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Not Home for Birthdays

We have two big birthday months in our home, June and September. My husband has been a FIFO (fly in fly out) worker for the last eight years and he is rarely home for any of the actual days. The first couple of years were the hardest for us all, but as the years went by our family became accustomed to his absence, and we developed ways that everyone’s presence is still felt, and the birthday boy or girl feels special and celebrated.

After talking to many families in similar situations, who ask me for ideas to keep connected when apart on a family member’s special day, I felt moved to share how we celebrate and create birthday memories.

My top six tips for families separated by work on birthdays are:

  1. Overthinking it is the number one enemy! I strongly advise you to not become completely immersed in the fact that you are away or your loved one isn’t there for the special day. This will fuel negative and destructive feelings of missing out, loneliness, isolation and seclusion. This type of thinking will put a dark cloud over all celebrations, which you will regret later.  Instead, attempt to keep as upbeat and prepared as possible, stay focused on a day of festivities and activities, and have a good time.
  2. Just because you are apart, no one is forgotten! Even though one family member is away from home, the day is not less important or forgotten by anyone. It certainly doesn’t even have to be downplayed.  We have instantaneous ways to communicate at our fingertips, we can pop up on screens to join in on the party and we can pre-plan activities to be involved in on the day.  At times, being separated by work on a birthday can make the day seem much more special because of the effort involved.
  3. Let your friends step up and help you celebrate! Instead of downplaying the day, hiding it, or telling people it is no big deal – let others make it a big deal. Even if you must arrange it, (I have found though that friends usually love being a part of the planning) have a group of people around you to make a fuss and celebrate the special occasion.
  4. Always celebrate when together as well! It may not be on the actual date, but pre or post parties and gatherings are always fun. In the future, no one will remember what date it was you celebrated, but everyone will remember how they felt every year being the centre of attention and spoiled for their day. So, look at the roster and plan ahead so that it doesn’t become overwhelming and too hard as the date rapidly arrives.
  5. Be a positive force of festivities for your children! Your children may feel it the most – Mum or Dad isn’t here for their birthday. This is a time when we as parents need to excel in role modelling that their day is still a super special one; that everyone is involved in some way, they may even get two celebrations out of this, and that even though this isn’t everyone’s normal it is our families normal.
  6. Pre-plan, prepare and pre-book! As mentioned above, planning is key whether it is your child’s birthday or yours. Sitting down together and planning the surprises and activities for the day keeps everyone involved and excited. Planting hidden presents and notes around the house or in luggage to be found on the day certainly warms the soul for the receiver, and booking venues and events in advance avoids disappointment.

To finish off, I would like to leave you with some of my favourite activities for celebrating and to inspire you to plan yours and your family’s special moments, whether you are together or apart:

  • Finding hidden notes and presents/scavenger hunt.
  • Spending time with friends.
  • Eating out.
  • Going to the movies.
  • Having a picnic at the beach.
  • Ordering pizza and having movie night at home.
  • Cooking (and cleaning up afterwards) done for me.
  • Treat myself pamper day.
  • Doing something I love doing.
  • Checking something off my ‘bucket’ list.
  • Getting flowers and eating cake.
  • Having lots of good food, laughter and fun.
  • Outdoor activities and hiking.
  • Going to a concert.
  • A weekend getaway.
  • Taking a cooking class.
  • Winery tour.
  • Having a tea party.
  • Painting party.
  • Themed party or get together.
  • Feeling loved, spoilt and special!

I would love to hear your ideas on how you do birthdays when separated by work or when you are apart from your family – and what are your favourite ways to celebrate?

Kirsty 🙂

 

 

 

 

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Book Review – One Minute Closer

book-review

I am continually blown away by the support my book – Separated by Work – receives from FIFO families, workers and the professional community.  I was left speechless though when this review came through from Regan.  Regan is an excellent blogger and heads up One Minute Closer, an App that allows families to stay connected and share rosters.

He writes –

“Anyone who has worked away, or had loved ones work away for extended periods, knows that it comes with both a magnification of any existing issues and a set of different challenges from “normal” employment.

Folks have countless coping strategies; some excellent and some not so much…some intentional and some on pure subconscious reaction. I’m in no position to say which are best but what I do know is you can never have too many options.

So couple of months ago I was message tic-tac’ing with the lovely Kirsty O’Callaghan about a few things FIFO well-being. In this chat she asked if I would be interested in reading and reviewing her book – Separated by Work.

Now as well as being an author, Kirsty is an accomplished Public Speaker, Executive Consultant, Coach and FIFO Wife / Mum who has numerous awards and accolades to her name. So as you can imagine, I wasn’t sure if she was actually serious, so of course when she asked for a postal address I knew she was fair dinkum and I couldn’t wait to see what this book had in store for me.

