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The Ghost of Christmas Future, a.k.a. Kathie, stops by and gives us her mother-of-seven-grown-kids perspective about intricate family dynamics at holidays, boundaries she’s set, and the cost of choosing yourself and your family over what you’ve always done. You know, stuff that no one really talks about publicly. She and I quickly go from deep and serious, to laughing and heckling each other, to disagreeing, to both being moved by Kathie’s exceptional vulnerability. Sorry for the whiplash, but it’s worth it. Kathie also makes me lose my shit with her take on “meaningful” gifts, and then we both confess the same holiday fail and how we handled it differently, and she shares the holiday tradition that her adult kids missed when she stopped doing it.
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Brandy: Hello Adult Conversation Podcast listeners! In this episode, I bring back one of my favorite people, Kathie, who is like the Ghost of Christmas Future with her ability to see the big picture of motherhood since she has seven grown kids. In this interview, Kathie and I quickly go from deep and serious, to laughing (as we heckle each other), to disagreeing, to both being moved by Kathie’s exceptional vulnerability. I’m sorry, but it may give you whiplash. We also talk about something that most people won’t – the intricate family dynamics at holidays, boundaries we’ve set, and the cost of choosing yourself and your family over what you’ve always done. Kathie makes me lose my shit with her take on “meaningful” gifts. We both confess the same holiday fail and how we handled it differently, and Kathie shares the holiday tradition that her adult kids missed when she stopped doing it. All this and more.
Brandy: Okay, I know it’s a ways off, but mark your calendars and grab your friends who need a break from being someone’s perpetual snack bitch for a book signing and weekend away with me in Las Vegas, June 26th through 28th 2020 (that’s next year and it’s a Friday through Sunday). More details to follow but these dates are locked in, and are a perfect excuse to GTFO for a few days. I’m telling you this early so you can get your shit together and join me. Make sure to sign up for emails from me, either via the button on my Facebook page or my website, adultconversationpodcast.com, so you can stay in the loop about details since social media wants to bleed me dry to show you guys anything.
Brandy: Lastly, if you want to support a mom on her side gig, which sometimes feels more like a main gig, (hi, me), go to patreon.com/adultconversation. That’s P-A-T-R-E-O-N.com/adultconversation. Thank you so much to all my beloved Patreon peeps who help keep me going. You are the wind beneath my wings. (singing) Did I ever tell you you’re my hero? You’re everything everything I wish I could be… Okay, that was weird. Onto the show.
Brandy: Alright, today on the podcast, we have with us Kathie Neff. Hello Kathie, welcome.
Kathie: Hi Brandy.
Brandy: I brought you back because everybody loved you, and I love you. I mean, listen to your voice. You’re already soothing me into whatever this is about to be.
Kathie: You’re so sweet.
Brandy: I know you have some great insight on how to keep your sanity in the holidays, and how to set boundaries during the holidays since you have seven grown kids. I feel like when you have seven kids, you have some things in place that other people maybe don’t. So you have a lot that you’re handling, and so I want to pick your brain about actually some of the more … this sounds real corny, but the heart-centered stuff, more of not as practical of things but just how to deal with family stuff, and feeling like you’re good enough.
Brandy: You’re always such a great person to talk to this about because, like the episodes you did before, The Long Game of Motherhood, you always set me straight and keep me back on track and helped me see the big picture. Like in Scrooge, you’re like the Ghost of Christmas Future. You come and you tell us tales of warning and also tales of here’s light at the end of the tunnel and all of those things. So, no pressure, but you have to do all of that today.
Brandy: I want to talk to you about some of the less practical parts of the holidays, and this tricky part, which is family dynamics, boundaries, keeping your heart intact, maybe actually enjoying yourself instead of overextending yourself or sacrificing what’s important to you to make others happy. I know that there are people who tend to be on the people-pleaser side of things, which I think a lot of us women tend to be, somewhat closer there than maybe some of the men. So I think that this time of year is really rough for that personality type. Us women who maybe are learning to set boundaries, like holiday time, all of a sudden it’s like, “Well but it’s the holidays,” we can explain it away.
Brandy: One of the things that is important about you is that you were a motherless child. So your take on this, which I always find so fascinating, is you do such a great job of nurturing and loving and being a mother even though you weren’t shown that by your own mother. You always bring a perspective to it that just blows my mind. Once again, no pressure, but you have to blow our minds today. Okay. How do you decide who to spend your holidays with, with all of this family?
