The airport drop-off - learning the art of leaving

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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.

My husband recently surprised me with a trip to Paris - just the two of us, no kids! Those three weeks away allowed me to better understand and appreciate so many things about this FIFO life of mine.

Mainly, it allowed me to 'get' my husband better, especially how he can say goodbye to us every other month for work.

I was naturally worried about how the boys would be in my absence and despite a couple of hick-ups they went fine. But for me, the leaving part was surreal.

"Is this how it is for you?" I asked my husband when we finally got into the Qantas Club. When I'd previously travelled alone for work or to see my parents solo, and saw the FIFO workers sitting in the airport club lounge, I just never got it. I had seen their families desperate on the kerbside, with mum trying to minimise the stress that drop offs can bring. Yet here they were, all jovial and having a last drink with workmates in the lounge. I never really understood that and had always wondered if it was a case of Mars versus Venus!

Although I was going to Paris (and not to an oil rig) I did finally come to understand. It’s not that it didn't hurt to leave my family kerbside, because it bloody rips your heart out to see your children upset, but I just knew they would be OK and I would be home in a three short weeks (despite my fear of being hit by a mad Parisian bus driver!) 

My husband and I have always said 'he is going to work' and that’s exactly it. That's how he copes.

"It's a mental switch," he says. "Monday starts the moment you leave me kerbside. I don’t miss the kids in that sense because they are safe with you. I worry about them more than miss them and I worry that something will happen to me or you.

"And I am at work - it's just that my work shift is longer, as is my weekend and it's that long weekend that makes it all worth it."

So finally I got a sense of how those FIFO workers can sit and have a beer with their workmates before flying off to work, while their family drives away feeling slightly broken.

They are simply getting into the right frame of mind - just as I do every morning with my three cups of coffee. It has nothing to do with not caring for their family or thinking about them enough. They're just flicking a switch from family time to work time. When they receive their boarding pass and seat allocation, it's like clocking on for Monday morning!

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