So after a couple of cross country flights and a few late nights, here are my brief thoughts on Kirsty’s FIFO Paperback.

Long Story Short

Separated by Work is 276 pages dedicated to Kirsty’s take on all things FIFO. It is aimed at building, bolstering, or consolidating the FIFO stakeholder’s tool kit of coping / resilience strategies so we all can get the most from this chosen life style.

Kirsty covers a broad spectrum of topics and she has broken down the book into six parts. The Parts and their corresponding Chapters are titled so they are self-explanatory and a clear reference point for their contents. Each can be read as a stand-alone section/chapter to the rest of the book; so if one title draws your attention, to you can dive straight into that chapter.

Along the way there are plenty of personal anecdotes, shared stories from FIFO workers and suggestions from Kirsty’s own experience / research. During most of the chapters, you are engaged with questions and short activities with space to make notes

Subject matter experts (SMEs) in specialist fields are also utilised to succinctly provide expert opinion directed at the FIFO audience. These range from financial planning to relationships; healthy eating to raising special needs children.

What I really liked…

The Range of Topics

Kirsty covers literally the entire gamut of issues and challenges that FIFO workers and their families do or may encounter; to the point where this book would be a helpful tool for those who are just interested in tips on general life.

Separated by Work captures the usual FIFO suspects with  Chapter titles like – About the Money, Relationship Success – 50 Shades of Away and Communication – Words that can Boost, Crush or Baffle.

But, it also ventures into some lesser known struggles of the FIFO existence such as – Managing Change for High Support Needs, Life After FIFO, The Unexpected – You Cannot Prepare For It and my favourite…Not Just About a Happy Ending.

The SME input

No one is as smart as the sum of all of us, something that Kirsty really taps into. She has not engaged any old SME but ones from her own close network. For me this adds so much more authenticity to the read and you can really feel that these professionals want to make a difference for Kirsty’s audience.

There is Louise the Home Economist and Professional Organiser; Delma the Portfolio Manager; Kim the Eating Psychologist and Health Coach; and Anna the Online Communication Specialist.

Personally, the most enjoyable was Carmel Murphy whose passion and dedication to special needs kids almost jumped off the page and slapped me!! Her advice on Social Stories is excellent and is something I plan to try with my 3.

What I loved!!

The activities

At first I thought these were a bit gimmicky so skimmed over them to concentrate on the reading. It wasn’t until I got all the way to Chapter 6 that I tried one…and was hooked!!

I went back and did all the previous activities and found them interesting, enjoyable…and intrigued as to what they managed to suck out of me. Even now reviewing my notes to write this review, I am loving the reflection on these and how much self-awareness they provided.

The Structure

For me, this book is a reference tool and one that I will keep handy. The format which Kirsty has utilized is fantastic for this purpose. The titles of the parts and chapters mean there is no flicking through thinking “where did I read that again”.

The information is also segregated in such a way that limited cross referencing is needed and there is little preceding information needed to pick up and jump straight into any chapter. The parts flow well and are in a good order to keep the theme of the book rolling and consistent.

Add to this the words and line spacing are conducive to a casual read and the chapters are short enough to hold my attention…which is not that easy!!

The Openness and Frankness of the Discussion

this is the passionfruit icing between two vanilla crumbly cookies. It added that piece of bitter / sweet flavour that that makes Separated by Work the enjoyable treat that it is.

Kirsty really opened up and shared some very intimate information from her family and personal experiences. Believe me this takes courage, character and conviction but adds the perfect amount of extra credibility and integrity that just completes the work.

The Wrap

Separated by Work is not a gospel or bible for all things FIFO, nor does it pretend to be. But it is the best collation I’ve come across yet of facts, thoughts, experiences, tips and advice to cover all stakeholders in this lifestyle.

For those new to FIFO, or looking to take the plunge, this book is a fantastic tool to build some realistic expectations about what to expect and to start planning for what you are likely (and unlikely) to encounter.

For the experienced FIFO workers / families, it provides a great opportunity for personal reflection on the problems we face and possibly offer some new solutions to them. This was definitely the case for me as it bought a whole other perspective to common issues we in the FIFO thing all have faced and I’ve come away with some new angles of attack, no doubt.

One big piece of value I took from Separated by Work, and totally unexpectedly, was the tangibility and awareness of seemingly quite common challenges that many of my colleagues and team members face. Things that have not affected me and I never gave a second thought to, are covered by Kirsty and it really reminded me that “everyone has a story, especially in FIFO”.

