This is one of my favourite chapters from my book – Separated by Work. I wanted to share it with you all.
…Excerpt from Separated by Work – Kirsty O’Callaghan – Chapter 18
Among FIFO families who are coping well, there are some common themes—resilience, happiness, satisfaction, and a sense of purpose about the experience. Their children, as a direct result, seem more adaptable and calm. I frequently ask my children how they are doing with Dad working away. It gives me a starting point to see if Paddy and I can be doing anything more to support them or answering any questions or concerns they may have. One question I had to answer once was when Joseph asked me why the people Dad worked for were so mean and wouldn’t let him work for one week and be home for three. It was tricky to reach a point where he was satisfied with the answer, yet I am pleased he asked.
“Your child might say, “I wish we didn’t read that book today because it really made me think about the sadness at home.”
When children have the opportunity to share their feelings, the joy and excitement, as well as the anxiety and sadness… They are developing the ability to identify the range of feelings that we all have and to learn the ways in which to respond. They are also learning that everyone might not respond like them and this will help them to get along with others.
When we limit what children can talk about and how they might respond to the world we deny them the opportunity to engage with the full range of human feelings. Everyone experiences highs and lows and sometimes we just need to know that someone is listening. How could we provide more opportunities for children to share their feelings?”– Suzette Holm
After getting permission from their FIFO parents, I invited a number of children of differing ages to share their thoughts and experiences as a member of a FIFO family. The insights are overwhelmingly impressive and allow us to take a breath and not feel that we are necessarily doing a dis-service to our children by choosing this work situation. Whether a parent works away or is home every night is not an indicator of a happier child. When reading I suggest that you do not view the child’s opinion and thoughts as good or bad—it is just how that child was feeling at the time. Children are generally quite frank.
I have used each child’s first initial and age. I have also used Mr or Miss to signify boy or girl.
“My Dad works away for three weeks and is home for seven days—that is a week. I think it is good most of the time, but I miss him. I get excited when he comes home because I miss him for three weeks. I am used to it now that I am eight, I wasn’t used to it when I was three. It felt longer then, like even three months. When Dad is home, he is fun and funny. We do lots of stuff together. When he is away for three weeks I don’t like it because I can’t see him, and sometimes I get bored and miss him. I know Dad works away so we get lots of money and he can buy stuff for all of us. When he is away, it helps if I just don’t think about it or him being away. I like to talk to him on the phone, and doing my homework with Dad on Skype two times a week. When I was about four I liked Skyping Dad all the time.”
“I can safely say that over the duration of Dad’s career doing FIFO my opinion and view have changed drastically. When I was old enough to understand the concept that Dad went away regularly to go to work I wasn’t too pleased with the idea. To put it in comparison to people who have not experienced growing up with your father there only half the time—it felt like my parents were divorced. We’d only see Dad every so often and when we did it would take a few days for him to adjust back to home life, he’d get the things done that he needed to get done (i.e. banking, jobs around the house, spending time with Mum etc. etc.) and then he would have time for me. I loathed my father and blamed him for a lot of things in my life because of FIFO until I was 18.
It struck me only a few years ago when, I myself, moved away from home for a period of nine months and worked in a mining town—that my Dad never did this because he loved to—he did it so that I could attend private schools, have caviar on my plate and Louis Vuitton on my back. I now appreciate how hard my father worked for me to have one of the best up-bringings you could give a child. I still struggle internally whether the sacrifice of not seeing your child grow up every day, attend birthdays and Christmas every year, is really worth the money and material things my father has given me. I sure as hell love him and appreciate him for it, because without it I wouldn’t be where I am today, but at the same time—where would I be if my father never took the FIFO job? Would it have been worth the sacrifice of money to have a better quality family life together?”
“As I got older Dad working away didn’t affect me as much. I think this is because I have my own routine and it is easier to adapt. One thing that did get harder as I got older was that Dad missed some of the important stuff, like formals, graduation, birthdays, and things like that. Overall, I am ok with him working away, he has a good job and earns good money, and he has been doing it for so long it is hard to remember what it was like having him home everyday. I have a good relationship with Dad and we keep in touch by texting and phone calls. I know he is always there if I need him and Mum lets him know what is going on here. I just accept it is the way it is. I enjoy it when he is home, not so much that we do a lot together, just knowing that he is here is cool.”
“For me Dad was working away quite some bit, and at first I wasn’t really used to it because with him here he manages the household and without him here it felt like something was missing. The way I coped with it was just not thinking about it, I would have the occasional moment where I needed Dad, but it doesn’t really bother me now because I’m focused on so many things, like school and my friends and hobbies have me occupied. Probably the positive of Dad working away is that we get some peace and quiet, because he would be there always and it would be annoying, but that rarely happens. Negatives are he would manage the family, without him he would assist me with things I do with him on a daily basis, I don’t get to hangout with him much and we don’t get time to spend with each other.”
