Transcript Episode 40: Loving Yourself at the Holidays

Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which we make every attempt to think differently about things.

The podcast in which we get perhaps a little deep into the theoretical and philosophical weeds about topics which, admittedly, probably don’t deserve a dissertation…Topics like, I don’t know…Christmas trees and holiday parties.

The podcast in which we use the Golden Rule as a plumb line to help us make the holidays bright.

My name is Lily Fields, and I am going to be your fairy godmother for the next half hour or so…

I hope you had an amazing Thanksgiving, and I really hope that, if you needed to, you were able to put a little bit of what we talked about in our last episode. Or at least, you were able to start questioning the dread you might be feeling about a commitment, and have started to tease out some of the deeper sources of contempt, anger or guilt that are keeping you stuck in commitments that shouldn’t be yours in the first place.

The End-of-Year holidays are filled with these kinds of commitments. Whether they are traditions that we never actually consented to, but make us feel anxious, or last-minute invitations that we feel obligated to agree to, much of what makes our holidays less than sparkling is all the crud it dredges up from the depths of our hearts.

There is so much cognitive dissonance around the holidays, and I think I speak for a lot of the women of my generation when I say this. We want to create something beautiful, and warm, and bright and memorable, but the very fact that we desire it so much means that we will inevitably fall short of what we imagine. Our desire is to make things perfect for everyone, which means that our efforts will inevitably be perfect for no one.

I have told you this before, but my indulgent husband and I haven’t, for as long as we’ve been married, had a television. I tell you this as an admission of being completely out of the pop-culture loop. I recently was listening to an amazing podcast called Business Wars, and it took a deep dive into what has become a pop-culture phenomenon about which I had zero awareness whatsoever: the Hallmark Christmas movie. 

I felt like I was an alien, peering in on this whole genre that seemed just…so absurd. I was particularly intrigued as they talked about location scouting for these Christmas movies, and how absolutely every scene had to scream, “Christmas”. Like, overdose on lights and stockings and snow and trees and hot cocoa and Santa Hats.

So, as someone on the outside of this phenomenon peering in, what I see is that the Ideal Christmas had been commoditized. It has a Christmas look and a feel of Christmas feel and a Christmas sound and an oddly predictable storyline.

And as with anything, when we start comparing our lives to something that is intended as entertainment and to represent a homogenized “Ideal”, we will feel like we are failing.

We people pleasers walk away from nearly every single activity in which we were trying to please others by creating the “perfect” Christmas, feeling like complete and utter failures. 

So, Cinderella, the first, most important thing that I want you to hear from me today is this: You are not a failure. Whatever cultivated and curated version of Christmas you are trying to recreate, stop comparing yourself to it. 

Your heart and your intentions are honorable. But you are missing something critical: in trying to create a perfect experience for everyone else, you have forgotten to love yourself first.

The Golden Rule says, love others as you love yourself. But you must start by loving yourself. Knowing yourself. Being in love with yourself. I’ve said that a million times before and I will keep saying it until it sinks in and starts becoming a reality in your life.

As your fairy godmother, I feel that it is my duty to sit you down for a few minutes and have a very important chat about why we do what we do, especially at the holidays.

Up until now, you have been setting expectations: expectations for the perfect tree, the perfect decorations, the perfect cookies, the perfect gifts, the perfect ugly Christmas sweater, the perfect…the perfect…I don’t even know what. I know what my expectations are, and they aren’t always for a perfect “thing”. I want the perfect ambience. I want a Christmas day on which my children don’t get jealous of each other’s gifts. I want to feel like I have made someone happy. I want to sit back for a few minutes and not feel like a failure.

Is that too much to ask? 

If this sounds even remotely familiar to you, then we’ve got some things to talk about.

Part One: What we control

When we talked about articulating our Ideal Life, I talked about how critical it is that our Ideal Life statements be about who we are in our Ideal Life… If this is new to you, an Ideal Life statement describes the kind of person we are and the life we want to lead, and we construct them by answering the prompt, “In my Ideal Life, I am a person who…” over and over and over again until we have dozens of pages of filled with the description of who we are in our Ideal Life.

