Should our relationships have an annual MOT?
If you had to give your relationships an MOT, what would be in need of urgent attention? What is happening with your children, partner, friends and extended family that makes you unhappy, angry or frustrated, yet nothing changes?
Faye was unhappy with how her 16-year-old daughter took no responsibility for anything at home. "I began to feel increasingly angry about Lauren wearing something once, dropping it in the laundry basket, then expecting it back in her wardrobe the next day.
"On top of this, she didn't contribute anything to the home. As a single, working parent I have a lot of pressure on me. My MOT would - and has- included asking Lauren to manage her own laundry, and cook a meal for us both once a week. Longer term, I expect her to help more with the chores."
Chores often top the list when it comes to change. Some families involve children right from the start. Debbie has four children, a dog and a partner. She works full time.
"I realised quite early on that I couldn't do everything and stay sane. I use the children's birthdays as the date for an MOT – we negotiate who does what, and how they feel about it.
"Each of my children has a responsibility in the house: one of them loads the dishwasher, another walks the dog, another puts the rubbish out. As they have grown older, I've swapped around the roles and someone's birthday is the perfect time to do this."
Many parents feel that they run around in endless circles ferrying their children to everything - but never having a moment to themselves. How can you fit some 'me time' into a day when sometimes you can't even go to the loo without a child banging on the door?
I asked life coach Elizabeth Juffs what she could suggest that would help parents. As a busy mum to two boys, Liz speaks from experience. She said: "Remember you cannot do your best for your family without attending to your own needs.
A few minutes each day spent on boosting yourself up, and giving yourself some much-needed time and space, is not selfish, but is a prerequisite for doing your best as a mum or dad.
And you don't need, Liz says, to spend hours to feel the benefits. "It only need to be a short time, perhaps 10 to 15 minutes, but make it something that will nurture you and make you feel good.
"It could be putting your feet up with a favourite book or magazine, phoning a friend, having a warm shower, going for a walk, spending time in the garden, lying down with some soothing music, or listening to a relaxation CD."
Re-negotiating your partnership is sometimes vital. After the first flush of being a couple, it's easy to lose sight of what you both want out of your relationship, especially when children are making huge demands on your time.
Caroline felt her relationship with Matt was not as close as it used to be, and was worried they were drifting apart, due to the pressures of parenting two children under five.
"I decided that, instead of resenting us never really talking any more, except about the children, I would take control and give our relationship a makeover. I asked Matt to go out to the pub, away from distractions.
After talking - and Matt was unhappy too - we decided to go out at least twice a month as a couple, which meant booking a babysitter in advance. We wrote the dates in our diaries, and there was no backing out.
Lindsay took the meeting idea one step further - she arranged a board meeting; yes, with a date, agenda and time limit.
"After our second child was born, I felt the need to do something, as I couldn't cope the way things were. My husband was travelling a lot for work, and trying to discuss things ad hoc just wasn't working. Neither of us could keep track of what we had and had not discussed, and I felt like I was always nagging him. We have a quarterly 'MOT' but it works like a board meeting.
"I set the agenda, but we both contribute to the meeting. I originally conceived the idea because my husband was always busy with meetings at work and I realised that this was a format that worked for him. I tended to be overly emotional discussing issues, and he tended to close down whenever there were tears involved.
"This was a way for me to make myself stay calm and rational, and also for him to give weight to our discussions. It works brilliantly for us! It provides structure to our discussion so we don't go over and over old ground. I do not mention things between meetings, but if something has not been done in that time, I am allowed to bring it up at the following meeting and it is not perceived as nagging! We also have an Excel spreadsheet detailing the household chores, and try to make sure that they are shared equally. It has really helped us stay objective in our discussions and working together toward a common goal."
What kinds of things does Lindsay put on her agenda? "I break it down into topics including parenting, household, socialising, personal health and well being, expectations of our relationship, and extended family."
And does this work? "Yes, it works brilliantly for us!"
Giving your close relationships an annual makeover can help prevent small issues growing into deal-breakers. Choosing an anniversary, a birthday or some significant date in yours and your children's lives can be the perfect time to start talking and stop nagging.
Have you ever tried something like this, making formal plans instead of grumbly drifting?
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