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I co-parent with my ex, but he threatens me and expects sex | Family

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The dilemma I split with my husband when my son was three – he was selfish and did not enjoy being a father. But we parted amicably and agreed to co-parent our son. I hoped for another relationship and another child.

Twelve years later and I have had one relationship, which caused my ex-husband to threaten suicide. He has constantly been in and out of my life – at first I thought he wanted to reconcile, but I realised he wants to cherry-pick the parts of marriage that suit him (mostly sex) and then go to his own house when he “needs space”. Whenever I put my foot down he threatens to take our son away. Even going to a solicitor didn’t help.

I feel like his mother. He turns up whenever he wants advice, and I help him (to my own detriment, as he is very depressive and pessimistic). He is on the autism spectrum and his family really don’t care about him. Other times he turns up for the evening with alcohol, wanting to stay the night and I let him, to save another argument. Our son is now 15 and my ex is still trying to get him to live with him, despite the fact that he works shifts and is out of the house for hours. Our son is tired of the situation and so am I, but I can’t see a way out. How will I ever have my own life?

Mariella replies It sounds simplistic, but where many of us go wrong is in refusing to take agency of our own lives – instead allowing others to make subservient our personal desires. It’s very hard, stuck in one form of reality, to conceive and create another, but it’s important that you dream up a vision for the future that’s realistic and achievable.

Your husband has maintained control over both you and his son for more than a decade, cynically placing his emotional needs and desires above both of yours. As you observe, it’s high time that you freed yourself from that bind, but this sense that you are doing it for your son is really a cover for your fear of taking your life in your own hands. Desperately holding on to your boy is neither necessary nor the answer. And I can reassure you that no court is going to significantly alter custody arrangements just because you put your foot down about your ex-husband’s overnight stays. Any fears over the custody of your son can be addressed through family mediation (try the Family Mediation Council or National Family Mediation).

I’m sad to hear that you haven’t found another partner or had the second child you desired, but you have to see how the perpetual helicoptering presence of your ex will have put people off.

While this situation continues you’re not free or available. Instead, you’re enabling your husband to stay in the driving seat of your life. I’m glad that you’ve managed to co-parent with him amicably, but at what cost? It really does sound as if your husband is a manipulative presence who has ensured that you’ve never enjoyed the freedom that should have been yours when you made the hard choice to move out.

Up until now he seems very much to have had his cake and eaten it with little opposition from you. He can’t take your boy away – that is an empty threat – and, very shortly, your son will be able to make his own choice. If he decides to hang out with his dad through his A-levels, good luck to him! You need to stop loading the responsibility for your entrapment on the fragile shoulders of your teenage son. What will make him want to stick around is the sight of you grasping your life with both hands and freeing him from his confusing position as a prize in a competition between his parents. You can get help in escaping from your husband’s manipulative behaviour – organisations such as Women’s Aid (womensaid.org.uk) or Refuge (refuge.org.uk; 0808 2000 247) can advise you over what is, essentially, a kind of coercive control. And it goes without saying that if you are concerned about his threats of suicide, start a dialogue with him and suggest he seeks help (stayingsafe.net).

Your ex has used you as an emotional crutch, handy booty-call and as a way to access his son without any responsibilities. Why would you give so much away for so little return? These are questions you need to ask yourself because, without understanding your impulses, you are unlikely to be able to change them.

The bargaining chip in all this seems to be your son, and your ex will have been aware of that. In three years he will be free to strike out on his own and if you and his father are still locked in this dance, he’ll want to put as much distance between himself and both of you as possible.

Now is your last chance to enhance his still formative life experience by making some adult choices – ideally together with his father. A clear position and a voice at the table are the least he should be equipped with as he steps towards his own destiny.

If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @mariellaf1

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‘People are more in control of their working day’: how lockdown changed the way we use our time | Fast master

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Female student studying and listening to music at home






People perform better when they have control of their working day.
Photograph: damircudic/Getty Images

Lockdown changed our sense of space as our worlds shrunk to the confines of our homes. But it also messed with our sense of time, with the monotony of our days making them feel longer.