After we have gotten to the bottom of the well of all the ways we imagine ourselves being in our Ideal Life, we look for themes that recur in all of our statements. 

Some of these themes include Parenting, or Marriage, or Relationships but also themes like work, our bodies and health, our Mental Health, and many many more.

The trick with these statements is that they are not about the other people in our lives. They are about ourselves. For example, “In my Ideal Life, I am a person who has children who are always satisfied with their gifts,” while a dreamy ideal, is not a valid Ideal Life statement, because it is about who my children are,  and not who I am. 

The only person whose attitude we can change, whose behavior we have any control over, whose needs we can fully understand, is our own. 

This is important to remember, because when it comes to the holidays, and our dreams and fantasies of an Ideal Christmas, we can very quickly hang our expectations for a successful holiday on the peg of someone else’s experience, attitude, behavior or needs. 

Part of loving ourselves (which is the precursor to being able to live out the Golden Rule)  is taking the time to know what we want and what is under our control. Every single time we hinge our experience of a bright and merry holiday on someone else’s experience, we are letting air out of our own tires.

You are responsible for your attitude, your behavior and what comes out of your mouth. There is no way that you can hold yourself responsible for how irritating your brother-in-law is, or how overbearing your nephew is. You cannot control your mother-in-law’s criticism, or your boss’s unrealistic deadlines. You need to unhook your expectations for yourself from all those things.

But you are responsible for how you do or do not take to heart your irritating brother-in-law’s mansplaining, or your nephew’s endless monologue about the latest conspiracy theories he’s found. You are responsible for having perspective about your mother-in-law’s criticism and not taking the bait when she wants to get a rise out of you. You are responsible for doing the work you can in the time given to you. The rest is not in your hands.

Sometimes, our own expectations get in the way. We have these big, beautiful dreams, and big dreams are exciting and motivating, yes. But big dreams can disappoint us. They can leave us feeling like failures. But, again, as your fairy godmother who wants to see you live your Ideal Life, I would encourage you, for once, to dream small.

Start with your own heart, break down the building blocks of what would bring you joy this year, and then seek out those small pieces.

Do you remember why we started talking about the Ideal Life in the first place? It was because of Marie Kondo, and her book the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Before she tells you to grab a black trash bag to start decluttering your home of everything that doesn’t “spark joy”, she tells you to spend some time writing about what your perfect life would look like.

When I first did this exercise, I did it in a rather perfunctory way, because what I really needed was to start making space in my apartment. I didn’t have enough space in my head to imagine what my Ideal Life would look like. What I needed at the time was to make space for my firstborn to sleep.

Well, what I want for us to do, because this is going to be the key to everything else we talk about from know until the end of the year, I want you to really imagine what your Ideal Holiday would look like.

Back in Episode 34, called Navigating the ideal Life, we talked about the difference between expectations and expectancy. Expectations are pre-defined outcomes against which we can pass or fail. Expectations will, more likely than not, leave us disappointed. Factors beyond our control are par for the course in this life, and very little ends up how we expect it to. Too many expectations will leave us feeling like a failure. 

However, expectancy is a fervent hope for a positive outcome. We cannot fail at an expectancy. Expectancy is the ability to imagine a bevy of positive outcomes, and hope for the greatest common denominator of all of them.

This holiday season, I my hope for you is that the greatest common denominator of everything you undertake will be…joy, with a little bit of  love mixed in for good measure.

Do you have a moment to think about this right now? I’d love to walk you through some questions, to help you think about what joy and love would look like this year. The goal is going to be to find the nuggets of deep, live-bringing, innocent desire, the little building blocks of joy that will give you direction as to how you will love yourself first, so that you will be fully equipped to love others this holiday season.

