Oilfield wives unite for support, advice

BISMARCK -- There are the military wives of wartime and the astronaut wives of the Space Age. Now, North Dakota is seeing a generation of oilfield wives.

Oilfield wives chat at a Real Oilfield Wives gathering
Oilfield wives Melissa Anderson left, Willow Hall, center, and Tiffany Cannon chat at a Real Oilfield Wives gathering Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, at Kirkwood Mall in Bismarck, N.D. Katherine Lymn/Dickinson Press

BISMARCK -- There are the military wives of wartime and the astronaut wives of the Space Age. Now, North Dakota is seeing a generation of oilfield wives.

Groups like Real Oilfield Wives have popped up online in recent years, their popularity demonstrating the niche that the groups fill for women facing circumstances that few outside their situations understand.

The Real Oilfield Wives Facebook page is a place for the women to seek advice and dump worries -- about their husbands' safety, raising kids, finding housing and dealing with the uncertainty of the lifestyle. At a recent gathering of Bismarck-area oilfield wives, the women described being misunderstood, and how the group has helped them meet other women who just "get it."

"None of my (local) friends live in the same situation as I do," said Real Oilfield Wives co-founder Christy Mensi, who lives in Texas. "It's really nice to be able to commiserate with other women online that are in the same position that I'm in."

For Real Oilfield Wives co-founder Melissa Anderson, the oilfield wife life is almost all she's known -- her husband started working there the year they married. That was 13 years ago.


She said the group has been a way to find other women who understand the lifestyle.

"I can't drop everything and go do something," she said. "I'm the sole person for my kids when he's gone those two weeks."

Amber Cummings, whose husband has a week-on, week-off work schedule, said when her husband is home, she essentially goes missing from her other friends because she's spending time with him. She said she's lost friends because of it.

"I hear all the time from non-oilfield wives, 'I don't know how you do it,' " Cummings said. "I just do."

'A huge amount of pride'

At the Kirkwood Mall play place in Bismarck, conversation and commiseration about the oilfield life was punctuated by children crying, fighting and falling.

"I always tell people I'm a married single mom half the time," said Cummings, who has a 9-year-old daughter, sons ages 7 and 5, and a baby on the way.

The women say their children are adaptable enough to deal with Daddy being gone, and for many of the kids, it's all they've ever known.


"We kind of plan stuff where the kids and I will do things and he'll join us when he's able," said Willow Hall, whose husband is a mudlogger working 10- to 90-day shifts.

"When he gets home, he asks me about stuff that I wouldn't consider that he wouldn't even know," she said.

Accepting their situations for what they are, the wives' biggest concern seems to be with the assumptions made about their families.

That's a reason a similar Facebook page, Oilfield Families of America, started taking a more image-focused approach, co-owner Krista Rolison said.

"We really stay on top of making sure no one says anything negative about the oilfield," she said of the page.

"A lot of us are hard-working, a lot of us are wives that have kids, and it's just very hard," she said. "A lot of people -- when you say that you work in an oilfield -- it's viewed as a very negative thing."

Only a year and a half old, Oilfield Families of America is nearly 31,000 fans strong, and its biggest sponsor is BP.

The Real Oilfield Wives blog gets about 10,000 page views a month, Anderson said, and it's growing faster than she and Mensi expected.


Rolison said the oilfield wives pages are a testament to the wives' pride in their husbands' work.

"It can be very lonely, but at the same time there's a huge amount of pride," Rolison said. "That's why there's so many oilfield wives pages -- we're extremely proud of our husbands."

Not just North Dakota

The wives' posts can be indicative of differences among different oil communities.

Rolison said in Texas, for example, "our wives are very prideful, very quick to get angry if there's something posted they don't like."

In North Dakota, where there's more pushback against oil, "our wives are a little more on the quiet side."

"A lot of them don't have oilfield stickers on their car," Rolison said.

Sissie Field, co-owner of Oilfield Families of America, said it worries her when North Dakota wives ask her to post things on the page anonymously.


"They're new to the oilfield industry, and it's not as welcomed up there as it is down here," she said. "I see a lot of North Dakota that doesn't want to be known."

Oilfield Families of America posts geared toward women appear to get shared and liked more, and Rolison said a lot of those users are women looking for support.

"A lot of them go into this without a clue of what their husbands are doing," she said.

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