Work Related Absence
Strengthening Relationships in the FIFO/DIDO Family
Raising the effectiveness of families facing work-related absences
This is not a new phenomenon as families in many industry sectors, such as the Defence Forces, have been facing the challenges that family separation presents for many years. However as the industrial landscape develops, what is changing is the percentage of families that are living daily with the pressures of separation and the challenges that this presents. So let’s look at some of the challenges first and then how we might turn those into opportunities for growth.
Challenges for the marriage relationship and family:
- The absent partner misses the daily conversations; significant moments pass without input or involvement.
- The parenting responsibility falls to one parent for significant periods of time. This can impact on the children through an imbalance in the usual pattern of mother and father parenting styles.
- The absent parent can have a sense of failure or frustration in their inability to perform the role that they would like to play as husband/wife and father/mother.
- For the absent parent, being fully catered for in a camp environment can create unreal expectations on the return home to normal family life.
- The family dynamics can be seriously damaged if the absent worker becomes more like a visitor in the lives of the children and spouse.
- Most absent workers struggle to maintain their romantic relationship with their spouse.
- Pornography can be used to help fill the void created by the absence, with lasting damage to both the absent individual and the married relationship.
- The absent worker is valued only for the money he/she is able to bring home.
- Prolonged absences can favour a gradual drift into an entrenched singles lifestyle instead of a patient building of a resilient relationship.
|“Being a husband and father of seven children I have always understood the importance of my role within the family. Due to the continuing necessity to provide for my family, for two and a half years we were one of the ever growing number of families surviving in the FIFO/DIDO environment. Over this period I would leave home for work on a Monday morning to return home on Friday afternoon….. every week.The thing that I missed most was that I was not part of the daily conversations that allowed me to play my husband and father role with ease. I was finding it difficult to keep pace with the family and their comings and goings and I was seeing the increased responsibility that my wife had to carry due to my being away four nights out of every seven.This isolation from my family and my relationship with my wife was real and this added stresses that needed to firstly be acknowledged, and then worked on daily to handle these times of separation. In my experience, when we work together, both couple and family, we can really continue to grow and become what Jesus had planned for us to be; a place of security, love and learning , within the family and for the community at large.” – DIDO Dad.|
|“When my husband landed a job working away we were elated and overjoyed. He’d spent the whole of his working career in a suit in the city. But unfortunately when the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) came about, he found himself all suited up with no job to go to. So there we were with three young children at school, an investment property loan and paying large amounts of rent in the city. He found it extremely hard to find employment and we lived on my part time wage for 9 months. So needless to say we were MORE than happy when he finally found work.There was no discussion of how things would change, what duties would move from one to the other and what impact it may have on our family or our relationship. Our relationship was already slightly strained at this stage due to financial pressure so there was no time for discussion – it was pack the bags and go.All things were new and exciting for both of us. We’ve been together for nearly 20 years, so this really spun things up a bit. I started to get things into order in the house and also financially. I could get the kids into a great routine that was uninterrupted and we were able to start to re-pay people who’d helped us out over time, pay off credit cards and outstanding bills, even put money aside as savings. I found it amazing how happy a bit of money can make you feel.But it was more tricky than I’d expected when he came home. I was so used to running the house, and when he came home and re-ordered things, or disciplined the children, it really put me out. It’s taken quite a few arguments for me to remember that when he’s home he also has a say. And for the first couple of times he was home all we did was argue. I’m not sure why. Then the week would be up and he’d go back to work with both of us feeling that that wasn’t how it was meant to be. And I’d be left at home alone again, feeling like I could have made that better.There is one definite benefit though. Yes there is the money, but better than that is that we both now appreciate each other SO much more. I sit and listen to him speak, I appreciate the things he does around the house and enjoy his manly presence. And we’ve reconnected sexually again. Is it the saying ‘distance makes the heart grow stronger’? Well it’s definitely worked for us.But it can’t be a long term answer for a happy life or relationship. The time away really makes it hard. More so for him – as I’m home with the children and get to see them grow. I enjoy them in their funny moments and sit with them when they’re sad. One of our children is approaching teenage years and I don’t think I’ll be able to do that alone, and this is where I really miss having him here. The space he fills for the kids is irreplaceable. He’s missing out and there’s no amount of iPhone photos that I can send him that will make up for what he’s missing.So I guess, for us, fly in fly out sounded amazing, and it’s been a God-sent short-term fix. I appreciate the sacrifice he’s making every time I am in my beautiful backyard. But with a glance I am always wishing that he was there in the yard beside me.” – Wife of FIFO worker|
Top Hints for growth despite absence
Foremost, as a couple you need to make a conscious decision to work together to minimise the impact of the distance apart. The absent parent needs to seek involvement in the big and little things, and the home parent needs to create the environment to ensure this happens.
