Working away from family can be difficult, not just for the parent left at home with the kids. For those about to head off on a work trip, or who have a FIFO lifestyle, Chris Gable offers some practical advice for keeping the lines open.
Geez I’m missing my beautiful girls. All three of them – Jaime, fifteen months; Kara, two and a half; Linda, my wife who probably wouldn’t appreciate me broadcasting her age to the world.
Before we had kids my main job was a guest entertainer, performing my show aboard cruise ships. I would fly out of Sydney, spend a night in a hotel, join a ship the next day, perform a few shows, then fly home again (anywhere from three nights to two weeks later). In two years I did about 40 contracts.
I stopped when Linda fell pregnant with our first, but I’ve recently started doing occasional short contracts (anything under a week). I hate being away but the money is simply too good to pass up. To be honest, it’s actually quite nice to have a break. Though there’s no denying I miss the hell out of my girls. I’m sailing across the Tasman right now and my heart aches for them.
I’ve come up with a few little techniques to take the edge off heartache, which I’d love to share with parents working away:
Skype / Facetime / Video Call
This is the obvious one. It’s amazing how much it can brighten your day to see that precious little smiling face on your phone/tablet, and to hear that little voice yelling “HI DADDEEEE”. With time differences it can be tricky, and internet isn’t always available everywhere. When it’s an option you should absolutely use it – a two-minute video call really lifts your spirits.
Write them letters
By this I don’t mean something to be read now, but something to be read when they’re of a certain age – what age is up to you. Some are for me to read to them when they’re four or five; some they can read when they’re around ten; some when they’re halfway through high school. I’ve written dozens of them, on all manner of subjects: updates on home life, how the world has changed since I was a kid, how their mother and I met, what high school and university are like. I love writing them, because it actually feels like I’m talking to them.
We’ve all got smart phones and that means we’ve all got video cameras. This is what they’re for, folks. Take plenty of videos before you leave, focusing on your favourite parts – for me my favourite parts are when Kara wakes me up in the morning, when I give them baths and when I put them to bed, so I always make sure these things are filmed in the day or two before I leave. I’ve also got loads of other favourite videos on both my phone and laptop, and I’ll work my way through them before I go to bed each night.
If you’ve got kids of an age where they can speak and understand, even a little, then email whoever is looking after them with a message for your kids. If you’ve got any little nicknames, sayings or songs they always associate with you, use them all. I’ve been doing this for a while and my wife assures me that Kara’s face lights up when she reads things from me: Kara genuinely seems to understand that it’s me who said them.
Buy them souvenirs
I love coming back with a little present or two for each girl, particularly if I’ve travelled somewhere a little exotic. I bought loads of cute clothes and funny little toys in Japan and Korea when I was there last year, just cheap stuff like snap-band watches and squeeze toys, and a few of them have become major favourites. I like buying them things because while I’m choosing what to get I’m thinking about them, and anticipating seeing them playing with them. It makes me feel closer to them.
Spend time with them before you leave
Put the phone down, turn the TV and computer off, and just be with them. Play games, read books, chase them around the back yard, take them to the park or the beach or just the shops for an ice-cream. Not only will it be fun for you all, but it will also help your partner prepare for your absence having the kids out of the way for a few hours.
The brutal truth about working away
If you leave them you’re simply going to miss them. For many of us, though, it’s unavoidable and we simply have to deal with it as best we can. Do what you can to stay connected, whether it is online, on the phone or just in your mind, and keep looking forward to those cuddles.
Until then, enjoy a guilt-free sleep in if you can!