Those little words every FIFO mum dreads: "I don't want Daddy to go back to work."

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Hi! I'm Deb Russo, a FIFO wife of the offshore kind. My husband works on oil rigs and vessels. Typically, we do a four-week-on and four-week-off roster. We have lived our entire 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!) With this offshore roster, though, I wouldn’t change a thing.

It happened for the first time ever last swing. It made me panic and for a moment I wanted to run, because I didn’t really know what to do. I had never ever dealt with it before. I just hadn’t.

It was the night before my husband was due to fly out to work. Our routine hadn’t changed, with the exception that we'd enjoyed the most awesome month off.

Husband and I were sitting on the couch watching something on the telly, just enjoying our last night together. Then out of the quiet we heard it - a cry so loud and so pained that I knew something was wrong. I raced to the boys' room and grabbed my crying, sobbing boy.

"What’s wrong," I said to him, cuddling him, instinctively rocking him back and forth while whispering in his ear. "What’s the matter baby?"

Then the words came - words I have never heard but have waited for: "I don’t want Daddy to go back to work."

"Oh baby," I said, all awhile panicking on the inside. "Why?" is all I could muster.

He continued to sob, getting louder, so I picked him up and moved out to the hallway so as not to wake his brothers (who may or may not join the chorus).

"Husband," I called, "we have a problem."

I handed my boy - the one I knew would miss Daddy most of all - to my husband.

Husband cuddled him like he was no weight at all, while I'd been buckling under his growing frame.

We let him cry. We let him tell us that he was going to miss Daddy. We let it run its course because we knew it was important to let him know that this emotion, this fear, was okay - that it was okay to feel this way. I don’t want them ever to not be this honest - this raw. How else will we know what’s really going if we hush it away?

So husband and I waited in the dark of the hallway until the sobbing stopped to just a sniffle.

"Baby," we said, "did you enjoy this month home?"

"Yes," he said, smiling.

"Well, if Daddy didn’t go to work, we couldn’t do this all again next month. Our Daddy works a bit differently to others - he works for four weeks, but then he has four weeks at home where he is all yours. Do you like that?"

He nodded his head, all the time burrowing it into my husband’s shoulder.

"So Daddy has to go back to work."

At this point my husband took over and they chatted some more about the month just gone. But before I left, my hand still rubbing my baby's back, I reassured him that if it hurt too much too often, Daddy would come and work closer to home.

"Closer to home," he said, repeating it out loud, "does that mean he will be home at night?"


"But that means he can’t come to class reading or swimming lessons," my son continued.

"Well yes," I said, "because he would be working and he would just have Saturday and Sunday off."

"Like George's Dad," he said.

"Yes, like George's Dad."

" I don’t want that,"

"Well then, you know what we must do."

"Hmmm ... okay then."

"But in the meantime, why don’t you crawl into Daddy’s side of the bed and you can sleep there next to him tonight."

This was greeted with a smile. "But baby," I said as we tucked him in, "I’m proud of you for being so brave and telling us how you feel. It’s important for you to understand that. We are a team, baby, so this lifestyle must work for all of us - not just me or Daddy but you and your brothers too. That’s important."

I'm hoping he understood all that.

"Yes mum," he said, and as he dropped off to sleep next to his Daddy he muttered "We are a team aren’t we..."

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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