Part Two: Know Thyself

I want you to take a moment and imagine your Ideal Holiday. Let the images pass through your mind like a ViewMaster. Don’t know what a ViewMaster is? Then imagine a kind of slideshow. Maybe there is just one image. Maybe there are two or three. Or ten.

In those images that just clicked through your mind, are they situations that have already occurred, and you are remembering them fondly, or are they wishes that you have for an Ideal Holiday that has yet to materialize?

In these different situations, are you alone, or are there other people? 

I’m going to confess something to you: in a lot of the images that flashed through my mind, I was alone. Out of the maybe 5 images in my mind, 3 of them were just me. It’s okay and it is healthy to want to have part of your Ideal Holiday be in which you take time alone to enjoy the ambience. Not everything you do has to be to please other people. But we will get to that.

If there are other people, who are they? It might not be the people you usually spend your holidays with, and that’s okay! Remember, we’re over here dreaming right now. Maybe they are people you lost touch with a long time ago. If that is the case, is it the person that you are thinking of, or is the shared experience that made it such a memorable experience? Is there anything of that shared experience that you could bring back into your life this year, as you seek out joy in your holiday season?

What does your Ideal Holiday look like? Does it look like garlands of lights? Is it snow-covered, or is it under palm trees? Does your Ideal Holiday include candles? Is your Ideal Holiday showy and bright, or is it subdued and discreet? Do you have all the trappings of a traditional holiday, or do you do things differently? Are there lots of gifts, like mountains of gifts, or are there just a few? Is your Holiday homemade or store bought?

Next question: what does your Ideal Holiday feel like? I mean, like physically. What are the sensations you feel in your body? Are you cold but happy? Is there a roaring fire, and so you are physically toasty? Are you cozy under a blanket, or are you wearing a slinky off the shoulder dress holding a flute of champagne, freezing your butt off but happy? Are there hugs? Are you holding someone’s hand? Are you wearing a fur coat, or a down jacket, or flipflops with sand between your toes? What does your Ideal holiday feel like?

What does your holiday taste like? Does it taste like hot cocoa with marshmallows? Or Cinnamon cookies? Does it taste like panettone, or roasted chestnuts? Does it taste like mulled wine or fruitcake? Does it taste like cheap, hollow foil-wrapped Santa Claus, or does it taste like Ferrero Rocher? What does your Ideal holiday taste like?

What does your holiday smell like? Does it smell like pine? Or like roasted turkey? Does it smell like outdoors? Like popcorn? Like a fireplace or chopped wood? Maybe like cotton candy? Does it smell like plastic toys, or does it smell like expensive perfume? Does it smell like candles and mandarine oranges? What does your Ideal holiday smell like?

What does your Ideal holiday sound like? Is it the crackling of a fireplace? Popcorn popping? Bells jingling when the front door opens? Like a cat playing with the ornaments on a tree? Like a child shaking a wrapped gift? Like the laughter of children? Like the voice of someone you love that you haven’t heard from in a long time? Is it the popping of a cork and the clinking of glasses? Is there music? Is it quiet? Is it so quiet that you can hear your heartbeat?

Next question: How much thought and time do you put into your Ideal Holiday? Is it something you scour shops for, looking for the right decorations in just the right color, or do you make do with what you already have? Do you set aside a weekend to set your ambience? Or an afternoon? Do you have a list of people you give gifts to, or do you just pick things up as you find them? Do you wrap your gifts the night before, or do you wrap them as you bring them home? Do you take several trips to the Post Office, or just one big one? 

On this same note, what about gifts? What is the gift-giving process like in your Ideal Life? In your Ideal Holiday, how would you select a gift for each person on your list? Would it be because they requested the item, or because it brings you joy to offer it? In your Ideal Holiday, do you pull out all the stops, or do you give gifts within a budget? And conversely, how do you enjoy receiving gifts? In your Ideal Holiday, do you know what your gifts are in advance, and you spend the season anticipating them, or do you prefer the suspense of not knowing and the joy of opening up a surprise?

