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?

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  • I make an imaginary person around the house especially if pop isn’t home we decorate a potatoe and name him pop. Pop is bathed watches tv and sleeps.


  • Fantastic tips – used a few of these when my other was overseas.


  • I love the do not overthink it comment – it applies to so many things and it is far to easy to caught up in a negative spiral. Enjoy what you have and what you can do and cherish those moments together – fill them with joy and meaning.


  • If one parent is absent maybe another means of contact may be possible.
    Unfortunately that may be very difficult if he/she is in an isolated area and/or reception is very poor. That includes high tech i-phones and computers. Friends of ours in an outback area are convinced they only get reasonable reception is the wind is blowing from the right way. There is only one small spot on their property where they have reception.


  • great tips !
    The person who’s absent can be involved with cards and presents and a skype call can be easily made on the big day. We usually celebrate on the day as ask friends to help celebrate. When the absent loved one returns we often go out for dinner and celebrate once again :)

    • Technology makes it so much easier to see each other when away and it absolutely wonderful. We love it and it makes everyone feel so close even when far away. :)


  • So far my husband and I have always been together for our daughter’s birthdays. So I am not sure how I would handle it. But probably I’d wait for my husband to be back to celebrate, because I’m sure our daughter would love that. :-)


  • A phone call to hear close families voices is by far the only thing that we need on special occasions


  • Great tips to keep in mind.


  • Number 5 is particularly important, I think.


  • Great tips to get through these times.


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