So there you have it, my very brief and totally unqualified thoughts on Separated by Work. Of course, don’t take my word for it, go to the Unity Words website and check it out for yourself.”

Today I am so very grateful for this review, and I am proud that my ‘paper baby’ is out there in the community making a difference.

Please check out One Minute Closer website, or their Facebook page.

Kirsty 🙂

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Is Your Cup Full? Boosting Mental Health for FIFO Families

www.unitywords.com.au

Excerpt from Separated by Work – Kirsty O’Callaghan – Chapter 5

…Some people still think that it’s shameful if they have a mental illness, are experiencing a loss of control emotionally or irrational and dark thinking. There are those that assume it shows personal weakness or a failing. If it’s children who have a mental illness, some conclude it reflects the failings of the parents. Stigma and discrimination are the two biggest obstacles to a productive solution-based conversation about mental health in a FIFO environment and at home.

I have had more people thank me than judge me because I have been so open about my stuff. I have had more people begin to cope again and even love life again, because I and others like me, have shared our stuff and not hidden it behind the idea of right and wrong.

Mental health and suicide are becoming more recognised and discussed within FIFO communities and on-site camps. There is still some intolerance and small mindedness, there always will be those people who cannot get out of their own way, but acceptance is growing.

One of the programs from an Australian site included as part of their orientation something called the 4C’s. The third C was Caring and the fourth C was Courageous.

  • It stated in the part for caring—“I am accountable for my actions and actively care for the safety of myself and others—Care about the welfare of my neighbours in the camp—the FIFO lifestyle comes at a cost to all of us and our families. Please keep an eye on your workmates and if someone is acting out of character, or saying things like I don’t see the point anymore, or there is no hope, please reach out to them and discreetly ask them if they’re okay, and if they’re not, help them get in contact with professional resources.”
  • Courage included the actions of—“I will speak up, provide positive feedback to my peers, and prevent incidents by utilising stop work authority and coaching. This also includes the courage to reach out to a work mate and ask them if they’re ok.”

If you find yourself in the gut wrenching or numb place of despair and your cup is empty, approach your mates, your family and even have a chat to a professional. Everyone at some time is running on empty and it takes courage to ask for help, to make the changes you need to make it to the next day. Keep your cup full and keep filling the cups of those you care about.

From my years of experience personally and professionally, I have found that if you are not okay, nothing else will be, no matter what skill you adopt or distraction you create. The relationship you have with yourself will determine how you think and feel, how you deal with challenges, as well as the relationship you have with everyone else in your life. Your level of self-esteem and the value you put on yourself will determine your performance and productivity. This is the first area to renew and polish up to fill your cup.

Activity

Just check in right now. Firstly, take a long slow deep breath. Feel the breath go in through your nose, travel down your throat, fill your lungs, and expand in your belly. Let it sit there for just a moment then exhale, blowing all the air out and as you do feeling a sense of release and calm. Do this a couple more times. Slow and controlled, and with an awareness of how you are already much more relaxed.

Now that you are more calm and centred, ask a few self check-in questions—

  • How are you feeling?
  • How much do you like yourself?
  • How much do you understand yourself?
  • What are you good at? What do you love doing?
  • What are your favourite things?
  • Do you reward yourself?
  • What do you dislike?
  • Are you a friend to you, or are you your own enemy?
  • Close your eyes and imagine you can see your cup, is it full, empty or half way?
  • Are you aware of your thoughts and the way you think most of the time? What about now?

Take a few minutes to make some notes on your thoughts and findings.

Your mind and thinking can be your friend or your own worst enemy. I read an article recently where William James, an American philosopher and psychologist, said, “The greatest weapon we have against stress is to choose one thought over another.” This sounds easy, yet let me make it clear right up front. It takes time, patience, and persistence to do this effectively.

Your mind has had free reign for so long it has developed its own way of viewing the world. When you start taking notice, you are going to find thoughts that create feelings that create beliefs that are either outdated or downright stupid. Some thoughts and beliefs that used to fit in your life when you were working 9—5 and coming home every evening, are not going to fit during a FIFO roster…

Kirsty 🙂

Get your copy of Separated by WorkHERE

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Making Mothers Day Special – Even When Separated By Work

Life doesn't comewith a manual,it comes with a Mother-3How Fly-In-Fly-Out workers can make Mother’s Day special for their Mum or partners from afar.

Kirsty shares her tips on how your Mum or partner can still feel spoilt, valued and special even if you are away for Mothers Day.

