How to ease the pain of being apart for special events

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"He is missing another school Christmas concert?!" she said to me. "Yes," I said looking at her. "Jeez Louise!" she said (and she really did say that). "He misses a lot doesn’t he?"

When my husband started FIFO and first realised he might miss some "big" moments, he was sad and disappointed. It stayed this way until he witnessed B1's first steps and I didn’t. I was in the toilet as it happened and he almost kind of rubbed it in.

"Why don’t you care?" he asked. Actually, I was a little disappointed. But the fact of the matter was that B1 didn't know I'd missed this major milestone in his little life. Looking back, none of us can really remember who was there for those first steps, first crawls or first words. I missed B1's first steps because I was in the toilet; I missed B2's first sentence because he was at day care; and I’m sure I missed lots of B3's milestones because after four years of broken sleep and not asking for help, my mind and body had started to falter. I was too tired to take notice ... and sadly too tired to care. The only B3 milestone that sticks is my mind is the day he started crawling. It was Christmas Day and I remember because we were at my mother’s, I'd had some rest and I caught it on video. Then I promptly sent it to my husband.

My children don’t know I missed these milestones. In reality, milestones and events are missed by working mums and dads all over the world, regardless of their lifestyle. It’s unfortunate but it happens. What my children do remember is their FIFO dad screaming encouragement like some crazy man on the sidelines of the cross country field earlier this year. They remember daddy taking them to the skate park. Daddy going to class reading. They remember those things and they know we do our best. They know big events are never missed on purpose and that’s the difference!

I have still made it my mission (not only as a FIFO wife, but as a mum) to document the everyday for my husband when he is at work, and for the kids later on.

This is how I do it:

  1. Keep a camera handy at all times. Take photos of everything. It might be insignificant to you, but not to them.
  2. If they miss a school presentation or running race, capture it on video. When they get home make it a presentation like on movie night. Pop corn ... soft drinks! Make it a really "big" deal. Your kids and FIFO dad will love it more than them being there. Even when you are there it’s often hard to give the star kid your full attention, when you're trying to contain your other children at the same time.
  3. Take one random image of your kids every day and send it in an email. (Our photos range from a boring old passport-type image, to action shots of them sleeping.) Send one each day and you will end up with an amazing timeline of their life. We have one image of all the boys for every day of their life from the moment they were born.
  4. There are lots of websites you can use these days to privately post images online. We use Tumblr. Only my husband and I can see it. We write notes, thoughts to the boys. The option with Tumblr and most applications is that you can turn them into books later, which is what we intend to do. Tumblr is operated with a password; other family members can see if you let them but I’m greedy and just want it for us!
  5. Write an email every day (even if you talk on the phone). Or, at the end of the week send a newsletter of everything that's happened with the kids and you've forgotten to tell them. Include the kids' first words or new words. My husband was always asking what the boys' new words were. I'd always forget, so I started writing them down and he would get the list most Sunday afternoons in the family newsletter. It was exhausting but it gave me a creative outlet at the time. Now we have Tumblr but every now and then I still do a newsletter.
  6. Create a special drawer for artworks and stuff for dad. Often the boys will write or draw something for daddy, or just want to tell him something instantly but can't, so they write about it and it goes in a special drawer that daddy opens when he gets home. We make a huge deal of that drawer, its contents and its opening!

Don’t make a big deal of missed moments. Celebrate the events and milestones you're there to enjoy and share. It’s the best you can do.

More columns from Oil & Gas Mum, Deb Russo:

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