How to renegotiate with yourself

One October, when life was feeling happy and we were in the midst of living up the family traditions, I signed up to bring a crock pot of chili to a local Halloween celebration my family was planning to attend. I have a great chili recipe, and I was happy to offer my services when the organizers sent out an email asking for extra help.  But when the day of the party came, I was a tired, irritable mess.

Not wanting to back out on my promise, I spent the morning marching between the stove and sink, chopping onions and browning meat while scowling at my children and husband. I didn’t start with a big enough container to cook the double-batch I’d prepared, so I ended up spilling tons of beans and tomato juice onto my white bathrobe while trying to transfer everything to a larger pot. My display of frustration was nothing short of embarrassing. (The children still remember it vividly.)

I remember my husband saying, “Why don’t you just not make chili? I think the Halloween party will survive.”

But I’d made a commitment. I was going to follow through.

When we finally showed up at the event — with costumes, candy, and our contribution to the dinner — we realized that a miscommunication had resulted in pretty much everyone bringing a crock pot of chili.  They didn’t even need mine. The other moms were laughing about how we were all going to eat chili the next night for dinner. But all I could think was, “What have I done?”

If I’d only known then how to renegotiate with myself, I could have saved my whole family a lot of angst. Who said I had to double the batch? Was there any rule that prevented me from heating up cans of pre-made chili? Could I have stopped at Wendy’s on the way and used their yummy chili instead?

I’m all for keeping commitments and doing what I say I’m going to do, but far too often, we, as mothers, set up unrealistic expectations in our minds, make lists that are way too long, or get overly-optimistic about how much can be accomplished in one day. We set ourselves up for failure. And we get upset with our families who “get in the way.”

So today, let’s talk about how to renegotiate with ourselves–how to re-evaluate our lists and expectations so we don’t drive ourselves (and everyone around us) insane.

I’ll share some of my ideas, and then you share yours in the comments below, OK? (I’m still working on perfecting this skill and could definitely use some help.)

We need to recognize when our expectations are bordering on ridiculous.

One weekend, I hosted a Mind Organization for Moms workshop at my home,

and this is what I wanted to accomplish during the two days prior to the event:

  • Weekly menu planned, groceries purchased, fridge scoured, veggies chopped and stored, items in pantry put into air-tight containers
  • Laundry totally done, folded, put away upstairs
  • Office cleaned out and organized
  • Carpets steam-cleaned with the machine we have up in the attic
  • Car washed and vacuumed as a family
  • Dying plants on the front porch replaced
  • Downstairs bathroom redecorated
  • House scoured top to bottom
  • Planner organized
  • Print-outs made for workshop, all details handled

I need to stop making lists like this to begin with. I’m a busy mother of four children, and I need to sleep and eat. A list like this will kill me. 

I met a mom one time who had a very strict cleaning list that designated a specific time for each household task. She said, ”I’m supposed to mop on Thursdays at 4, so whether the floor needs it or not, and whether I feel like doing it or not, I’m going to mop. And if I’m in a bad mood, I’m going to mop angry.”  After we talked for a while, she admitted that her list didn’t need to dictate her life. It’s simply not necessary.

Now that we’re getting close to the holidays, I’m willing to bet that ridiculous lists like this are cropping up all over the world. When we realize we’re over-committing again, we need to stop it.

Relationships have to come before lists.

In my chili-scenario from above, I put a crock pot of food before my family. I had all kinds of justifications as to why that was necessary, but really … was it?

Below are some ways I learned to put relationships first — even when I was trying to accomplish that mammoth “ridiculous” list from above.

Grace had a lingering fever throughout the week and needed to stay home from school for a few days. She needed time with me. The laundry folding could wait.

Alia and Ethan had lots of homework, and they wanted me to sit by them to review algebra principles and “the twelves” in multiplication. So much more important than cleaning out my office.

Then we had a chance to have my mom over for a night, and I had to jump at the opportunity. My heart has been hurting for her lately. I don’t write about it much because the stories are too painful and my loyalty is to her, but when the choice is between steam-cleaned carpets and time with my mom, there’s just no contest. It’s the relationships that matter.

We renegotiate our commitments to ourselves by simplifying, eliminating, delegating or delaying.

When we put relationships (and sanity) first, our lists don’t disappear. But having these lists at the back of our minds causes lots of stress — stress that isn’t necessary. That’s why we renegotiate.

Here’s how I renegotiated my list last week:

  • Take my mom to the store with me and just buy enough to get us through the weekend. Take two minutes to wipe down the fridge and buy pre-cut veggies.
  • Do as much laundry as I can, put the baskets upstairs and let the children be in charge of all the folding.
  • The office can wait.
  • Spot-clean the worst part of the carpet and steam-clean next month.
  • Drive the car through the $6 car wash at the gas station and have the kids throw all the trash away. Get slushies while we’re there.
  • Trim the dying plants a bit, and then stop worrying about them. My workshop attendees aren’t coming for a gardening lesson, and they’ll forgive me.
  • Clean the downstairs bathroom, but don’t try to redecorate. (I don’t even know how to decorate. Why did I add this to my list in the first place?)
  • Clean the areas of the house where people will be.  Involve the kids and turn on fun music. BREATHE.
  • Give myself 25 minutes to clean out my planner. It’s fine.
  • Spend one hour on the workshop print-outs. The most important part of the workshop is the discussion. No stress necessary.

See how easy that was? And the workshop turned out great. No one even looked in my van. No one complained that my carpets hadn’t been steam-cleaned. I got a good night’s rest, and since I got all the “must-dos” done, I actually had a little more energy to devote to some of those “like-to-dos.”

Every single day, we have the opportunity to renegotiate. I’m not talking about “aiming low,” being mediocre” or giving-up-all-our-dreams-because-life-happens.

I’m talking about easing up on our expectations so we can organize our time well and live our lives the way they’re meant to be lived.  This year, I might sign up to bring chili again, but you can be sure I’m going to remember my previous experience, and no matter what, the focus is going to be on my family.

QUESTION: How have you learned to renegotiate your commitments?  Have you had a recent experience that you can share?

CHALLENGE: The next time your list starts to feel ridiculous, sit down and renegotiate with yourself. What can you simplify? Eliminate? Delegate? Delay? Be smart with your decisions and decide to put relationships first.

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