When she was interviewing people to share their stories in her book, she came across a particularly thoughtful FIFO worker –

“My closest friend, Gail, works with a lady whose partner works two weeks away and one week home. During one of his swings away, her daughter became ill and was hospitalised for a few days. One morning after a very stressful week, she was talking to her partner on Skype and he asked if there was anything he could do, anything at all. She jokingly said you could cook dinner tonight. They both laughed. That night after she got home from work, there was a knock at the door at 6 p.m. She walked to the door wondering who would be there at that time of the evening. She opened the door, and to her surprise, there stood the Domino’s pizza delivery boy with dinner – organised by her partner. When I heard this story, it bought a tear to my eye. It shows how we can all think outside of the box, listen to our partner’s needs and not be limited by FIFO.”

Excerpt From: “SEPARATED BY WORK.”

Take a moment to think about what your partner or Mum really likes. What is happening when you notice that they are feeling the most loved and appreciated? Is it flowers, is it things done for them, is it thoughtful gifts, is it giving freely of your time and attention, or is it just taking time to affirm how grateful you are for all they do? When you work that out you will be recognised and talked about as the best partner, son or daughter, because you took the time to acknowledge them in a way that was most meaningful to them.

Top tips on giving from afar –

  • Make it meaningful to your partner.
  • Remember that this is all about them.
  • Be original and thoughtful.
  • Be prepared – don’t leave it till the last minute.
  • Do a couple of different things, for example – call or Skype in the morning whilst you are holding a plate of eggs on toast and a flower as if you were serving her breakfast, have a gift arriving pre-organised with a friend, and get dinner delivered, or have a special container pre-frozen in the freezer that you cooked that wasn’t to be touched until Mother’s day evening.

“Love is not limited by distance or miles – Love is enhanced by connection and smiles.” – Kirsty O’Callaghan

 

 

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FIFO Life – Insight from the kids

FIFO Life Insight from the kids

This is one of my favourite chapters from my book – Separated by Work. I wanted to share it with you all.

…Excerpt from Separated by Work  – Kirsty O’Callaghan – Chapter 18

Among FIFO families who are coping well, there are some common themes—resilience, happiness, satisfaction, and a sense of purpose about the experience. Their children, as a direct result, seem more adaptable and calm. I frequently ask my children how they are doing with Dad working away. It gives me a starting point to see if Paddy and I can be doing anything more to support them or answering any questions or concerns they may have. One question I had to answer once was when Joseph asked me why the people Dad worked for were so mean and wouldn’t let him work for one week and be home for three. It was tricky to reach a point where he was satisfied with the answer, yet I am pleased he asked.

“Your child might say, “I wish we didn’t read that book today because it really made me think about the sadness at home.”

When children have the opportunity to share their feelings, the joy and excitement, as well as the anxiety and sadness… They are developing the ability to identify the range of feelings that we all have and to learn the ways in which to respond. They are also learning that everyone might not respond like them and this will help them to get along with others.

When we limit what children can talk about and how they might respond to the world we deny them the opportunity to engage with the full range of human feelings. Everyone experiences highs and lows and sometimes we just need to know that someone is listening. How could we provide more opportunities for children to share their feelings?”– Suzette Holm

After getting permission from their FIFO parents, I invited a number of children of differing ages to share their thoughts and experiences as a member of a FIFO family. The insights are overwhelmingly impressive and allow us to take a breath and not feel that we are necessarily doing a dis-service to our children by choosing this work situation. Whether a parent works away or is home every night is not an indicator of a happier child. When reading I suggest that you do not view the child’s opinion and thoughts as good or bad—it is just how that child was feeling at the time. Children are generally quite frank.

I have used each child’s first initial and age. I have also used Mr or Miss to signify boy or girl.

Mr J—8

“My Dad works away for three weeks and is home for seven days—that is a week. I think it is good most of the time, but I miss him. I get excited when he comes home because I miss him for three weeks. I am used to it now that I am eight, I wasn’t used to it when I was three. It felt longer then, like even three months. When Dad is home, he is fun and funny. We do lots of stuff together. When he is away for three weeks I don’t like it because I can’t see him, and sometimes I get bored and miss him. I know Dad works away so we get lots of money and he can buy stuff for all of us. When he is away, it helps if I just don’t think about it or him being away. I like to talk to him on the phone, and doing my homework with Dad on Skype two times a week. When I was about four I liked Skyping Dad all the time.”

Miss M—21

“I can safely say that over the duration of Dad’s career doing FIFO my opinion and view have changed drastically. When I was old enough to understand the concept that Dad went away regularly to go to work I wasn’t too pleased with the idea. To put it in comparison to people who have not experienced growing up with your father there only half the time—it felt like my parents were divorced. We’d only see Dad every so often and when we did it would take a few days for him to adjust back to home life, he’d get the things done that he needed to get done (i.e. banking, jobs around the house, spending time with Mum etc. etc.) and then he would have time for me. I loathed my father and blamed him for a lot of things in my life because of FIFO until I was 18.