There is so much to say on the topic of gift giving and receiving, that next week’s entire episode is going to be a treatise on Gift Giving and the Love Languages, which I hope will both an interesting listen and an exciting way of looking at what can be one of the parts of the holidays that is so hard to get right

Next question: What kind of things do you talk about during your Ideal Holidays? Is it just like any other time of the year, or is there something special about your conversations? Are you fully rested, so you are able to really engage in your conversations? Are you able to keep a good attitude in your conversations? 

What I want for you to do this week is to take a little bit of time, and to break down those ideas that you have for what your Ideal Holiday would be like. What is your experience of your Ideal Holiday like, and how can you, as you start inevitably planning your end-of-the-year activities with those building blocks in mind.

Sometimes the smallest, most insignificant things are what can bring us joy, and if we can just prioritize them, our experience of the whole thing can change.. I mean, sitting quietly watching the Christmas tree with a cup of tea after the kids have gone to bed, alone, costs me absolutely nothing. But the quiet, the lights, the coziness…those are elements that I know will bring me joy. More of those moments means more beads of joy on the necklace of …my holidays!

Part Three: When Mama is happy…

There is a little phrase that gets whispered between my children from time to time, which, sadly, is more true than I would like to admit. “When Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” 

They say it when they don’t think I am listening, and when I have told them to do something that they don’t want to do. It’s stunning how much self-awareness they have: my children understand that their obedience has the power to keep things running smoothly. They know that doing what I ask them to do makes me happy, and when I am happy, everybody gets along. But for some reason, once, I must have let slip, “When Mama ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy,” and now they taunt each other with it.

It usually will goad one child into doing something he doesn’t want to do, like putting his clothes in the washer or tidying his room. 

I hate this phrase, because I don’t like to think that I am tyrant, but, I will admit that sometimes I am. What I wish my children would say instead is, “When Mama is happy, everybody is happy.” Because that, right there, is the actual truth, and not just when it comes to putting away toys and eating vegetables.

As the Mama in charge of my little family, my state of mind, my mental health has an enormous impact on the family. When I am doing well, when I am in a good space and when I am actively taking care of myself, things generally go better than when I am experiencing a roiling volcano of cognitive dissonance within my own heart.

Maybe this is just me, but when there is something in my heart that is awry, whether I am not getting enough sleep, or I’m not feeling challenged enough in the work I’m doing, or…anything is systemically wrong, and not working when do my daily check-in with my Ideal Life exercise…when any of these are the case, my fuse is shorter, my attention span is limited, my ability to hear what my children mean rather than what they actually say…all these are impacted.

Layer on top of this the expectations we have for ourselves to make sure everyone has an A+ holiday…well, if we aren’t doing well, it’s just going to compound. During the holidays, we need to double-down on taking care of our mental health, so that we don’t become a reason that ain’t nobody happy.

Loving our families isn’t enough to give them a solid foundation. Loving them isn’t enough to give them the sparkling holiday season. We could give and give and give of ourselves until we are completely empty, and still fail them.

Because when Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. On the other hand, to a great extent, when Mama  is happy, everybody is happy. We have so much power to set the tone in our families this holiday season.

No, loving our families is not, it will never be enough. We must start by loving ourselves, by being gentle with ourselves. Being curious about ourselves and what we like and what we want for our Ideal Holiday. 

Remember, Joy is contagious, even in little tiny specks.

When we start asking ourselves, “What would joy look like to me this year?” we are manufacturing our own fairy dust. We are acknowledging that our joy matters, and our joy has the power to impact the people we love. 

Part Four: The Love Languages

Oh yes, that again. No, you’re not imagining things. We have talked at length about the Love Languages before. It dates back to Episode 7, entitled My Intentional Valentine. Back then, I was encouraging you to be your own Valentine, and to love yourself according to how you would like to be loved. It was a fun episode, and if you have a half hour or so, I would recommend listening again. 

You see, only when we know how to love ourselves, and our unspoken, deepest needs for love are at least acknowledged by us, can we start loving other people the way they need to be loved. 

