FIFO parenting: four things I wish I’d done differently

By Virginia Heffernan

I just asked my son if he had any regrets about growing up in a FIFO household where a phone call from granddad once unfolded like this:

GD: “Hi Graham, may I speak to your mom please?”

G: “Um, I think she’s in China.”

GD: “How about your dad?”

G: “He just left for the airport.”

GD: (alarmed) “Who’s looking after you then?”

G: “Mama said she’d be landing in time for dinner.”

When Graham was young, both his parents had jobs that required travel (his exploration geologist dad for much longer, more frequent stretches) and sometimes our timing would be that tight.

Though he is sanguine when looking back on his childhood, my own reflection reveals a few tweaks that would have made the FIFO rollercoaster ride a little smoother.

Enlist the Grandparents

If you are lucky enough to have grandparents in the vicinity, use them! We made the mistake of letting weeks go by without arranging dates with Nana and Papa. They didn’t explicitly offer their services, but neither did we ask. In hindsight, I would have scheduled weekly blocks of time for Graham to spend with one or both of his resident grandparents, and a few overnights here and there. That arrangement would have had dual benefits: freeing up time for my other pursuits while my partner was away and a forging a stronger bond between grandchild and grandparent. If there are no grandparents around, other family members or even friends might be willing. But you have to ask.

Keep a Journal

It’s tough being the single parent at home, but even tougher for the FIFO parent who misses out on the day-to-day joys – and sometimes even major developmental leaps – of their children. If we were to do it all again, I would take a few minutes at the end of the day to jot down some of Graham’s words (because kids always have funny, insightful things to say) so I could repeat them to his father, and have them for posterity.

Make Time for Exercise

Single parenthood, even (or especially) if it’s temporary, can easily become a 24/7 endeavour. Amid the grind of working, childrearing, shopping, cooking and laundry, intentional exercise seems an unnecessary luxury. But it’s not. Parenting is physically demanding, especially in the early years when you are carrying babies or pushing strollers though the snow, a lesson I leaned the hard way by suffering years of back pain. A fit parent is a happier, more tolerant parent and a better role model. Get some weights, a Thera-Band and/or a stationary bike and use them whenever you have a window of time, however brief. Even better, go for a run in the sun or join a team that meets weekly.

Take a Break from Cooking

Cooking is one of those pleasures that can turn into a gnawing dread if you have to do it every day. I always felt pressure to produce a nutritious meal, but if the option is available and you can afford it, embrace take-out and delivery from time to time while your partner – who presumably contributes to the cooking – is away. It’ll give you a break from routine, make your kids really, really happy, and even awaken your senses with unfamiliar flavours.

Get help, record moments, stay strong, cook less: that’s my prescription for happy FIFO parenting.

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