Even our most basic units of time sometimes seemed to change. Where we’d once typically divided our days into one-hour or half-hour blocks, some of us instead found ourselves scheduling in shorter snippets of time. Instead of sitting through drawn-out, boring boardroom meetings or labouring over lengthy tasks in our manager’s line of sight, many of us found ourselves working more flexibly, flipping between tasks at a faster rate thanks to the sudden merging of our work and home lives and the increased autonomy it affords us.

In short, many people have shifted to a new normal that involves filling bite-size units of time with bite-size tasks and activities.

Studies have indicated that during periods of ongoing stress and anxiety, the brain’s prefrontal cortex (responsible for our ability to focus on tasks) is significantly weakened. But a recent report from the American management consulting firm Boston Consulting Group found that 75% of employees reported being able to maintain or even improve productivity levels in certain tasks during the first months of the pandemic.

So could the shifts in our scheduling patterns mean we’re becoming more efficient in our work and in our day-to-day lives? Jane Piper, an organisational psychologist and business coach, thinks there are significant benefits to our new way of doing things. “People are more in control of their working day now, and we perform better when we have autonomy. Our days are more flexible to better integrate work and home lives, which leads to an increase in productivity and reduction in stress,” she says.

Taking responsibility for our own schedules also means there is likely to be a reduction in presenteeism, with employees no longer putting in unnecessary “face time” just to show that they’re working. “Working from home means managers have to trust people to do the work, even when they can’t see them,” says Piper. “It changes the question from: ‘Were they present at their desk?’ to ‘Did they produce what was required by the deadline?’ A real upside of the new working landscape is what we deliver, rather than when we deliver.” Of course, it won’t be the case for everyone, she says. “For some, it has been replaced by a digital version, with managers scheduling constant meetings in a bid to force staff to be ‘present’.”

David Ogilvie, who runs The Resilience Development Company, which trains and coaches organisations to optimise performance and productivity, says: “Humans just aren’t meant to focus for long periods – brains are most productive in ‘focused sprints’ compared with ‘marathons’.”

In the programmes Ogilvie runs, clients are advised to work for no more than 90 minutes and then rest for 20 minutes. “That might mean setting 90-minute chunks in your diary before breaking or switching to an easier task for the next 20,” Ogilvie says. “There are many variations out there, but the principle is always the same: watch for signs of energy flagging and then reset and start again.”

However, working in shorter bursts doesn’t mean multitasking. “Switching between tasks and multitasking is a feature of modern life, amplified by the pandemic,” says Ogilvie. “But this behaviour could be working against you – studies show that we can lose productivity if we multitask because our brain is switching focus.”

This distinction is key – and arguably explains why we can feel more productive when engaging in activity in short bursts, but less productive if we’re flitting between wildly different short-burst activities. It’s worth bearing this in mind whenever you want to make the most of handy, short-burst formats, such as the wealth of instructional videos on social media platforms. Short is good, but if you’re looking to learn a new skill or knowhow, focusing on that one subject or topic is also important. You could call it scrolling with intent.

So how do you retain the benefits of short bursts while avoiding the trap of multitasking?

Gemma Ray, a productivity expert and author of Self Discipline: A How-To Guide to Stop Procrastination and Achieve Your Goals in 10 Steps, suggests batching similar tasks to improve efficiency, and timing regular tasks to avoid falling prey to Parkinson’s law – the idea that work expands to fill the time available.

Minimising distractions is also key. “A study by the University of California states that it takes the average person 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back ‘in the zone’ once disrupted,” she says. “For some, working from home means less distractions in terms of colleagues or unnecessary meetings, which enables us to be much more productive.” Though, of course, others might fall into the unluckier bracket of domestic distractions, with children storming their 10am brainstorm or neighbours renovating their kitchen.

Explore the world of TikTok and discover the joy of learning new things in shorter bursts. What will you #LearnOnTikTok?


