Q&A: FIFO mum battling guilt, jealousy over toddler

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By psychologist Angie Willcocks

Q: I am a mum to a toddler, and a fly-in, fly-out worker at a mine site. I am really struggling with being away. My partner is a stay-at-home dad and he is doing a great job caring for our child, but I find that I get extremely jealous of their relationship. I also struggle with sharing my time with my child when I am home. I don’t enjoy my partner’s family visiting or having to spend long periods with anyone apart from my child. I always fight the guilt and jealousy. Any help would be appreciated. 

A: Thanks for your email. I can understand your feelings: going back to work after having a baby is a big deal for mums anyway, I think, and working away makes this even harder. I’m just wondering how long this has been going on? Sometimes returning to work from maternity leave takes some months to adjust to, even if you like your job and want to be there. So, if these feelings have been going on for just a swing or two, then maybe give it a little more time. However, if this has been an ongoing issue that isn’t getting any better, you might need to look into it further.

When you’re struggling with working away, one of the main things to come back to is the question of why you are doing it, and if the benefits outweigh the costs. There is no question that there are costs, and time away from your child is one of those for you. Costs weigh very heavily on people’s minds when things are tough, so talking to your partner about the balance of cost and benefit of you working away is a useful thing to do.

It’s important that you and your partner regularly look at how you are both coping with the current arrangement, and revisiting shared goals (why you’re working away) at these times. It’s up to you and your partner to decide on how you want to live as a family, and for you two to assess how this is going.

It’s great that you partner stays at home and does a great job with your child – but also understandable that you would feel jealous of that. I think that the age of your baby would be contributing to your feelings on this. Long-distance communication and connection is very tricky with a young toddler. They don’t want to talk on the phone for long (if at all) and they aren’t capable of sharing what they’ve been doing with you over Skype or the phone. Their care is mostly practical and 'in the moment', so your partner would get to do most of this just because he is physically there.

This will get easier for you over time, as your child and you can communicate better over the phone and Skype. Spending a lot of time doing the practical tasks and games with your child while you’re home will hopefully help.

With regard to the family visiting, perhaps you can organise to have a few days which are absolutely no visitor days to give you some time just with your partner and child, or just your child. A lot of dads who work away also want this sort of structure or rule in place, so that their time home isn’t all about other people visiting. Obviously, you would need your partner’s help with this if it’s his family visiting.

I do think that mums face more criticism and stigma than dads for working away, and this can contribute to guilt. I hope that none of this is happening for you, but if it is, just keep coming back to your reasons for working away.

Finally, please consider going along to your Employee Assistance Program for a session or two of counselling – this will allow you to get things off your chest, which would be very helpful. These sessions are confidential. 

Good luck with everything,

Angie


To read other columns written by Angie Willcocks during her six years with Mining Family Matters, please click here. And remember that we offer a free email Q&A service with our psychologists, so just click here to ask a question about relationships, parenting or your career. All advice on Mining Family Matters is for general information only and should never be regarded as a substitute for professional health services or crisis services. To talk with a trained volunteer telephone counsellor at any time of the day or night, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. To contact the info line at beyondblue: national depression initiative, phone 1300 22 4636.


Angie Willcocks is a registered psychologist with a private practice in Adelaide – for details about Skype consultations please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. She’s an expert in tackling issues such as depression, anxiety, postnatal depression, child sleep routines and relationship difficulties. She has a Bachelor of Health Sciences in Psychology and a Masters of Counselling Psychology. She is also the co-author of The Sensible Sleep Solution: a guide to sleep in your baby’s first year, which can be ordered from her website www.angiewillcocks.com.