- Write down the special happenings in the day so they remain top of your mind
- Then when you telephone or write, have the list handy so that you have lots of newsy stuff to share
Allow God to continue his role in your relationship and family. It is all part of his plan so ensure that you create space every day for his support of your relationship and family.
- Be creative with couple prayer. When apart set aside the same time every day for you both to pray (it may be the Angelus at midday) linking you both together at that special time through communication with God. Whatever you choose to do (whether it’s just saying a Hail Mary together, reading a scripture passage together, Mass, rosary, whatever) continue this when home together.
- Have a daily family prayer involving everyone via skype
Create a routine for communication between yourself and the children that builds quality communication
- Daily telephone call at a set time of the day. A time when all other distractions are removed and you are present for each other.
- Use technology to assist – Skype and Face time is so much better than just a telephone conversation
- Have a phone/internet plan that allows you to not be worried about the cost of the call
When coming home don’t be a visitor in your own household. This requires an effort from both the parent returning and the parent at home to create an environment for this to happen.
- Don’t wait to be asked to participate when returning.
- Stay actively involved whilst you are away to assist with not creating a void on your return
- The welcome home is to be warm and to let them know that they have been missed
Set guidelines for the first evening when you are together.
- Resist the temptation to off load the burdens of the week/weeks or to walk in and immediately jump back on the work phone
- Both spouses should be mentally preparing for the return for at least half an hour before it happens, for example, putting the pressures of work and travel out of mind as much as possible before walking in the door
Commit as a couple to do something for your marriage each day. This will take imagination, time and effort as distance apart adds a challenge to this.
- Be creative and spontaneous
- Write love letters to each other. Old style hand written and mailed
- Have a range of old photos of your relationship together; have a different one by your dressing table each morning and reflect on it while you are starting your day
- Text often – a smorgasbord of messages, from the mundane (‘just having a cup of tea after a hectic start’, ‘Did you make that appointment for the plumber?’) to the zany romantic (censored!).
- Slip a love note (or a number of them) into his/her luggage (or leave them strategically around the home) as the case may be
- Look for events in the day that remind you of past shared experiences and email them – ‘This morning was a crisp autumn morning; it reminded me of when we lived at ……’; ‘I saw a woman today with a really young baby; its cry reminded me of when Jack was born and we …..’
- Email what you prayed for today; if possible, let it show your longing – I prayed for each of us today by name, as I always do; my special prayer for you today was that ….’
- Don’t let your communication be just a fact sheet; share your feelings and moods – ‘I felt grumpy all morning and didn’t know why’, ‘I got such a pleasure out of seeing Mark’s school report – I felt twice as tall’.
Prepare in advance how the days off at home will be spent together. How much home time vs catching up with friends time vs household chores
- This needs to be balanced and prioritise the importance of the things that need to get done. A leaking tap may be more important than a broken door stop but neither as important as taking your daughter to dancing
- Make sure it is not all spent ‘doing’ rather than ‘being’ – allow mulling time together, walking together – and plenty of snuggling together.
Before heading back to work for your “hitch”, sit together and set a goal that you both can do whilst apart.
- This can be a focus then for telephone calls.
- As you work to achieve your goal, you know your partner is also working on the same thing.
- Even though apart, you can support each other in keeping your goal.
In an age-appropriate way, involve the children in the ‘secret garden’ of your planning, at least to some extent so that they know how important your relationship is to each other, that they come from that relationship and that they give that relationship a deeper meaning
- Tell your children you need some time just for each other, ask them to help you make this happen
- Choose your friends even more carefully than usual; seek out positive, constructive people.
- Work on a disciplined routine to fill the void of absence – including being physically active, disciplined in your eating and drinking and planning your days (and your evenings!).
- Keep away from ‘watering holes’ that can lead you into unhealthy relationships.
- And never, ever, fool around with pornography!