Kathie: We have a tradition of having our family Thanksgiving usually at our home, and a couple of times, it’s been one of the kids’ homes. But for a while we had Thanksgiving every other year on Thanksgiving, and every other year on Friday to allow the ones who have partners, spouses, to be able to have a freedom with their gathering with the other families. But for us, some many years ago, it got complicated. My stepmother didn’t really enjoy children much, and so when she started to be mean to my kids, then we just said, “No, we’re here,” and it’s been many, many years that we’ve done that.
Brandy: Okay. You just went in right for the throat, right immediately? Which is great. Which was one of my questions, is how … because I know this story and I know about the stepmother, but you say that just like, “Oh, and then we just decided we aren’t going to go anymore to her thing,” but I know for the listeners out there who have similar situations with people they don’t want to spend a holiday with, whether they’re not nice, they’re mean, they’re abusive, whatever level of that is. How did you get to that place where you felt like you could make that choice, and you weren’t in the place of like, “Well, but then the kids will miss out on family, and I know that she’s really mean, but we are her family?” All of that mental stuff. How did you get through that and come to that?
Kathie: Yeah. I think it was feeling like I needed to protect the kids from it. There is loss and gain with all of these things.
Brandy: Oh, yeah.
Kathie: Okay. We missed out on a certain dynamic of family from that side of the family, and so I would always go to visit on Christmas and Thanksgiving out to my family, but I didn’t bring the kids. If they wanted to come, they could, but we didn’t spend the day there like normal families do.
Brandy: Well, and was that weird? Were they like, “Why aren’t you bringing the kids?” Or were they like, “We’re relieved you weren’t bringing the kids,” because they didn’t like kids? Was that an elephant in the room?
Kathie: My stepmother … No. You have to understand. I grew up in a family that didn’t really communicate. There was love but not a lot of communication. So I think I just said something like, “Well, we’re going to celebrate at our house every year, and you guys are welcome to come,” and it was never brought up again.
Brandy: So your family is one of the families that are totally okay with a rotting corpse in the corner? That’ll just build a wall around it and just like, “What? There’s no smell. Hi, it’s fine.”
Kathie: Well, that’s very interesting too, because just like in many families, my siblings have their own experience of that family, and so I do not regret it. I do not regret it after all these years because I just feel like we did the best we could with what we knew, and what we knew was it was not a welcoming place and it was mostly my stepmother. Even though my siblings would not agree, they’re not me and they’re not us.
Brandy: Right. So how was it not welcoming? What kinds of things were happening? Are you okay with talking about some of the … Because I’m wondering for the listeners who are in a similar situation, they might think, “Well, oh, she must have hit one of the kids, and that I would never let my kids go to that.” But so I’m wondering if you’re okay with talking a little bit about-
Kathie: Yeah, sure. It was more like, “Oh, are you bringing all the kids?” Or-
Brandy: “No, just the ones we love.” Ridiculous.
Kathie: Well, and it was like every time we were welcoming a new baby into our family, and it was in an age when not a lot of people were having big families, but we were. There was like, “Oh brother! Again?” I mean, just a meanness that was not the way that we tried to be with our kids.
Kathie: It was not the way we tried to be. Even Christmas presents. So the two kids who were closest to them, they got an Atari that year. The kids still talk about this.
Brandy: And these are kids are not your kids, but other cousins?
Kathie: Yeah, the cousins, got an Atari, and they got, I don’t know, something like Skittles or something. I don’t know. It was quite … On the one hand, I do have a couple of things going with my stepmother with this. One is that, when I was a little girl at home, one of the only things she did that was really, really right was making some magic at the holidays. That was one thing that she did right. However, when we were there with our kids, it was almost like she was burned out, and I understand that. I mean I understand being overwhelmed, I understand … It’s almost like my dad would invite a lot of people, but she wasn’t really an entertainer, so in a way that she was having to do the thing that she didn’t want to do, and he definitely wasn’t pitching in. I see it from that angle as well. But I-
Brandy: But the way, it sounds like the way that felt to you when you and your family went was unwelcomed, like they already thought you had too many kids, and then the difference in the gifts were obvious enough that your kids noticed as well?