It struck me only a few years ago when, I myself, moved away from home for a period of nine months and worked in a mining town—that my Dad never did this because he loved to—he did it so that I could attend private schools, have caviar on my plate and Louis Vuitton on my back. I now appreciate how hard my father worked for me to have one of the best up-bringings you could give a child. I still struggle internally whether the sacrifice of not seeing your child grow up every day, attend birthdays and Christmas every year, is really worth the money and material things my father has given me. I sure as hell love him and appreciate him for it, because without it I wouldn’t be where I am today, but at the same time—where would I be if my father never took the FIFO job? Would it have been worth the sacrifice of money to have a better quality family life together?”

Miss D—18

“As I got older Dad working away didn’t affect me as much. I think this is because I have my own routine and it is easier to adapt. One thing that did get harder as I got older was that Dad missed some of the important stuff, like formals, graduation, birthdays, and things like that. Overall, I am ok with him working away, he has a good job and earns good money, and he has been doing it for so long it is hard to remember what it was like having him home everyday. I have a good relationship with Dad and we keep in touch by texting and phone calls. I know he is always there if I need him and Mum lets him know what is going on here. I just accept it is the way it is. I enjoy it when he is home, not so much that we do a lot together, just knowing that he is here is cool.”

Mr A—15

“For me Dad was working away quite some bit, and at first I wasn’t really used to it because with him here he manages the household and without him here it felt like something was missing. The way I coped with it was just not thinking about it, I would have the occasional moment where I needed Dad, but it doesn’t really bother me now because I’m focused on so many things, like school and my friends and hobbies have me occupied. Probably the positive of Dad working away is that we get some peace and quiet, because he would be there always and it would be annoying, but that rarely happens. Negatives are he would manage the family, without him he would assist me with things I do with him on a daily basis, I don’t get to hangout with him much and we don’t get time to spend with each other.”

Miss M—15

“For the last few years my Dad has only been home for Saturday and leaving again Sunday for work. This has impacted our family in both positive and negative ways because he is missed very much during the week but we know he does it because he loves us. It is mostly positive because not seeing him makes our time together more meaningful so it is nicer for everyone. When I was younger having both my parents around every day was great because I didn’t know any different but also because the small things that I cared about, like getting an award at school, I always had a parent there to see it happen. That doesn’t happen so much anymore because my mum is usually busy working and being a mum to three kids, but now that I’m older I understand that she does her best to be a good mum and wife for our family.”

Miss P—11

“PROS – Some positive reasons I don’t mind my Dad being away as when he comes home I am really excited to see him. When Dad is away it can also be good because Mum and Dad don’t fight during the week so I am not stressed because my parents have been fighting. It is also good because when he is not home the household is all girls so we can do the girly things that we like to do. Dad is also a lot happier when he comes home he gets to relax and he has missed his family. Dad is also more appreciative of what he has at home such as the house and his family.

“CONS – Some negative reasons I dislike my Dad being away from home all week is that I miss him a lot. He also is really good at math so he can help me with my math homework and he can’t help me when he is away. Not only does he help me with math he also helps me with my gymnastics tricks and strength but, again he can’t help me because he is away. Another con is that when we go out as a family he often doesn’t come because he is getting ready to leave again so we don’t spend a lot of time with him. I also don’t like him being away because at school everyone talks about cool things they have done with their Dad but I don’t get to spend a lot of quality time with my Dad so I am always left out of the conversation. I also don’t like to go and have sleepovers with my friends on the weekends or go to parties because I want to spend some time with my Dad and I miss out on a lot.”

Mr D—8

“When my Dad was away I felt really sad and bored because he does all the fun things with me like quad bike riding. He is my best friend. It felt really different not to be near him. It made me feel very sad and I wished he would come home soon. The only thing good about Dad not being home was him not yelling at me when I did the wrong thing.

I felt like something was missing. It felt a bit strange because you usually have a Dad and a Mum, but for one month and a half, I only had a Mum. I kept wishing he would come home. He is home now, so everything is back the way it was. I love you Dad, with all my heart.”

Miss E—14

“When my Dad was away I felt that it was a good thing, but also a bad thing. With Dad being away, Mum was struggling to keep up with everything, and she spent most of her time at work. My sister and I were finding ourselves having to look after our younger brother a lot. But there was a bright side to having Dad away, me and my sister started to get much closer in our relationship and sometimes after school, Mum would have already picked my brother up and she would take us to Redcliffe to have an afternoon snack.

