At dinner, Julie announced, “When Will goes off to school, I’m done.” The words stunned me, and I didn’t know what to say.
Julie has never liked to cook, but with my prior work schedule, she was the chief cook and always made sure that the kids had something to eat for dinner. After 25 years of meal preparation, she felt that she had paid her dues, and she was done.
For those of you who are also my Facebook friends, you know that I’m a competent cook. For years I have posted my weekly adventures teaching my kids to plan and cook a meal, which I listed under the byline, “Cooking With Dad Thursdays.” Therefore, there shouldn’t be a problem with me preparing my own meals once our youngest child was off to college. However, Julie’s cessation of making dinner was a big problem for me. Not because of the mechanics of meal preparation, but for issues more central to who I am.
We all have ways that we express love and concern to others, and we all have ways that we feel the love and concern from those around us. One of the most important ways that I both express and feel love is through acts of service. I think it is nice if someone tells me that they love me, but it is by actions where such claims ring true to me. For me, the act of making dinner was synonymous with love.
Like most humans, I have an intellectual side and an emotional side, and these two personas are not always in sync. Intellectually, I knew that Julie didn’t like to cook and that I was completely capable of fending for myself. However, my emotional side felt differently. Every meal that she prepared was a tangible way of her demonstrating that she cared about me. My emotional side was hurt and confused.
In the past, I would overrule any emotional feeling intellectually. I would convince myself that my feelings were trivial and unimportant. I would shame myself into compliance. However, I now recognized that my emotional self is just as important as my intellectual self. Emotions are not logical, but they are valid.
I didn’t immediately respond to Julie’s pronouncement; I paused. I wanted to know if my emotional hurt would pass; it didn’t. I knew that I had to address my concerns, and these are the steps that I used to resolve my problem:
- I searched for my feelings. Why was I feeling the way I did? In my emotional mind, I felt unimportant. These feelings were countered by my intellectual self, which knew otherwise. However, since they persisted, I knew that I had to address them.
- I pondered what I needed. Did I need Julie to cook dinner seven nights a week? Certainly not. However, once in a blue moon wouldn’t cut it for me.
- What was I willing to give in return? I would be ready to return the favor by making her nice dinners regularly.
- How would I approach this problem?
- With honesty.
- By telling her how I felt.
- By not blaming or intimidating her.
- By moving towards a mutually beneficial compromise, rather than a win.
- By listening to her concerns, and giving her potential solutions equal weight to mine.
- I did the above when we both had time to talk and process. It would make no sense to have this discussion when Julie was walking out of the door or when she came home from a long day of work.
When we talked, I acknowledged that my feelings weren’t logical, but they were real. I told her how important it was to have her make dinner for me, and I explained to her that it was a way that demonstrated her love for me. However, I also stated that I was open and willing to hear her feelings and very ready to come up with a solution that was beneficial to both of us.
We looked at our weekly schedule. On Fridays, we always have delivery pizza, so that day was covered. Saturdays we often go out to eat. Also, Julie noted that she didn’t want to cook on the 3-4 weekdays that she worked.
It looked like Sunday and Monday were open. Either day would support both meal preparation as well as time to eat together.
Julie said she would be willing to make dinner on Mondays, and I said that I would take over Sunday meal prep. Now that the kids were out of the house, I transitioned my “Cooking With Dad Thursdays” Facebook segment into one called “Simple Sunday Suppers.”
Last Sunday, I made a tossed salad, pecan-crusted tilapia, fresh green beans, and rice pilaf. It sounds complicated, but it was straightforward. Last Monday Julie made a Trader Joe’s stuffed salmon loaf, roasted asparagus, and a salad. Both meals were delicious, but more importantly, we celebrated them as we ate together.
It is imperative to recognize emotional needs, even if they seem illogical. Sometimes it is not possible to have those needs met, and it is crucial to accept that fact. Often a compromise that meets both party’s objectives is better than a one-sided win. Solutions that benefit all individuals are more likely to be successful than options where one person has to “give-in” to the other.