It’s like…we cannot see what others need until we know what we need. I have been married for more than twenty years, and in many ways, I am only just now learning how to love and be loved by my husband. Because for a very long time, I didn’t love myself. I didn’t think I was deserving of love. So I couldn’t receive the love he was giving…which he was giving in the only ways he knew how.

It wasn’t until I started loving myself, and loving myself the way I needed to be loved, that the lens changed, and I could see what my husband was doing to show me that he loved me. And even if his act of love, cleaning the toilet isn’t something that I experience as love, I see that he is doing what he knows how to show me how much he loves me.

We both had to learn how to speak each other’s love language…both speak and understand. But it started because I got to know myself. 

Before I get lost again on a tangent, here’s the deal with the Love Languages: not everyone experiences love, or expresses love the same way.

This concept of the Five Love Languages, was developed by Dr Gary Chapman. I highly recommend reading the book, and taking the time to consider how we experience love and how the people we love experience love. But just as important is how we express love,  and how they express love. 

Once we are in a place where we love ourselves and can provide the building blocks of our own joy, we are able to, with great lucidity, become a student of the people we love. 

Becoming a student of the people we love is one of the most satisfying ways to be a parent and a spouse. 

Here is an example: 

My indulgent husband and I differ very, very strongly on one solid, rather important relational point. He believes that surprises are a good thing. I, personally, hate surprises.

This difference has only recently come to light in our relationship, and, as with most of the other points of conflict that have arisen in our 23 year-long marriage, it has come to the forefront because of our scalawags.

Neither of us are wrong, of course. He is right in a very practical way: what they do not know about they cannot ask four thousand times in three hours “Are we there yet?” about. I am right in a more contentment focused way: anticipating something is a way to enjoy an experience in advance, making the pleasure of the experience last longer by displacing its starting point.

Case in point

My indulgent husband is a teacher, so theoretically neither of us is actually “working” during school vacations. Technically, however, we both have mountains of work to do. He has papers to grade, I have chapters to write. There is never not work to do.

When we are very organized, we work out a “work plan”, so that each of us gets one half of a day to work on as many days as possible during vacation. What a “working” parent does during his/her work time is his/her choice. The job of the non-working parent is to get the children out of the house.

Me, I am a planner. It is pure joy for me, for days in advance, to be able to plan out what work I want to do when. I love what I do, so to be able to plan for it is also a great pleasure. I view those hours that I have to myself to work as gifts. Because I am a creative, with inevitable ebbs and flows, the fact of knowing that I will have time to work can shift the tide towards Flow.

Well. It happened that we were not particularly organized over a long weekend earlier this year. I had assumed that we would share the duties. (And you know what assume means, right?) I had tons of work to do, I was in flow and I couldn’t wait to get started.

But I noticed that my indulgent husband hadn’t mentioned anything about a work plan for that long weekend. Because I was a people pleaser and had no idea how to advocate for what I really want, instead of actually talking about it, we ended up all getting ready to go to a park.

I’ll be honest, I was crabby about it. I wanted to stay home and work. I probably wasn’t being enthusiastic about our preparations. But I did it. I was ready. We all went downstairs, got in the car. Everybody had their seatbelts on.

And then, my indulgent husband said, “Haha, just kidding! You’re staying home to work.”

So, confession time: I am an ungrateful person. I am a terrible communicator. I am self-centered and miserable to live with.

Instead of being happy and thankful to have time to work I became so irrationally angry.

I was angry because I felt robbed of the opportunity to anticipate. I was angry because I hate surprises. I hate jokes. I do not understand them, I do not appreciate them. They always leave me feeling disrespected and confused.

This was no exception. My communication skills and self-centeredness are part of the problem: no one is a mind reader, not even after 23 years of marriage. But the other side is, in spite of the fact that I got to stay home and work, I was left feeling more unloved and more angry than I would have had I gone to the park. This was not my indulgent husband’s intention. But it was the result.

