Q&A: My kids are hurting because their FIFO dad is too busy for them
By psychologist Angie Willcocks
Q: My husband recently started FIFO, and our marriage was already in a bad way. For a time, I thought FIFO would solve our problems, and it did for a while, but now our children are keen for Dad to go back to work. I do my very best to involve him in day-to-day activities, I send a photo of the kids doing something every day. Our problem is that whenever Dad is home, he is busy and spends very little time at home with the kids. They are really struggling with this, not knowing when Dad will be home or not. I support my husband 100% but I don't know what to do when our children question his absence from home. I think it is up to him to explain his absences during his time home. Am I incorrect?
While I agree with you in principle (that it is up to your husband to explain his absences to the kids) in practice I'm sure that it is up to you, because you're the one who's with them most of the time, and it's you they probably ask. Unfortunately it's been left up to you to support your kids to cope with their dad being busy with things other than them. That must be very hard for you; it's sad to see your kids’ father prioritising other things over his children.
There are many reasons why your husband might be behaving as he is, and it's important to remember that sometimes people's intentions are good, even if their actions aren't. A classic example of this is the dad who is working long hours to provide well for his family because he really believes that is what a good dad should do. It's possible that your husband has good intentions, and perhaps you could try having a chat to him about what is motivating him to spend so much time away from the family. Try to make this talk 'interested' rather than 'accusing'.
Sometimes men who didn't have very good fathers themselves are too scared to spend a lot of time with their own kids because they simply don't know how to be a 'good dad'. If you think that might be the case for your husband, tell him he can learn to be a good dad if he wants to, and encourage him to find out more information about this (he could start by Googling 'how to be a good dad'!).
At the end of the day, you can't be responsible for the relationship that your husband has with his kids. He is responsible for that. It can help to let go of the worry a bit and simply tell your husband plainly that you can see that his relationship with the kids is suffering because he isn't spending enough time with them. Tell him that you're going to stop worrying about it and stop trying to fix it (and then DO stop worrying about it and trying to fix it!) Concentrate on building your own relationship with the kids in the way that you want to, and on being the mum that you want to be. I know that it's easy for me to say all this, and in practise it's very hard to let go of this worry. We all want the best for our kids and having a good relationship with dads is best for kids. BUT you can't make that relationship happen, only your husband can.
When you first stop worrying about your husband's relationship with the kids, you might notice that you go from feeling worried and angry to sad, and this is quite normal as you feel the loss for your kids. Over time, concentrating on being the mum you want to be will take up your time and energy and your kids will thank you for that in the future.
In the meantime, it's OK to be honest with your kids and tell them that you're not sure when dad will be home or what he's busy doing. Acknowledge their feelings about this (sad, frustrated, angry etc) and then get on with whatever you've got planned for the day.
Good luck and please come back to me if you’ve got any more questions.
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.