.

Keeping in touch is probably one of the trickier things with offshore. When my husband is bringing down a rig or vessel from overseas it can be days of no contact, so we track him via the internet. The poor man will never be able to hide. The boys video message every day, I email every day and we have sent a picture every day since the boys were born. So at some point he gets those messages. He is never left out of the loop. Communication is the key to all relationships, and with FIFO even more so.

So it’s hard work, but ultimately at the end of four weeks we know two things will happen. 1) Daddy will come home. Some women with partners working away, such as the defence forces on overseas deployment, sadly don’t have that surety. And 2) it's four weeks of holidays! How good is that? I really wouldn’t have it any other way.  

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