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By Jocie Ferron

Spring has finally arrived after a long, cold and snowy winter, and the long-awaited tulips and daffodils I planted last September have popped out their beautiful heads.

With the change in weather there also came a big challenge to family life: family suppers were traded for Skype calls; evening routines became frazzled affairs of Mum trying to get everything done while listening to kids whinging about nothing and everything; and daily catch-ups with my husband were traded for the inevitable miscommunications.

Yup, we became a fly-in, fly-out family, thanks to my husband’s new job in another town. For us, this is only temporary until we make the big move later in the year, but it has been an eye opening experience into the lives of many mining families.

We've been a FIFO family for five months now, so we barely bat an eye when Dad’s off to the airport. He gets a quick wave and hug and life continues to flow on without too much of a hitch. This is a nice comparison to the early days, when my perfectly comfortable and predictable world was thrown into chaos ... and yes, I admit it, I struggled.

I was scared stiff at the thought of being left alone in a French Canadian town, where although my French has improved I am by no means a thorough communicator. I suddenly had to navigate my way through school forms and talking to teachers, make unscheduled trips to doctors, and muddle through even the most basic phone conversations, which often became comedic (or frustrating) misunderstandings. Essentially, I'd lost my back-up French guy!

Add to that my aversion to Canadian winters, and I was a pretty grumpy lady! It was mid-winter and I was imagining my worst nightmare: a massive winter storm blowing in the day he left, and me snow blowing the driveway in -25 degrees. I seriously considered just making sure I had enough food in the house so that, in a worst case scenario, we could all hibernate and watch movies till he came back.

Life initially changed a bit when he was away, too. I sometimes felt very overwhelmed being responsible for the kids 24/7.

I understand how tiring and stressful it can be when you work away from your family, but at times I was envious of the different restaurants he got to try, the time he had to himself (even if it was just sitting in an airport), and the bathroom breaks he could take without the inevitability of a child finding him and having some inane question that needed to be answered right then and there!

Top tips for surviving FIFO

After talking with a friend whose husband is on a 7/7 rotation, we came up with our top ways of surviving FIFO. Here they are:

  • Skype (or Facetime): We are not sure what we'd have done without it. When you can see your partner, and the kids can see their Dad, he definitely doesn’t feel so far away.
  • Understand that you both have different situations and stresses to deal with: I might be sleep deprived from kids being up half the night vomiting, but my husband just spent 12 hours working to meet a big deadline. It’s easy to get into thinking that my life is harder than his. In reality it’s not, it is just different.
  • Give each other some downtime. The first day back is generally reserved for my husband: letting him sleep in after a late flight; or just giving him some time so he can chill out, read, relax and return to family life. My husband also understands I am a person who needs my ‘me’ time, so often before he leaves I spend time out of the house, having a coffee, or shopping by myself.
  • Communicate. So simple yet sometimes so hard. Share your feelings, it helps to understand what the other person is thinking and feeling. As I say often to my husband, "I am not a mind reader!"
  • Get out of the house: This one was emphasized by my friend. She makes it her mission to at least go for a walk every day while her husband is away, just to get out of the house, get some fresh air and perspective.
  • Do all the chores while he is home: My friend finds this a great way to prepare for the time her husband is away. The day before he leaves, they do the grocery shopping, clean the house together and make sure all the errands are completed.

More articles from the joyful Jocie Ferron:

Australian nurse Jocie Ferron was volunteering in Mongolia when she met her French-Canadian husband, who was working in the mining industry. After a few years living in Australia they decided to settle in Canada with their two young children. They enjoyed a few years in a north Quebec mining town (where Jocie had daily adventures navigating life in French) and they've now settled in New Brunswick.