Q&A: How to help kids to cope when mum does FIFO

By psychologist Angie Willcocks

Q: Hi Angie, I have just started a new job and I am working a 9/5 FIFO roster. I have two young children aged three and five. They seem to understand why I have to leave and tell me that “mummy has to go away to work”, but I just wonder how I can make it a little easier on them. My husband has a job based in town and we also have a live-in nanny. My husband is great with the kids, even when I am at home. Any advice?

A: Thanks for your email. It’s great to hear you are so proactive in helping your kids cope with you working FIFO. The main factors that are important to consider when working a FIFO roster with kids at home are CONNECTION and CONSISTENCY.

Connection obviously refers to feeling connected to each other when you are apart. Because young children are so practical, it’s a good idea to talk about connection using something they can actually see and hold in their hand. One suggestion is to make a small heart together out of card or fabric and encourage your child to carry it around, touching it whenever he or she thinks of you (and knowing that you are also thinking of her at the same time). Some parents also like to make one for themselves, telling their child that they will also touch it every time they think of them. The idea is to highlight the fact that you can feel connected and think of someone you love, even when you are not physically together. An alternative idea is to make a ‘connection bracelet’ of plaited wool (think of a friendship bracelet) for you both to wear. Anything that means something to both of you is fine, and you don’t need to make it – buying is OK as long as your child gets a say in what is bought.

Staying connected through phone is a good idea, though young children don’t always like talking on the phone and can sometimes seem more unsettled after a phone chat. Skype is better but I know not everyone has this set up (please do get onto Skype if you haven’t already). Kids also appreciate old fashioned snail mail: simple letters, cards or small gifts in the post are good ways to remind them you are thinking of them when you are at work (by the way I know work is often very busy and there might not be much to buy your kids on site, so perhaps organise it before you go!)

Good books for talking to kids about work and also feeling connected are:

I know of some parents who’ve made their own version of The Mummy Book or The Daddy Book, filling in the pages with information about themselves and other families they know.

The second C word is consistency. This refers to expectations, discipline and routines. Kids do best when they know what is expected of them (and others). Consistency can be tricky to maintain when you work away; both because you may be ‘out of the loop’ with whatever is currently going on (i.e. what’s likely to induce a tantrum this week!) and also because you might feel like bending the rules when you are home. Of course it’s fine to spoil the kids a little if you feel like it, but it’s a good idea to plan something special to spoil them rather than change the rules, their routine, or your expectations of their behaviour. On this note, some mums feel guilty about working away or working long hours and their guilt can have them parenting in a different way than they might like. I hope this isn’t an issue for you but if it is, it’s a good idea to have a chat to supportive friends and/or family to ‘get it off your chest’ rather than let your parenting style be affected.

Another factor that is important for both consistency and connection is keeping in touch with whatever is going on for the kids on a day-to-day basis, and keeping up with what they have coming up in the next few weeks. Regular communication with your nanny and husband and a very well organised calendar (ideally that others can help to fill in) is the simplest way to do this.

Please come back to me if you’d like further information or would like to ask any specific questions.

Good luck with it all. Angie

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