Travelling for work has long been accepted as something that fathers do, the expectation being his partner will pick up the slack at home in Dad’s absence and the kids will be fine.
Whether he’s away for work regularly overnight, or for weeks at a time, fathers are “allowed” to leave the home for work for an extended period.
But what happens when work requires a mother to travel? We meet three women living the fly-in, fly-out (fi-fo) lifestyle.
I used to work for McDonald’s, and because head office was in Chicago and I was the director of innovation in Sydney, I had to travel to Chicago and Hong Kong quite a lot. That was all okay before the children. Then my husband Scott and I formed a rule – if I was going to be away for more than five nights, I would take our first-born, Alice, with me. She had a lot of stamps in her passport by the time she was three.
I was heavily pregnant with Lara, my second child, when I left McDonald’s. When she was born, Scott took a year off. So I went back to work and moved into this new business quite quickly. When my third child, Stella, was two years old, she’d already made 65 flights!
Scott is an electrician with his own business. He reviews my diary and then figures out when and how he will work around it so that we complement each other. Travel might be required, but we’re trying to keep things as normal as possible for the children.
The girls – who are now six, four and two – all have iPads and we FaceTime, which they think is pretty cool. They always want to know where Mum is. Usually it’s “Hi Mum, where are you?” “Mummy is in Melbourne” or “Mummy is in New Zealand this week”.
What I’ve learnt, as any good working parent would know, is that some times are really good times for us to talk, and some times, such as homework and reading time, are really inappropriate. Early mornings are usually good.
I miss out on some things but I make it a rule that I don’t miss out on everything. Sometimes I can’t work on a particular day – not that other people need to know – because I am prioritising something for my children. When I am not here, Scott is on. When Scott is working, then my job is to do that role. I have a whiteboard filled with this stuff. And I have an amazing cleaner.
I outsource chores wherever I can to support the lifestyle we live. And while I travel, there is also a benefit in that I’m often home as well.
I love working – I am really good at it, actually – and so I manage both. My children are happy and secure and they get to do lots of interesting things because of my work.
I’m sure it might look a bit weird from the outside but I’m okay with that. And, most importantly, my husband and I are both okay with that.
Socially, I’m not going to lie – sometimes it’s just too much for some people to comprehend and of course I have had that. I cope with that by surrounding myself with like-minded people. But on a daily basis I think, “I’ve got this. This is great.”
Greens senator for South Australia
A lot of mums in this situation have to continue managing the logistics whether they’re at home or away. I’m a single mum and I manage with the help of a number of different people – either my sister, the woman who helps nanny for my daughter, or her dad.
Kora is nine now and we have been living this crazy fly-in, fly-out lifestyle between Adelaide and Canberra since she was born on the campaign trail in 2007. I’ve never known politics without juggling her, and she doesn’t know what life is like without me juggling politics.
I have lots of her photos and artwork here in my office in Canberra and it does send me a bit of a message that there is a real life going on. When she was very little, Kora used to fly with me everywhere. The flying back and forth from Canberra to Adelaide dropped off when she had to go to school, and so now she doesn’t travel as much as she used to.
I try and keep her routine, even though my schedule is anything but regular. Sometimes I’m away for a couple of days a week, sometimes for a week and I get back on the weekends. Other times I am away for two weeks at a time.
Children can fly unaccompanied from the age of five and that was a huge relief. I can just get someone to put her on the plane and meet her at the airport.
I remember the first couple of solo flights. All the flight attendants were like, “Are you nervous, is this your first flight?” She just balled on in, took her own boarding pass. She knew exactly what seat she was in, she knew the drill!
We FaceTime as much as possible, and it’s just such a good way of being able to check in. I was a little bit reluctant to give Kora her own iPad but it has been a saving grace. It’s so nice – she can call me when she wants and we can see each other and I can pick up on things.
I think we mums are the worst at making ourselves feel guilty about things. I don’t ever want anyone to think that it’s easy or that I am some kind of supermum. There are days when it’s crap, and days when I feel guilty, and days when I think, “I just want to be at home with her.” And there are times when I actually haven’t been able to get in touch with her, for whatever reason.
I think most mums do the best job they can, and that a happy kid is the best indication that things are okay.
Fleet management co-ordinator
I’ve been working in mines in central Queensland for about 11 years. I met my partner Tessa eight years ago. She started in the mines and I was her truck trainer. That’s a bit naughty, isn’t it?
We were together for about 18 months and then we talked about having a child and obviously we were both doing fi-fo – seven days on, seven off – and we finally decided to do IVF.
So we pulled my egg out, fertilised it, and popped it into her. She had a baby, took 12 months maternity leave, and during that time we broke up.
We talked to the company we both worked for and they agreed to allow us to work back-to-back so that we could share custody of Lucas. And because we work back-to-back, we are never home at the same time really, unless we take holidays.
Lucas has high-functioning autism. Going from one place to the next was a bit hard for him – we wanted to try and keep where he was living fairly routine and decided it was cheaper and easier to live in the same house.
We fly out of Brisbane airport to Moranbah, which takes an hour and 40 minutes. It’s not like the WA mines, where most people fly for four hours and are doing two weeks on, one week off, or three weeks on, one week off. We’re pretty fortunate with our work hours, and with the fact that we earn good money and are able to do it.
It is getting harder for Lucas to understand us going away. He doesn’t like it when either of us goes, but we use FaceTime and spend a lot of time communicating with him.
Toward the end of a week of being home with an ASD hyperactive child, you’re kind of hanging to get back to work. By about day two at work you’re like, “I miss him, let’s go home again.” It gets really hard midweek – I really start to pine to see him.
So while you do get a break when you go back to work, when are out at the mine you work 12½ hours a day. There isn’t any downtime. You get less than seven hours’ sleep when you are used to having nine hours at home. So by the time you get home after seven days you’re wrecked. If you’ve been working nights, you’re even more wrecked because you have to readjust.
Everyone says, “You are in mining, you’re set,” but this work definitely has a downside. That downside is that you are away from everything, and even when you come back you don’t blend in with normal nine-to-five people.
The good side is that you get seven days off. It’s Tuesday and I’m lying in a hammock on the back verandah looking at the sun. Yesterday I went for a run, did a workout. It’s a good lifestyle.
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