Q&A: Small kids and an unpredictable FIFO roster are messing with our emotions

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By psychologist Angie Willcocks

Hi Angie, Unlike the usual FIFO and DIDO, my husband does contract work - as required. So this means he might be gone for two weeks, home for 24 hours, gone again for three days, home for 10 days, gone for three weeks, home for one day and so on. The work is extremely unpredictable as it is based around shutdowns ... so anything goes. We have small children, no close friends in town and no support network. The primary reason we are doing this is because there is no work in his normal field and we are moving to Perth to be closer to work, friends and family as soon as our new house is built. So here it goes. We love each other dearly, dislike being apart and really hate the unpredictability of the work. He has tried to get a FIFO job with other companies with a stable roster but to date hasn't had any luck. The unstable, unpredictable nature of the job is really messing with our emotions. We are both very tired but also very happy and in love, however every little thing seems to annoy me when he gets home. I feel his tiredness leaves me to do the bulk of the work and then I resent him in the process. I try hard not to hassle him to help as he works so hard and is literally drained after a stint. It takes him a good 3-5 days to get back to "normal" so until then things are very challenging, to put it politely. We both feel unappreciated and having date night is not an option as we have no-one to look after the kids (yes we have lots of lovin' so that is not an issue). At this moment in time we have no choice but to do this. Any tips to make this ride a little smoother?

Thanks so much for your email. I have heard quite a lot about uncertainty and insecurity in employment lately – so much so that I have written about it for this month's column. I hope you'll find some useful information there, too.

Unpredictability at work is very stressful at the best of times, but throw in the 'normal' stress of FIFO for the family and you've got yourself a double barrel of pressure! It's great to hear that you and your partner love each other a lot, but it sounds like you both need a bit of extra appreciation at the moment. Here are my thoughts:

  • Firstly, work hard to make sure you and your partner appreciate that you guys are a team, facing the stresses of FIFO and unpredictable work together. It's not you against him or him against you, even though I know it can sometimes feel that way when your needs are competing (like when he first gets home from a stint and you both need a rest). Remind yourselves that you share the same goals (raising happy and healthy kids for example) and you are both working to achieve this. Saying things like “we both need a rest when you first get back, so how can we try to work that out?” can help. Getting into the tiredness competition (“I'm more tired than you are”) is never helpful, so try “we're BOTH really tired at the moment so what can WE do to make things run more smoothly” instead. Remember it's YOU TWO as a team, facing the situation together to raise the kids and pay the mortgage. Keep coming back to this.
  • Ask each other the question: “Is there something I could do to make things a bit easier for you at the moment?” We almost never ask this when we're struggling because we feel as though we couldn't possibly give an ounce more. Yet sometimes there is a simple answer that goes a long way to restoring goodwill in the relationship. I recently encouraged a couple in counselling to ask each other the question, and her answer was simple yet powerful ... she said “don't ask me for sex on your first day back”. He was OK about this and the conversation broke a lot of tension between them. (Incidentally, his response was “don't give me a list of things to do on my first day back!”). Cliché but true!
  • Have a look at the book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, and spend some time going through the quiz with your partner. This book can help couples see how they can show appreciation to their partner in a better way.

All the best, 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.