The moral of the story is this: A kind gesture can backfire if it does not align with the needs and desires of the receiver.

This is why, when I say that being a student of the people we love can make us better spouse and a better parent, we can start setting a precedent of loving people in the ways that they need to be loved.

And…as we saw earlier, as Mamas in our homes, we have the power to influence the very beating heart of our homes. Our example is a powerful, powerful tool to set a new direction for our families. Our example speaks louder than our words.

When next week we look at how the five Love Languages and Gift Giving meet up, you will see that it will begin by thinking about how we like to receive gifts.

It always has to start with self-knowledge. Self-examination. Lucidity is a virtue that will keep our fire burning throughout the holiday season.

Part Five: The Challenge

All right, Cinderella, so let’s recap a little bit. First things first, remember that you are not responsible for how other people think, behave, or speak. You are responsible for you and your attitude. By taking really good care of yourself and your mental health, you can measurably improve your family life. This is the very essence of self-love. And you have to love yourself before you can love anyone else.

Secondly, you need to let yourself dream a little bit about what your Ideal Holiday would look like. Distill down those dreams into the little elements that make up each dream. The music, the lights, the conversations, the smells, the flavors. With every tiny element you are able to bring in, your are increasing your chances of having more joy in your holiday season. So…really, what I am asking you to do is to dream small. Dream down to the building blocks of your holiday, and seek those building blocks out. Don’t seek out some big, dreamy Hallmark movie scene. Seek out the basic elements of that scene and incorporate them in your holiday.

Lastly, as you get comfortable with what brings you joy, start considering the people you love. Become a student of the people you live with, the people you interact with at the holidays. Actually listen to what they say and think about what they have expressed in the past. Study the people you love and start thinking about how you can bring small bits of joy into their lives through what you discover about them.

Conclusion:

Listen, Cinderella: I know that on the surface, I have said both a thing and its opposite today…namely, that both you are and you aren’t responsible for everyone’s experience of the holidays. This apparent contradiction is what I talked about at the opening today, when I said we were going to go out deep into the weeds and get philosophical about celebrating the Holidays.

It is a fact that you are not responsible for making everyone’s perfect dream come true on a macro level. You cannot hold yourself to a standard of perfection or make someone else’s expectations your marching orders. In that, it is true that you are not responsible for everyone’s experience of the holidays.

It is also a fact that you are, as much as you probably don’t think of yourself this way, you are an influencer. Your words, attitudes, hopes, disappointments…those things influence the words, attitudes, hopes and disappointments of those people in your immediate circle. Taking care of yourself, getting to know yourself, falling in love with yourself will fill you up and make it possible to have a positive impact on those around you. 

Please, please, please: unhook yourself from other people’s expectations. Love yourself first. Find the most basic, simplest elements of joy and pursue them. When you have done these things, it really does become easier to love truly other people.

Whether you like it or not, you are the beating heart of your family. You influence the overall attitude of your family by your own. This is a big responsibility. By taking care of yourself, getting to know yourself, you will discover more joy and more love. And when you have more joy and more love, then it will spill over onto your family.

Thank you so much for listening to the podcast. I am so grateful to you and I am pulling for you as you start dreaming small for this holiday season.

I want to give a great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie as the intro and outtro to the show. Also, a huge thank you to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.

This is your fairy godmother signing off. Just remember, it is never too late to start singing with your feet!



Episode 47: Dressing for Your Ideal Life Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Heartspace and Headspace; the recursive shapes of our life; Mise en Place and decisions.  When we know what we want for our life, it makes all of our decisions easier–including what we wear.  Thank you to Seven Productions in Mulhouse France for the use of the song "La Joie" as the intro and outtro of the show, to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 47: Dressing for Your Ideal Life
  2. Episode 46: Closet Inventory
  3. Episode 45: Wardrobe Therapy
  4. Episode 44: Facing Disappointment
  5. Episode 43: Where Are You Going?

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: