Jo Rowe found that a challenging morning reminded her of some advice she was given, which might just help turn things around 


There were yells coming from the kitchen at 6.30am one Monday morning. I woke to the sound of screeching and then our bedroom door being slammed against the wall as one of my children stormed in, obviously incensed at the utter injustice that has been done to her. There was energy, there was emoting, and I’d like to say I handled it with grace and excellent parenting skills; but that would be a lie. It is rumoured that I sat up in bed, pointed to the bedroom door, and said, quite forcibly, “OUT! I don’t care!” It was 6.30 in the morning AND I hadn’t had the best night’s sleep (in my defence!).

My morning went from bad to worse. My youngest lost every single sock in the world, my eldest lost her music book and the middle two were arguing about who was going to empty the dishwasher. Whose turn it was and wasn’t! I raced out the front door, six minutes late, to take the kids to school and get to work myself. We got three minutes up the hill and child number three screeched, “My art homework!” One U-turn later and we were finally on our way. By the time I got to work, it felt like I had already worked a full day.

Later, I talked to my girls about the issue that had sparked off the stress atmosphere in our house. The root? Ultimately; selfishness. There was an argument about who was supposed to be doing what, chore wise, this morning. There were arguments about whose turn it was to get the apricot yoghurt. It boiled down to selfishness. They both wanted the easiest, the best, for themselves. They both wanted to get what they felt that they deserved. It was a conversation that reminded me about a very sage piece of marriage advice I was once given about 18 years ago.

Keeping score in your marriage

Andy Stanley, a relationship expert, once said that the breakdown in most marriages begins when we each feel that we are owed something from the other person. Keeping score is the death of marriage, so he says. Relationships only work for so long when you work on a “keeping score” basis. It is fine for a while; He went fishing – you get to go to a spa. He took a night out with his friends – you get to do the same. He bought you flowers – you bought him whisky. She spent £300 on shoes – you get to buy something of equal value. She does the cooking – you do the washing. This all seems to work well… for a while. The problem is that it is very hard to keep an accurate score. It is hard to know how much some things cost; different people place a different value on the same thing. What about nursing a sick child? What about when one earns more? The constant keeping score ultimately causes resentment when something we do doesn’t get noticed or when we don’t get our equal value back. Keeping score creates a separation, a distance, a threat even. It can communicate “we’ll be fine as long as I get as much as I give.” It also communicates; “I’m in this for what I can get.”

But fairness matters doesn’t it?

Hang on a minute though Jo, I hear you guys saying (or it might just be me railing against my own advice!) fairness is good! It’s important to not be a doormat, fairness is important. Well, you’re kind of right. It is hard to be in a relationship (of any sort) with someone who is very selfish or doesn’t care about fairness. But there is also another way.

Today, I had this same conversation with my girls. We talked about fairness and selfishness, and I asked them a question. “If you could trust your sister to have your best interests at heart, to serve you, promote you, and give you the best, what would your relationship look like?”

We talked about the value of serving without keeping score. We talked about how it would feel to know that the other one in the relationship was committed to serving you, without expecting reward. Would that feel like more or less of a gift? What sort of response would that evoke? We talked about what sort of things grow when you plant in selfishness. We wondered whether it was even possible to keep score and bully the other into giving you what you felt you deserved. They agreed that life would be better if they didn’t have to keep score, if it was safe to not keep score! We talked about this being the way that Jesus modelled life. He served without expecting reward. He loved without keeping score. Jesus was the ultimate at unselfishness and His unselfishness literally saved the world.

My husband, Jules and I haven’t completely mastered this at all. There are times when we are totally selfish, and feel taken for granted or feel like we are owed something. But we have come back to the advice we were given 17 years ago again and again. Selfishness only breeds selfishness. It raises defences and causes distance – it creates fight, and we have worked hard to grow a marriage that attempts not to keep score. I try to remember that I love my husband and I want him to live his fullest life. I know that, ultimately, giving to my husband is giving to myself. When he is full of life and promoted my family is happier, and easier and carries more freedom. We are more connected and there is more affection and love in our house.

Since writing this, I have implemented a new scheme for the mornings. My kids are motivated by reward, and sometimes I need to put in a reward until they feel the benefit of what I am trying to teach them, for themselves. So we have a board in our kitchen that has a series of dots in different colours. Each dot represents a team with one of their siblings. Each team (they’d each be part of three teams) has the ability to earn a dot…. the dots work towards a joint treat. They only get a dot if they have succeeded in their morning chores, whilst remaining in good connection within their team. This requires that they work together to stay in connection. If one person is difficult or unpleasant to be around or selfish, no one gets the dot.

The change in my kids is pretty cool. My eldest has had exams, the others did her chores to lower her stress so she could stay in good connection!! One day one of them woke up grumpy, I heard them work through to peace together, reminding each other gently that they wouldn’t get their joint dot. The chores have been done, but more importantly the connection has been better. My aim in this little experiment was to show them that if only one person wins (by getting their own way in jobs) no one wins! I wanted them to experience the fact that preferring each other, actually helps them all win! We are only a week in,but so far, so good. They will have earned a Saturday night movie night with friends, ice cream sundaes and pizza if they can keep it up until Saturday. They are beginning to see the reward! Teamwork makes the dream work!