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TV style icons of 2020: Michael Jordan’s sartorial slam dunk | Television

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The Last Dance, the Netflix show about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, scored 24 million viewers around the world within a month of its April release. An audience held captive by lockdown almost certainly drove those numbers up, but still, that is a lot of eyeballs for a documentary about basketball games that happened 23 years ago.

Which makes sense when you realise that The Last Dance isn’t really a sports documentary at all, but a blockbuster superhero movie, spun out over 10 instalments, just like Marvel do them. The Last Dance turned Jordan from a sports icon into a superhero, and it did it in part by rebooting his pre-athleisure 90s look as a costume.

Superheroes have to look the part. Without the lurid 70s tricolour T-shirt, Superman is just Clark Kent with wings. Batman doesn’t even have any superpowers, but his look and accessories have always been so on point (the mask! the car!) that fans barely noticed that he couldn’t fly or walk through walls without a gadget to assist him.

‘The suits were there to make the point that Jordan was no sporting journeyman ...’ Jordan on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in 1997.
‘The suits were there to make the point that Jordan was no sporting journeyman …’ Jordan on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in 1997. Photograph: NBCUniversal/Getty

Jordan’s sneakers are his Batmobile. When Nike launched the Air Jordan 1s in 1984, it predicted sales of $3m; the shoes banked $126m. Brand Jordan was born, a Nike division in its own right, and with it the mythology of Jordan as not just a basketball court legend but a hero. With serendipitous timing, the Dior designer Kim Jones last year unveiled an ultra high-end luxury homage to the thinking sneakerhead’s favourite trainer, with his handmade-in-Italy limited edition Air Dior. The March 2020 launch date was postponed due to the pandemic; by the time they went on sale in July, The Last Dance had turbocharged the Jordan hype. Even with a £1,800 price tag, these shoes were harder to get hold of than Dorothy’s ruby slippers.

The original Nike Air Jordans were red, white and black, to match the Chicago Bulls uniform. But the resulting Jordan mythology soon soared way above the basketball court and slam-dunked their namesake into popular culture. Jordan became a larger-than-life character and a visual brand, mapping out a master plan that has been followed ever since, by athletes including Tiger Woods, Tom Brady, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Every great fashion brand is defined by a signature shape, and Jordan is no exception. Dior had the New Look, Chanel had the boxy skirt suit – and Jordan had the supersized silhouette. Basketball worships height – Jordan is 6ft 5in, and in his prime he could jump to bring his head level with the 10ft-high rim of the hoop. The aesthetic of the classic shorts-and-vest is oversized and airy. Jordan brought this height and volume into his spectacular off-duty wardrobe, which, in the 90s, revolved around oversized power tailoring and shiny leisurewear. The suits were there to make the point that Jordan was no sporting journeyman, but a bona fide business mogul. The quilted bomber jackets, the diamond hoop earring, the signature beret. This was the 90s and celebrities came larger than life.

Nike Air Jordan V, originally released in 1990.
Nike Air Jordan V, originally released in 1990. Photograph: Granger/Rex/Shutterstock

Jordan wore his suit jackets extra wide across the shoulder, and extra long. What fits as a jacket on Jordan would be an overcoat on almost everyone else – a neat reminder that he is no mere mortal. His trousers were pleated for extra fullness and worn belted and high-waisted for added length. It is not just the sporting footage that showcases his elongated frame in The Last Dance. When he is filmed sitting down, his knees rise into the foreground of every shot. Set against the popcorny palette of televised sports events, where every available angle flashes advertising in the national colours of Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, Jordan’s suits are notable for their muted colours. He wears taupe and stone-grey, tones that in the 90s helped him stand out against his environment – and which in 2020 make him look eerily contemporary, like a supersized Kanye West.

With his cartoonish swagger and a vintage leisurewear wardrobe that could unite irony-loving millennials and nostalgia-soaked generation X, in a year where big blockbusters were off the cards, Jordan was a stand-in superhero. And why not? After all, this man could fly.


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True gold: 40 years of Spandau Ballet style – in pictures

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It’s 40 years since Spandau Ballet signed their first record deal. Their signature dandy look played a key role in defining New Romantic and late 80s style, creating an enduring fashion legacy

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