When Dad came back late on Friday nights there was always a good vibe around the house. On Saturday morning, the family would have breakfast and depending on how Dad felt, we would go out on a road trip not knowing where we were going to go, but driving to a small town to have lunch and then driving to a waterfall or rainforest to stretch our legs.

Although Dad spent most of his time away, there was still such a rush of excitement when he got home. And it was always so good to see him on those early Saturday mornings.”

I also got the point of view of a now adult who reflected on her experiences and thoughts of her Dad working away when she was a child –

Mrs H—37

“Growing up with a father who worked away for months at a time was not unusual for me, because that was my reality from a very young age. Sure, there was an awareness that our household was a bit different to most, but I never considered it to be a worse-off situation in comparison to a normal household.

On reflection, I think I have benefited greatly from having a strong role model in my mother and watching her raise two children while her husband was working away for extended periods. It’s certainly instilled in me the importance of being independent and capable, and not to become reliant on another person to do the basic tasks around the house. I hope to pass these same traits on to my children.

When Dad returned home for leave, there was always a period of adjustment in the house, particularly for Mum who had to reassign some of the household responsibilities, and for Dad who was keen to get involved in everything and contribute as much as he could while he was there. It was wonderful to have a Dad who, unlike many of my friend’s fathers, when he was home was really involved in the day-to-day; dropping us to school, taking us shopping, arranging play dates and getting involved in our sport. When he was home, time together as a family became more important. He was truly present. Some parents never go away for work, and yet they are never really present in their children’s lives.”

Children are naturally equipped to cope with most challenges and struggles—they just need to feel heard and their point of view accepted. When I spoke to these children and young adults, I took away that FIFO is never a one size fits all. Each family has its own unique experience—just as each child will have their own views and responses dependent on what is going on at the time for them. Which leads into the next section of the book—dealing with what you least expect…..

– Kirsty 🙂

 

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FIFO Relationship Success – 50 Shades of Away!

FIFO Relationship Success

An Excerpt from Separated by Work by Kirsty O’Callaghan

…I once read a quote, “True love doesn’t mean being inseparable; it means being separated and nothing changes.” What a load of rubbish. This quote is not as feel good as it first appears to be. For those already in FIFO, including me, it can induce feelings of relationship inadequacy because we are separated by work and everything does change. 50 shades of away has no time for unrealistic ideas of what true love and passion should or could be.

People who do enjoy realistic health and sanity in their relationships understand a relationship cannot be what makes their lives full—it complements, it adds to, but it can never complete or fill what is empty space. Many people get in a relationship and start to devote their every waking moment to their partner. Then when the pressures of life and FIFO kick in, their entire world falls apart.

For FIFO relationships to be functional and healthy, we have to have our own goals and passions, as well as joint ones. We have time away for ourselves to explore our own interests. 50 shades of away knows that nothing is sexier than a man or woman who is interesting, passionate, and capable of holding his or her own. There is no greater turn off than clingy desperation.

Still, distance can be intolerable for most of us at some point, especially in the beginning. The need to be physically close to our partners is strong and we think it is the only way to increase emotional closeness and connection. I felt like that for the first year. I remember what I missed most in the beginning was touch. That touch on my back when we walked into a room or building together, the touch on my shoulder as Paddy walked past where I was sitting, the touch on my lower back as he came into the kitchen to see what I was cooking, and the touch of his hand in mine. My levels of oxytocin dropped dramatically when our FIFO lifestyle began.

Oxytocin is known as the bonding and trust hormone, or the love hormone. The brain produces it when we touch another in a caring way. Scientific research indicates that this hormone has specific abilities to balance social behaviour, including effects on motherly care and aggression. It encourages bonding between couples, induces feelings of being part of a group, and increases trust. Oxytocin also reduces stress responses, including anxiety.

Not being able to hold our family members and be close physically can heighten feelings of isolation, loneliness, or distrust during FIFO swings. Once I realised this, I made sure I hugged friends and my kids more often and shook lots of hands while Paddy was away to get my boost of oxytocin. When he was home on R & R, we made producing this hormone a priority.

There are couples who adapt immediately into the FIFO experience and comfortably allow the distance and time apart to enhance emotional closeness and connection to their partners.

Neither is right or wrong, different people have different experiences. Culturally I think we are programmed by TV, movies, social media, magazines, books, friends, and family into the belief that the ideal romantic couple remain physically together, and any time apart should be intolerable. Those that have that belief feel impatient, unloved, and disconnected. The people who haven’t bought into society’s expectations tend to be more patient, calm, and secure.

