Beating loneliness as a FIFO mum
COgear founder Kym O’Leary shares insights and advice based on her former colleagues' experiences and her own personal journey of balancing work and family while being away.
By Kym O’Leary
I love traveling and have experience working at remote mining sites, so I know what it's like to be away from loved ones. But, being away from my son for a short conference was still hard. FIFO, DIDO and remote workers face the challenge of being away from their children for days or weeks at a time. Here are some tips I've learned from my colleagues and personal experiences to help cope with the separation."
- Combatting loneliness
Fortunately, being on site with people it is possible to make friends, and quickly. You have the shared experience of working away together. Communal areas and exercise activities are on offer in the camps too for when you could do with company. The rough part is the loneliness that comes from missing out on birthday, special events, and “the firsts and lasts” your children have. Working parents in every profession experience this, however being hundreds or sometimes thousands of kilometres away does make “missing out” particularly impactful.
It is helpful to stay positive and remember why you made the decision to become a FIFO worker in the first place. It might have been for the roster (if it provides opportunities for more quality family time when you are at home), the money, the lifestyle, savings goals for your family, or it’s a bridging stone on a career path, for example. Cling on to that and utilise video chats, phone calls and texts as much as you can.
This too is tough when there are time differences, or partners trying to do the end of day “bathtime/bedtime/dinnertime” routine. Work out a time that suits you and your family. If homework is on the cards, there might even be time to do that with your child over a video call or an opportunity to “be” at an event via video.
Personally, there were times my husband and I decided we shouldn’t video chat, as it was too tough when my young child was struggling from separation. Each situation/circumstance is different, and it changes.
The first time away from my baby was rough. I expected to sleep peacefully, but instead, I woke up every few hours with sore breasts from breastfeeding. To comfort myself, I used a breast pump and indulged in wine and chocolate. While I understand the importance of exercise and healthy eating, sometimes you just need to find ways to get through the night.
- Dealing with comments
Everyone has tough days at the office or on the worksite. But for some reason when a FIFO worker vents or needs to debrief with someone outside of the industry the reply is often, “oh well the money is good, and you knew what you were getting yourself into”. Yes, the negatives are well-noted, however, that does not mean you do not get to have a bad day, or to feel sad or lonely. It might be time you – very politely – inform them of this fact, or if you’d like to move on from it (and find someone more helpful to talk to) try a simple “that is true” and change the subject.
If you receive the highly judgemental question of “how can you work away from your kids?” then usually a simple “it’s tough, but we manage, and have lots of quality time together when I am home”, will suffice. Or you may have a standard response ready to go for those extremely stereotypical questions!
Remember too that many companies with remote or FIFO opportunities offer counselling through their workplace. It can help to get on the phone to a professional who understands what you are going through and will avoid the judgement often given by strangers or well-meaning people close to you. Talking through your feelings with a professional can make a massive difference.
- Being a supportive partner
You’re busy away for work while your significant other is experiencing the daily demands of parenting, housework, errands, school drop-offs, and perhaps even doing paid work themselves. More than likely, they too are also coping with isolation and loneliness without the attention or affection of their partner at the end of a long day.
Long-distance relationships are hard, particularly in families where there are children dependent on you. Many couples report that the best relationships are when both partners communicate – this is regardless of whether one partner is away from work or not. If you can both tell each other how you are feeling, check in with each other and really aim to spend some quality time together when you do see one another (not just with the kids) it can do wonders for the relationship. If a partner is not coping with the household duties, then a cleaner, babysitter, or any other help that can be outsourced will help lighten their load.
I hired a cleaning service for my home last year. At first, I was hesitant because I felt I should clean my own house. But when I made a list of all my responsibilities, I realised it was too much for me to handle. Cleaning was one task I could delegate, so I did.
- Looking after yourself
Taking care of yourself is crucial when working long hours, doing physical labor, or traveling for work. Camp might offer some health and social activities, but ultimately it's up to you to manage your well-being. Avoid unhealthy habits like drinking, smoking, or eating junk food, which can lead to long-term health problems and negatively impact mood and mental health. Instead, engage in activities that release endorphins, like exercise. Use an app like "Keep it Cleaner" for daily movement and fitness tips.
- Seek professional support
These tips are general in nature and if you feel blue, or are really grappling with loneliness, please talk to a qualified health professional. Here too are some links to support organisations.
- Beyond Blue aims to increase awareness of depression and anxiety and reduce stigma, on 1300 224 636.
- FriendLine supports anyone who's feeling lonely, needs to reconnect or just wants a chat on 1800 424 287 or chat online with one of their trained volunteers.
- MindSpot is a free telephone and online service for people with anxiety, stress, low mood, or depression.
- Lifeline provides 24-hour crisis counselling, support groups and suicide prevention services. Call 13 11 14, text on 0477 13 11 14 (12 pm to midnight AEST) or chat online.
A few sources you can read to understand the strain FIFO life can have:
*Any products or services (other than COgear) mentioned in this Blog are not paid endorsements. They are recommendations from Kym’s personal experiences.