"My partner lives this whole other life." The harsh reality of FIFO parenting.

For families with two parents in the household, it’s hard enough doing the whole kid-wrangling thing as a duo.

When one of those parents is a Fly-in-Fly-out (FIFO) worker – someone who flies to work in a location away from home and stays for extended periods of time – the challenges can be amplified.

There are thousands of families in Australia who make these arrangements work every day. Mamamia spoke to two women whose partners work away about their experience of FIFO parenting – the ups, the downs, and the realities of dealing with the distance.

Q&A: Are stay-at-home mums undervalued? Post continues below.

Video by Q&A

Bianca, 26, mum of one.

I’m the stay-at-home parent of a two-and-a-half-year-old munchkin. Her dad is a FIFO worker in the oil and gas industry. We live in rural NSW, in a small country town in the Northern Rivers with a population of around 1500.

My partner works a 2:2 roster, meaning he spends a two-week “hitch” away at work and then two weeks at home.

I’ve known since I met him that he wanted a career in this industry, so the possibility of a FIFO lifestyle was always on the cards for us.

At times it feels as though we’re not really a family unit. There are several degrees of separation from what’s happening on the home front for my partner. There is nothing he can do when things go wrong and he is hundreds of kilometres from home.

I find the hardest part is that my partner lives this whole other life away from us. He spends 50 per cent of his time in a place my daughter and I have never been, with people we will likely never meet, living out a daily routine that we will never experience. It’s bizarre, and it’s been the hardest adjustment in my experience.

Bianca and her family.
Bianca and her family. Image: supplied.

In some moments it can feel as if the weight of the world is on my shoulders. Being a stay-at-home parent, I am the constant in our daughter’s life. I wipe her tears. I clean her messes. I am solely responsible for the intricacies of day-to-day life and I don’t feel seen in the same way as working mothers or full-time single parents.

There just never seem to be enough hours in my days to accomplish the mundane tasks that keep my kid alive and happy - while also making time for play and meal prep and maintaining a home and life admin and this self-care I’ve been hearing so much about... Sometimes I’ve got so many balls in the air I spend my entire day just dropping them and picking them back up again.

It feels impossible at times to tick all of the parenting boxes and as hard as it is, I feel more for my partner than for myself.

He doesn’t get to tick any parenting boxes at all for 26 weeks of the year. No cleaning up a meal she didn’t eat for what feels like the 124th time this hitch. No time out, no toilet training, no tantrums...

But although there are none of the frustrations of parenting, he doesn’t get the beautiful moments either. After a long, hard day at work, he doesn’t walk through the door to a cuddle from his baby girl. He doesn’t get the precious fits of laughter or the goofy dancing. He sleeps alone after a short phone call with us at home - sometimes very short because toddlers are fickle creatures.

And then there’s his time at home. That blissful two weeks together is the reason I agreed to this arrangement in the first place.

I’d have to say we are kicking FIFO’s butt, mostly. It kicks our butts sometimes. FIFO parenting can be extraordinarily fulfilling but also very isolating. This lifestyle is a part-time long-distance relationship and it’s also co-parenting without separation. It’s the best and worst of both worlds, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.

On This Glorious Mess Big Kids, we speak to a defence wife about life with kids when you're constantly relocating. Post continues below.

Lucy, 32, mum of two.

We live on the coast in the North metro Perth area, in our first home that we built last year.

Terry, my partner, is a Mining Engineer specialising in underground mining. He has been "away" for our whole relationship. When we met he was studying at a uni which is about a seven-hour drive from Perth. Four weeks after he finished uni, he was offered a job, and he's been working FIFO ever since.

For a while, he was working at a residential mine site in Victoria, which would normally mean relocating there, but that wasn't possible for us as I have split custody of my daughter with her father.

So, Terry rented a room in a sharehouse and bought a cheap car so he could drive to work every day. We couldn't afford to fly him back to Perth, so he came back home once a month for five or six days at a time.

These days we are in a much better position. Terry has a permanent job with a contracting company and gets given contracts to various mine sites, all of which include his flights and travel time.

It's tough for Terry being away from the kids, particularly when they are little and growing so quickly. But most sites have great WiFi and reception, so I send lots of photos and videos to him.

As for me at home, it can be difficult. I don't struggle with parenting as such, it's more just doing it alone sometimes. When other couples can talk to each other once the kids are in bed, or take turns doing bedtime routines and cooking dinner, I don't get that. I have to do it all alone. The hardest part is not having that go-to person for support if you need help.

On the flipside, when he is home, he's home for six days! So he gets to spend great quality time with the kids.

I know my children follow how I react in situations, so when it comes to our lifestyle, I never talk about their dad working away in a negative light. It's our normal; what we are used to.

We both knew the FIFO lifestyle wasn't going to be easy, but we have adjusted quite well. We love each other and that's what keeps it all together.

Are you a FIFO parent? We'd love to hear from you in the comments.

Feature image: Getty.