This chapter is dedicated to keeping your relationship healthy while in FIFO. This doesn’t mean problem-free by any stretch of the imagination. Paddy and I have arguments, we annoy each other, don’t really listen to the other sometimes, sometimes lack empathy, understanding and consideration, and we go through our share of relationship issues during our experience of FIFO. But we have learned a few healthy habits so we can blow off steam and frustration in a fashion that doesn’t undermine the integrity of our relationship. We have learned to fight fair for our relationship and stay honest at the same time.

Overall, I have discovered that being separated by work does not create marital issues, issues with friends, or strained relationships with family and children. Your relationship can survive and thrive, and has as much chance as any other couple. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t unique challenges that marriages and relationships in FIFO face. What it does mean is that if there are already underlying rifts or problems in your relationships, especially with your partner, FIFO will bring these out and magnify them.

When I questioned people who were in the FIFO lifestyle about their relationships with partners, friends and family, the top nine responses included –

  1. “Some days we have nothing in common anymore. All we do is complain and compare like we are in a competition as to who has it the hardest.”
  2. “Relationships can be challenging, they need constant work to ensure cohesiveness.”
  3. “I feel there is a lack of appropriate opportunities to address relationship issues in FIFO.”
  4. “Sometimes I miss her so much, and other times I find myself getting too used to living on my own.”
  5. “I wish he would realise when he comes home it may be a holiday for him but day to day life goes on for me and I need some R & R too.”
  6. “I feel so left out, left out of the lives of my kids and the life of my wife. They all seem to be living life and sometimes I am out of step or don’t feel like I fit in.”
  7. “I have no one to talk to at night, to debrief about my day or acknowledge that my day was great or awful. This leaves me feeling unimportant and insecure sometimes.”
  8. “My family and friends are an okay source of support, but don’t really get FIFO.”
  9. “Friends don’t seem to understand what its like being on your own all the time and then when your partner is home you don’t really want to get together with them as family time is precious.”

A typical theme within FIFO couples was competitiveness around their roles and responsibilities. Who is doing the most, enduring the most and under the most pressure? I have yet to find a reliable, one size fits all, measure of who is doing it the toughest or the easiest. I do find there is never a 50/50 split of responsibility—in any relationship….

Kirsty 🙂 – to get your copy of Separated by Work click here.

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Separated by Work at Easter

Separated by work at easterIt is a time of chocolate, celebration, reflection, family gatherings, holiday activities, fun and extra days off work. Easter means different things to different families – the common thread is gathering together and sharing.

For those that are separated by work, there is someone missing from these gatherings and missing out on making these memories.

And to add more pressure to the mix – those parents that are at home with school aged children will be tearing their hair out as their burden of doing it all on their own is magnified during school holidays. They will be listening to friends and other family members talk about their holidays, getaways and planned family events – and listening to the sympathetic statements of, “oh you poor thing,” and, “I don’t know how you do it, I couldn’t / wouldn’t,” and, “that puts a lot on you and the kids.” Generally you do not hear, “how can I help out,” or, “do you want to join us,” or, “are you ok?”

So how can I help you? How can I help make Easter and the school holidays that bit better and easier for you and your family?

I have been separated by work for over seven years. My husband currently works in W.A. and we live in Queensland. This year he leaves to go back to site on Easter Sunday at 6 a.m. We feel lucky to have him here for half of Easter – it is the first Easter for two years he has been home at all.

Over the last seven years I have found out what works for us, and discovered many things that don’t. Here are my five top tips for you this Easter as you connect and share from afar –

  • Stop and take a moment to understand where your partner is at mentally and emotionally – and then choose your words and communication strategy wisely. Consider, if you are the one at home, your partner is away from their family, feeling very isolated and alone. They are missing special moments and not able to be with their family when a lot of their mates are taking time off work and spending it doing ‘fun stuff.’ Consider, if you are the one away, your partner is missing you, experiencing extra pressure and demands of their time, out of routine, and going on outings with kids in tow and trying to make it fun as they can – all while they watch everyone else with their partners enjoying it together.
  • Make up things to do on Skype together. For example, can you sit down and colour in with the kids, make up jokes, do projects, and pre-plan hiding Easter eggs and you read out the clues? You can get creative. Could the children write you stories – made up or real – and read them to you? Seeing your face, your smile and hearing your laugh can feel like you are really there, especially to kids.
  • Re-frame the blame. It is easy to get caught up in thinking and speaking about how hard it is, how it sucks, how challenging this life can be, how the kids won’t settle, how lonely it is, what if, and the like. Re-frame the blame means to turn it around and think about all the times you are together when others aren’t. Why you are doing this type of work and living arrangement. Why you are making these sacrifices now, so that in the future…
  • Seek out the support you need. If you are on site that could be mates or colleagues who are going through the same thing – talk about it, share your thoughts and boost each other up. If you are at home seek out family members, friends and community groups to help you when you need it.
  • Plan and organise the time. Instead of just staying at home, look up local events in your area. A lot of council events are free for school holiday activities. Are there groups you may be able to join? What are your friends up to – can you plan play dates? Where can you go in your region that would be fun for you and the kids? When is the best time to make phone calls, Skype and connect with your partner? What surprises could you arrange for each other?