The best approach to solving an emotional need problem is to thoroughly search your feeling to discover what the core issue is. In my case, it was more about being valuable to Julie than getting a prepared meal. Once you know what you are dealing with, it is then imperative to talk to the other person honestly and respectfully. Always be willing to acknowledge the other person’s feelings and compromise.
I like making dinner on Sundays, and it feels great to have a meal prepared for me on Mondays. I think Julie benefits too. Making dinner one night a week is not a significant burden on her, and she has the additional benefit of having me make her a nice Sunday supper.
If you have read my post, you know that I think my kids are fantastic. The other day one of them was talking to my wife about being overloaded with school, clubs, and volunteer work. Everything was going well for them until several activities upped their demands. Julie offered a lot of good advice, but I wasn’t on the call. I felt that I had to add my two cents, which I did in a letter to my child.
I thought it would be useful to include a partial transcript of that letter in this post as it explores the related topic of recognizing problems and taking control of your life when you are in work/school situations. In the following letter I use some coarse language; my kids are all adults. However, if you are potty mouth sensitive, you may not want to read this second part.
Mom mentioned that all of your responsibilities are stressing you. I have been there too, and so I thought I would share some of my strategies.
- List those things that you must do in order or priority. For instance, a required class is more critical than an elective, which is more important than a club.
- In a second column, list the stress that the particular activity is causing you. You might consider using a simple 1-10 scale.
- In a third column, list a solution (partial or complete) to the stress you are experiencing.
- Solutions may include leaving a situation or modifying it. For instance, if a club’s board position is too stressful, you may be able to have someone take over some of the responsibilities, or you may want to leave the board or even quit the club.
- There are some situations where the only solution is acceptance of the situation. Here it is good to remind yourself that most conditions are temporary. Also, you can reward yourself for putting up with it in some small way (a little treat after a stressful class?). You may need to eliminate some less stressful obligations to give yourself enough breathing space for the stressful one that you can’t modify.
- When eliminating/changing stressful situations, start with items on the list that are of low importance but high stress.
- Use the “help” word when trying to change a situation. “I need your help so I can continue to work in this situation.” Many reasonable people will try to accommodate you. If you run into someone who won’t… well, that is useful information to have on that person.
- State your concerns honestly, briefly, clearly, and sincerely.
- Also, state what you need as well as what you can do. “I can’t work in the lab six days a week, but I can work three days a week. I want to continue, but I need your help in this regard.”
- Some individuals won’t want you to change, so expect that they will try to “convince” you to do business as usual. They will often offer some sort of “solution” or “promise.” These are usually bullshit. “If you start working at 5 AM, you should have plenty of time to get the job done,” or “The job will lighten up in 3 months.”
- Another strategy that some will use is shaming. “Sally is doing more work than you are doing, and she isn’t complaining,” or “You don’t seem committed.” This is also bullshit manipulation. Understand that it may come, and be prepared beforehand with an answer. I usually would say something like, “Sally is great. You’re right, I’m not Sally, and this is what I can do.”
- If you wind up accepting a “solution” or are shamed into continuing with business as usual, state that you want to meet with the person again in a week or two to talk about how the “new” plan is going. This gives you the ability to say that you tried their method, and it isn’t working for you. At that point, you may have more leverage to elicit a change. If not, you may need to leave the situation.
- Always allow the other person to save face. Allow them to help you, even if you choose to not take their “help.”
- Know what your limits are (you are the only one to know this). When others try to tell you what your limits are, they are usually ignorant, lying, or manipulating you.
- Focus on the big picture, not the immediate goal. Few things in life are determined by one class or activity.
- You will find people who are unrealistic with what they expect of you. These folks will usually try to manipulate you in whatever way they can. Understand their motivation, approach them with kindness and a smile. Stick to your guns.
- Compromising means that both parties get something. Compromising is not giving in.
- There will be situations where the other party can’t or won’t change. If stress outweighs the benefit in an inflexible case, your only option is to lick your wounds, and walk away.
- Remember that tomorrow is another day!
I think you are wonderful and awesome.