“For the last few years my Dad has only been home for Saturday and leaving again Sunday for work. This has impacted our family in both positive and negative ways because he is missed very much during the week but we know he does it because he loves us. It is mostly positive because not seeing him makes our time together more meaningful so it is nicer for everyone. When I was younger having both my parents around every day was great because I didn’t know any different but also because the small things that I cared about, like getting an award at school, I always had a parent there to see it happen. That doesn’t happen so much anymore because my mum is usually busy working and being a mum to three kids, but now that I’m older I understand that she does her best to be a good mum and wife for our family.”
“PROS – Some positive reasons I don’t mind my Dad being away as when he comes home I am really excited to see him. When Dad is away it can also be good because Mum and Dad don’t fight during the week so I am not stressed because my parents have been fighting. It is also good because when he is not home the household is all girls so we can do the girly things that we like to do. Dad is also a lot happier when he comes home he gets to relax and he has missed his family. Dad is also more appreciative of what he has at home such as the house and his family.
“CONS – Some negative reasons I dislike my Dad being away from home all week is that I miss him a lot. He also is really good at math so he can help me with my math homework and he can’t help me when he is away. Not only does he help me with math he also helps me with my gymnastics tricks and strength but, again he can’t help me because he is away. Another con is that when we go out as a family he often doesn’t come because he is getting ready to leave again so we don’t spend a lot of time with him. I also don’t like him being away because at school everyone talks about cool things they have done with their Dad but I don’t get to spend a lot of quality time with my Dad so I am always left out of the conversation. I also don’t like to go and have sleepovers with my friends on the weekends or go to parties because I want to spend some time with my Dad and I miss out on a lot.”
“When my Dad was away I felt really sad and bored because he does all the fun things with me like quad bike riding. He is my best friend. It felt really different not to be near him. It made me feel very sad and I wished he would come home soon. The only thing good about Dad not being home was him not yelling at me when I did the wrong thing.
I felt like something was missing. It felt a bit strange because you usually have a Dad and a Mum, but for one month and a half, I only had a Mum. I kept wishing he would come home. He is home now, so everything is back the way it was. I love you Dad, with all my heart.”
“When my Dad was away I felt that it was a good thing, but also a bad thing. With Dad being away, Mum was struggling to keep up with everything, and she spent most of her time at work. My sister and I were finding ourselves having to look after our younger brother a lot. But there was a bright side to having Dad away, me and my sister started to get much closer in our relationship and sometimes after school, Mum would have already picked my brother up and she would take us to Redcliffe to have an afternoon snack.
When Dad came back late on Friday nights there was always a good vibe around the house. On Saturday morning, the family would have breakfast and depending on how Dad felt, we would go out on a road trip not knowing where we were going to go, but driving to a small town to have lunch and then driving to a waterfall or rainforest to stretch our legs.
Although Dad spent most of his time away, there was still such a rush of excitement when he got home. And it was always so good to see him on those early Saturday mornings.”
I also got the point of view of a now adult who reflected on her experiences and thoughts of her Dad working away when she was a child –
“Growing up with a father who worked away for months at a time was not unusual for me, because that was my reality from a very young age. Sure, there was an awareness that our household was a bit different to most, but I never considered it to be a worse-off situation in comparison to a normal household.
On reflection, I think I have benefited greatly from having a strong role model in my mother and watching her raise two children while her husband was working away for extended periods. It’s certainly instilled in me the importance of being independent and capable, and not to become reliant on another person to do the basic tasks around the house. I hope to pass these same traits on to my children.
When Dad returned home for leave, there was always a period of adjustment in the house, particularly for Mum who had to reassign some of the household responsibilities, and for Dad who was keen to get involved in everything and contribute as much as he could while he was there. It was wonderful to have a Dad who, unlike many of my friend’s fathers, when he was home was really involved in the day-to-day; dropping us to school, taking us shopping, arranging play dates and getting involved in our sport. When he was home, time together as a family became more important. He was truly present. Some parents never go away for work, and yet they are never really present in their children’s lives.”
Children are naturally equipped to cope with most challenges and struggles—they just need to feel heard and their point of view accepted. When I spoke to these children and young adults, I took away that FIFO is never a one size fits all. Each family has its own unique experience—just as each child will have their own views and responses dependent on what is going on at the time for them. Which leads into the next section of the book—dealing with what you least expect…..