I will leave you now with one of my favourite stories from when I was interviewing people for my book, Separated by Work – I came across a particularly thoughtful FIFO worker –

“My closest friend, Gail, works with a lady whose partner works two weeks away and one week home. During one of his swings away, her daughter became ill and was hospitalised for a few days. One morning after a very stressful week, she was talking to her partner on Skype and he asked if there was anything he could do, anything at all. She jokingly said you could cook dinner tonight. They both laughed. That night after she got home from work, there was a knock at the door at 6 p.m. She walked to the door wondering who would be there at that time of the evening. She opened the door, and to her surprise, there stood the Domino’s pizza delivery boy with dinner – organised by her partner. When I heard this story, it bought a tear to my eye. It shows how we can all think outside of the box, listen to our partner’s needs and not be limited by FIFO.”

Excerpt From: Kirsty O’Callaghan. “SEPARATED BY WORK.

Happy Easter to you all, Kirsty 🙂

 

 

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Is Australia’s most obese profession the mining sector?

On 14th January 2016, Chris Jager from lifehacker published a blog headed up ‘Are These The Ten Fattest Professions In Australia?’ During the same week I heard other reports of these findings on morning news shows and a current affair show.

smorgasbord-792906_1280Chris said in his blog, “If the results can be believed, Australia’s most obese profession is the mining sector, followed by transport, postal and warehousing.”

While it is reported that the results are yet to be confirmed by Australian Bureau of Statistics or Jenny Craig, it is common knowledge that the mining sector needs to be concerned about the amount of overweight miners.

In my book Separated by Work I talk extensively about these issues and assist with strategies to help miners and their families. The workers and health practitioners I have interviewed on this topic said that FIFO employees were more likely to be overweight, drink to excess and smoke. The reasons given for this included diet, boredom, limited opportunities to maintain fitness and the disruptive nature of the shifts. I also think some get (as most people would) a ‘buffet’ mentality – the more food and the bigger the variety, the more is put on their plates – effectively overeating.

In 2014 the Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Western Australia did a “snapshot study” of 35 men at a mine site in WA’s northwest. They found 83 percent were overweight or obese. ECU nutrition lecturer, Gemma Quayle, took workers’ measurements and documented their eating habits, finding that the group had higher rates of obesity than the national average, with more than 80 percent at increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes or heart disease. Ms Quayle said that the FIFO workers had excessive levels of sodium and saturated fat in their diet. The workers ate less fruit, vegetables, dairy and grain foods than recommended, while consuming lots of meat and unhealthy discretionary foods.

Lacking proper nutrition can put strain on the body that becomes mental stress and can contribute to illness.

Two things you can do now to begin healthier habits –

  1. Get off junk food. It has no nutritional value. It may satisfy an energy slump or cover up a lonely moment, but it also decays teeth, lowers self-image and heart health declines. The sugar in junk food is doing a heap of bad things to the brain – impairing memory and learning skills, and contributing to anxiety and depression. Moderation is key.
  2. Drink more water. This is the most effective habit anyone can choose to improve his or her inner health, energy, life balance and skin health.

A nutritionist once explained it like this – “When dehydrated, your cells become more like sultanas than plump healthy grapes and consequently that’s how you think and feel. Blood flow to your brain is reduced, which limits the amount of oxygen reaching your brain cells and slows it down. Therefore you feel tired and lack energy. When our cells are like shriveled-up sultanas the process of nutrients flowing in and out of the cells is hugely decreased and this has ramifications throughout our entire body – our health, our moods, our thoughts, our appearance, our vitality are all below par.”

The vision of the shriveled sultana was a definite motivator for me. A must-have is a refillable environmentally-friendly water bottle – such as stainless steel that many sites provide in abundance. Drinking enough water each day is easier when it’s readily on hand.

My top six tips to create healthy habits are –

  1. Create short and long term goals,
  2. Have an accountability partner,
  3. Be responsible for your food portions and your own version of healthy, fit and well,
  4. Be flexible and recognise the unique challenges and advantages FIFO gives you,
  5. Be a leader and help others struggling,
  6. Know that the better you are on the inside the better you will be to handle the pressure and stress in your day-to-day life.

Cheers to your health, Kirsty 🙂

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