A guide to surviving a FIFO christmas

Spoil yourself, focus on the positives and give to others! They’re among a host of expert tips aimed at helping fly-in, fly-out workers survive Christmas away from their loved ones.

Mining Family Matters founder Alicia Ranford has spent five Christmases apart from her mining engineer husband Joe, and says the first FIFO Christmas is definitely the toughest – especially when parents are also missing special times with their small children.

“Christmas can be emotionally challenging at the best of times – let alone when your family is all excited about Christmas Day and you’re on the other side of the continent,” Ranford says.

“Unfortunately, major mining operations can’t work around Santa’s timetable, but there are plenty of practical strategies that FIFO workers can adopt to cope better with missing out on major milestones and events like Christmas.

Mining Family Matters psychologist Angie Willcocks says it’s normal to feel disappointed or sad in the lead-up to spending Christmas apart, but it’s also a good opportunity for FIFO couples to focus on their long-term goals and demonstrate resilience and problem-solving to their children.

Angie Willcocks’ expert tips for FIFO workers away for Christmas:

  • Get organised ahead of time: Don’t use working away as an excuse to get out of present buying! Get gifts organised ahead of time for the people who are most special to you. This isn’t just about the gift; it’s about feeling connected. 
  • Think about what Christmas really means to you: If you’re a practicing Christian, take some time out on Christmas Day to watch a Christmas service on TV or online. If the religious stuff isn’t what makes Christmas important to you, move the family celebration to another day. 
  • Make firm dates and plans to catch up with your most loved family and friends when you’re next home. Prioritise the people you really want to see. This will give you something to look forward to.
  • Spoil yourself: Take a little bit of your favourite food or drink with you so the day feels a bit special. 
  • Connect with others on site: Don’t be tempted to just shut yourself off from others. You’ll feel a bit better, and the day will pass more quickly, if you’re with others who are in the same boat.
  • Think ahead of time about what will work best on Christmas Day in terms of Skyping or calling home. Obviously this will depend on your roster for the day, and the family’s plans, but it should also depend on what’s easiest for you all emotionally. There is no 'right' answer to this one. 
  • Watch your thinking and try not to feel too sorry for yourself: Don't fall into the trap of thinking "poor me" and imagining everyone else in the world laughing merrily with their families. This way of thinking is unhelpful as well as unrealistic. Plenty of people have to work Christmas Day (like hospital staff, pilots and those in hospitality, to name just a few) and not everyone is laughing happily with their families on Christmas Day! 
  • Don't be tempted to drink more alcohol to help you 'cope' with your feelings of sadness or loneliness. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. This means that too much will have you feeling sadder, not happier. If you’re finding your feelings particularly hard to cope with and don’t want to upset your partner or friends by telling them how bad you're feeling, call Lifeline to chat with a trained volunteer telephone counsellor: 13 11 14.
  • Concentrate your thoughts on the things you have to be thankful for: like having a job to go to and family and friends to miss. 
  • Give: Think about a charity, organisation, family or individual you know who is having a hard time. Send a donation, card, letter or text to show your support at Christmas.

Angie Willcocks’ expert tips for FIFO partners with a loved one away for Christmas:

  • Make a plan to celebrate Christmas with family and friends on another day: Many FIFO families actually like doing this, because the alternative ‘Christmas Day’ is always a bit more relaxed than the actual day. Plus, all the Christmas stuff is much cheaper after 25 December!
  • Watch your thinking and remain positive: Try not to keep thinking about what you’ll be missing out on, but think instead of what you have to look forward to when your partner is next home.
  • On this note, plan and book in something extra special for when your partner is next home. Put it in the diary.
  • Get organised ahead of time to send your partner a Christmas 'care package' to open on the day. You can either post your package up to the site, or stash it away in your partner’s bag. 
  • Model positive coping for your children by acknowledging your feelings, but then finding things to do that help you feel a bit better and keep you busy.
  • Talk with your partner ahead of time about what will work best for you all on the day. When and how you can connect will depend on their roster, but you should also have a think about what will be easiest for you all to cope with. 
  • Surround yourself with positive people who understand your lifestyle. It’s unhelpful to keep hearing how terrible it is that your partner (or your children’s Mum/Dad) is going to be away for Christmas. Avoid the 'what are you doing at Christmas?' conversation with those people.
  • Ask for (or pay for) practical help around the house to reduce the pressure at this busy time of year.
  • Practise gratefulness: In the lead up to Christmas, practise thinking of three things each day that you’re thankful or grateful for. 
  • Give:  Send a donation, card, letter or text to show your support at Christmas.