Q&A: Help! I've got three children and a FIFO husband, and I'm not coping
By psychologist Angie Willcocks
Hello. My husband works in the mines on a fairly long FIFO roster. We have three kids and I am finding the more he leaves the harder it is. I tend to close off to friends and family because they don’t understand the emotions I go through. I feel I shut off for a week or so and my youngest boy is acting out a bit. I don’t know the best way to control it, as he is daddy's boy. Going through up and down emotions more and more. We as a couple are strong but I tend to get cranky some days as to why he is leaving me to all of this. Thank you and kind regards.
Hi and thanks for your email. It must be very busy with a FIFO husband and three kids.
You say that you tend to close off around family and friends because "they don't understand the emotions" you go through. Finding someone who understands the highs and lows of FIFO can be tricky. Unlike in the defence forces (where families tend to live in a community) FIFO families can live anywhere, and this can lead to a sense of isolation – as though no one around you really gets what you're going through. This sense of isolation can prompt some people to shut off more and more, as you have. This is a catch 22 situation though – of course your friends and family won't know what you're going through if you shut off from them!
It would be really great if you could work towards re-connecting with friends and family. They may not always totally get what you're going through, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be supportive. Emotions are only part of who we are, so try re-connecting around shared interests or fun events rather than shared emotions.
I'm worried that you say you're going through "more up and down emotions" and would like you to make an appointment with your GP to have a chat, and make sure you're not depressed. You could also check out the symptoms of depression on the Beyond Blue website. Negative thoughts like "no-one understands me or what I'm going through" are very often part of depression, as is withdrawing from friends and family. Please get this checked out.
Your question about why "he is leaving you to all of this" has me thinking that you and your husband need to sit down and have a frank talk about how FIFO is working out for your family at the moment. If you are feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope, something needs to change for your sake as well as your kids. Have a chat about what is most difficult for you at the moment and see if you can problem solve about it. Can you pay someone to help you out with housework or gardening, for example? Can your family or friends help out with the kids more often? Also is there any way your husband's shift can change so he is away for less time? (Obviously I don't know if this is possible, but I have spoken with two men recently whose shifts were changed when they spoke to their HR department about how their family was (not) coping, so it's worth a discussion at least.)
If your problem solving is a bit stuck at the moment (as can be the case when depression is around) enlist the help of your husband, a friend, or a professional such as a GP or psychologist.
In my experience, any acting out by kids will be resolved when mum and dad are back on track with things, so my advice about your son is to see if you can sort yourself out first. Hopefully his behaviour will then improve and if it doesn't, then you'll be in a better position to help him.
Finally, don't forget that MiningFM was set up for people just like you, partly because Alicia recognised how isolating FIFO can be. Chatting on the forums with people who really do get the highs and lows might help you to feel supported.
I hope this helps – please do make a time to see your GP as well.
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.