Q&A: Moving successfully from 9-5 to FIFO

By psychologist Angie Willcocks

Q: My husband is starting a FIFO job in two weeks. We are nervous and excited I guess, as this is a huge change for us. I stay at home with our two young children and I was wondering if you have any suggestions for making the transition smoother? We don’t have a very big family/social network where we are living and I’ve heard about a lot of different experiences of FIFO jobs and their effect on families. Any info you have would be really helpful.

A: Hi and thanks for your email. There are so many tips to help the transition that I will struggle to fit them all in the space available! Here they are, in dot points for clarity:

  • The first piece of advice I always give to couples starting FIFO is to be clear as to why you are choosing FIFO as a family. Set some goals and create a practical plan around these reasons. If your goals are financial, make them very clear. Writing them down is a great idea. For example, a goal to "pay off a lot of the house" sounds good in theory, but it's not clear enough. Decide how much you want to pay off – and in what time frame – and create a budget to make sure this happens.
  • Don't change your financial commitments (ie commit to new loan repayments) until you are sure the FIFO lifestyle is working OK for your family. In my experience FIFO families don't do too well when they feel 'stuck' with the lifestyle because of large financial commitments.
  • Think about your personalities, histories and circumstances, to try to figure out in advance which bits of FIFO might be particularly challenging for you. Which parts are you most worried about? What are your particular vulnerabilities? This exercise is also important for your partner – ask him to have a think about the parts of FIFO that he is most worried about too. If possible, 'problem solve' your way through the worrying bits in advance. For example, you mention not having a big network where you live. This might not be a problem (I'm not sure, having never met you!) but if you are one who likes or needs a lot of external support, then it will be important for you to generate some additional networks, especially when your partner is away. You could do this by committing to being more social (joining groups or clubs), paying for support (childcare, a psychologist or counsellor, cooking or cleaning services) or being more upfront in asking for help from those who are already in your life.
  • I know from speaking with FIFO families that the first few months can be the hardest, as you all adjust to the new lifestyle. Keep talking. Ask each other, "What are we doing well at?" "What isn't working so well?" Problem solve your way through the hard bits. (PS: problem solving is a skill that you can learn. Try Googling 'steps to problem solving' if you're not sure how to do it.)
  • Commit to staying connected emotionally when your partner is away. Talking on the phone, emailing, sending notes and photos and even watching the same movie or reading the same book while apart are ways to feel connected, even when you are physically apart.
  • It is also important that you and your partner make sure your kids can stay as connected as possible when your partner is away. See our parenting section for more information.
  • Watch your thinking style, and make sure you are not dwelling on negative feelings.
  • Couples often have disagreements about how time is spent when the FIFO worker is home. You'll need to develop your own routine for this. Work together as a team to see if both of your needs can be met when the FIFO worker is home. It might take a few shots to get it right for your family, and it doesn’t hurt to have set rules about how many times you catch up with others and when.
  • Set times to review how things are going. My advice is to do this every three months initially (for the first year) and then six monthly after that.

Some books that might help are:

  • The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris
  • ACT with Love by Russ Harris
  • The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
  • The Invisible String by Patrice Karst (for kids)
  • and of course ... The Survival Guide for Mining Families, from the team at MiningFM
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