Q&A: Is quality versus quantity a valid argument for FIFO?
By psychologist Angie Willcocks
Hello. My husband is starting a new position within his company on a 5 day a week basis at 12 hour days. He is currently a 9 to 5 Dad and is home by 4.30 in the afternoon with half day Fridays and weekends off. Our little boy has Aspergers Syndrome and is quite used to this routine and is lucky enough to have Dad at home for homework and bed time books. With the new position Daddy time is going to be reduced to weekends only, as when Dad arrives home during the week our little Preppie will be fast asleep. We have the option for my Husband to work 3 weeks on and 8 days off and we are seriously considering this move. We currently reside in an area where we have no family and are planning to add to our own little family next year. We were thinking of setting up a permanent base back in my home town where my extended family reside. I would have considerable assistance from all my family and my mother whenever I required it. My husband and I are big believers in quality versus quantity of time and feel that it may be to our family’s advantage to have him home solidly for 8 days whereby he has nothing to do but focus purely on family time. He could partake in so many more in school activities and extracurricular activities for our son in this time then he would any given day while on the new roster. It would be something to look forward to every month and we have calculated with annual leave that he would have 16 weeks including his rostered week offs in which to focus on family. There would also be nightly skyping and phone calls. I have established quite a wonderful system with our son in preparation of changes small and large and I think with careful planning and the involvement of specialists for transitioning purposes he would do the move relatively pain free. However I worry that my husband who is very hands on (and just simply a wonderful man) might find this a more difficult situation then I. Is the quality versus quantity a valid argument? Would the 8 days of solid family time and involvement be better than a passing 5 minutes in a given day living in the same town under the same roof? I would appreciate your opinion on this scenario as we slowly gather all the necessary information to make an informed decision about this significant change?
A: Thanks for your email. It's so great to hear of a family who is taking time to consider the pros and cons of FIFO versus residential in such a thoughtful way. You sound like a lovely respectful family.
The question about quality versus quantity is a tricky one. In an ideal world both is best! Of course it's not possible to live in the 'ideal world', so we need to make decisions all the time about how we spend our work and family time. There is no 'one size fits all' answer to your question, I'm sorry to say!
Having said that, it sounds like you have thought through the advantages and disadvantages of the FIFO lifestyle for your family. You've carefully considered your son's ability to cope with the change as well as thought through how you will be supported when your husband is away. Given this, it sounds like a reasonable decision for your husband to give the 3 weeks on, 8 days off roster a go.
I agree that your husband might find it most challenging. It's a tough thing to weigh up career and financial goals against family and relationship goals, but it sounds like he is doing this in a very considered way – and that's great.
If he does accept the FIFO job, it will be very important that he remains positive and looks for opportunities to stay connected with you and your son while he is away. This is usually not too hard for dads who are already interested and involved in their child’s life, because they naturally want to know what is going on and stay connected.
Using Skype and mobile phones is one way. Letters, cards and notes is another way. As your son gets older, he and his dad can develop more shared interests to connect while dad's away – whether that’s a computer game (who is getting the highest score?) movies, books, building things or collecting things.
It's also really important that you and your husband make time to review any decision at regular intervals, perhaps after every three months. At each review, have a chat about what is going well and what is not going well. Think through what might help with any problems that are arising. Also, don't make big financial commitments or changes until you are pretty sure that things are going to work out ok. There is nothing worse than feeling ‘stuck’ with a decision that is not working for you and your family.
I hope that helps and I wish you all the very best.
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.