Q&A: Should a busy miner also help with kids and housework?

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By psychologist Angie Willcocks

Q: Hi, I have noticed a lot on your website about FIFO/DIDO families, but I live in a small mining town with my young family. We moved here as I thought it would be easier on us than DIDO. Hubby works an even time roster rotating days and nights and we cope well with it. I understand that the workers need their alone time or time to recover from long shifts, but so do us mums. So what is a good expectation on household chores and spending time with the family? At the moment, I do everything from cleaning, washing, feeding the dogs etc. On top of this I do all the running around for children's sports and activities, make all meals for children and hubby, do the dishes etc. He seems to have his alone time - watching movies and playing computer games, then going to the gym with his mates. Is it too much to expect the miner of the house to also help out?

Hi Lindsey, thanks for your email and your suggestion about more articles regarding families living in small mining towns – great idea!

Now on to your question: in terms of reasonable expectations about household chores, it really depends on the individuals as there is no one-size-fits-all answer. It's pretty clear from your email that what is currently going on in your household is not working well for you, and so ultimately it's not working well for your whole family and something needs to change.

Of course it is not too much to expect the miner of the house to help out. So it is really important for you and your partner to sit down and talk through your options in a problem solving way. You're in this together, so the conversations should be “we” conversations where possible. For example: “We chose to live here so we could all be together as a family, so we need to work out how to fine tune things so we can both get some work/life balance.”

It's my opinion that your husband can be expected to help out with the day-to-day household tasks. Whether he likes it or not, it is now commonplace for men to help with household and child-raising tasks, even if they work long hours. You might agree that the expectations are reduced on his work days, but it is unreasonable for him not to help out at all. You could start by making a list of your daily tasks, and asking him to pick two or three from the list to do on his days off.  Alternatively, some families find that a list of regular tasks pinned up in the kitchen works well as a memory prompt.

List 5-10 tasks that regularly need doing, such as:

  • put on a load of washing
  • bring in a load of washing
  • empty the dishwasher
  • do the dishes
  • wipe down the vanity in the bathroom
  • pick up the dog poo
  • walk the dog

It's not expected that all of these tasks are done every day, but that one, two or three (depending whether it’s a work day or day off) are carried out. I know it's a generalisation (based on many conversations with couples!) but men tend not to see what needs doing around the house, and they tend not to like being nagged. The list is a good way of addressing both of these issues.

Living remotely has the advantage of seeing each other regularly and the disadvantage of being away from established support networks. Moving home to get more support is one option. However, you could also try to build up a better support network where you are. Would you and hubby consider paying someone to do the cleaning, for instance? Can you share the driving of kids to sport or school with another local family? How about swapping childcare duties with another family one night a fortnight, or month?

Spending time with the family is a slightly different matter and a tricky one. You can certainly state your preference to hubby. (For example: “I would really prefer that you spent time with us, rather than going to the gym again.”) But at the end of the day we can't force someone to do something they don't want to do.

We usually learn about the importance of family time from our own family (mum and dad etc). It is possible that you and your hubby had different experiences growing up, which has translated into different ideas now on what is 'normal' family time. Can you have a chat with him about that?

Lots of couples (FIFO and residential) argue about how time off is spent. I often recommend a particular exercise that is designed to help individuals and couples look at their priorities in life. It's not always an easy exercise to do, but it does provide important information. To read my previous column with more info on this, click here.

On a final note, I think it is important that you carve out some time in the week for yourself. No one is going to offer it to you, so you need to take it! Think about what you would like to do, plan it, and then go ahead and do it.

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.