Kathie: Yeah. Almost like, “Oh, she forgot that they were coming or that they existed or something.” But I think the thing that sums it up though is that as a person who … a mother of a big family, the last thing I wanted these kids to ever feel was like they were too many or they were not welcome. That’s the last thing. It was not our attitude. We had exactly the opposite attitude. We celebrated them, even when it was hard, and they joke about it in the sense that … Well, I was talking to my son yesterday, and he said, “It was really cool, Mom, when we got to start helping be the Santa Claus with you, for the little ones.” I forget that perspective because they could’ve resented it, but-
Kathie: … they didn’t.
Brandy: Well, when you had that awareness come up, “I don’t really want my kids to go somewhere every holiday where they feel unwelcome,” did you let your stepmom know? Did you ask the kids first, “How do you guys feel about this?” Or did you just make this executive decision? I mean, did you waver on it?
Kathie: No, I think we more announced it. I think we just announced it.
Brandy: Did you call them or were you there? Were you like, after one Christmas, “We will not be returning. Announcement, everyone. Ding, ding, ding.”
Kathie: I might’ve said something like, “It’s really just easier to stay home. The kids have their presents here. We’re not that far, we can drop in, but I think we’re going to be at home.” Yeah.
Brandy: And then nobody had a … there was no fallout?
Kathie: No. No, no, no, no, no.
Brandy: The corpse – everybody was like, “We’ll keep building the wall of the corpse.”
Kathie: Well, it’s-
Brandy: I know that’s a weird metaphor, but-
Kathie: Actually, they probably talked about it to each other, because that’s how the dynamic that was in my family. But I didn’t really care because it was almost like, “I’m an adult now, and I don’t have to deal with that.”
Kathie: I don’t have to deal with that anymore, and I definitely do not have to deal with that, watching my kids be mistreated. I mean, I get she didn’t like children. She would tell you, “I don’t like children.” Yeah.
Brandy: You know I feel you on this.
Brandy: You know that I have a story that I’m not really going to get into in great detail here. But that same feeling of, “I’m an adult here. I need to protect my kids, and it is not fair for them to be mistreated, and I’m a person who can set a boundary on that, and I’m really the only person who can set the boundary on that for them.” You know that what you give up is, like you were saying, you know that what you give up is great in both ways. Both ways suck. Both choices. I come back to my life mantra of “all roads suck balls in some way,” but it’s true, and so you pick the one that sucks the least, in your eyes. But there’s … what’s the right word? There are sacrifices for each of them. So it doesn’t mean that by cutting off something like that, that it’s just easy and it just goes away. There are definitely feelings and questioning around that. But then there’s also the piece of protection, and I think a lot of us parents feel that, especially with young kids.
Kathie: My parents did come one year to our house and couldn’t really make it through the day, and I think it was my dad mostly, because I believe now that my dad suffered from anxiety, and I think I recognize now looking back that he was just only comfortable in his home. Who knows if, partially, my decision was based on my own anxiety to be in the home observing this happening with my own children? Yeah, so we throw the little anxiety piece in there and it’s … But it’s just exactly what you said though. It is what it is. We made our best choice, and as a result, the kids didn’t have as much time with those cousins, which my son mentioned yesterday. Not that he mentioned it to throw it in my face, but he said, “Yeah. We had fun with our cousins when we were there,” and it is. I think it’s true that life has choices and there’s a cost either way.
Kathie: There is a cost either way.
Brandy: Have you talked to your kids about that choice that you made now that they’re older? And do any of them have … Have any of them said, “Mom, I’m so glad you didn’t make us go through that, thank you?” Or have some of them said, “I mean, was it really that bad? I would have liked to play with my cousins more?” Is there a gauge of how they felt like that choice you made panned out for them, or are they like, “Eh,” they don’t know any different?
Kathie: Yes, I know that a couple of them have said thank you. But the funny thing is, come round after my dad died, everybody was concerned that the family would never get together, and so I started a family Christmas party where I invited everyone to come to my house on a separate day, not on the holidays, and tried to make it really fun and special. This is so ironic because we were doing it for some years, we did a little pageant every year, and it was the same story, the angels and the sheep, and so on and so forth. We had costumes, and so we did … Every year, we’d have games. For first couple of years, it went pretty good, and then I noticed some resistance from my kids wanting to help with it. At one point, my daughter said to me, “Mom, they’re just laughing at us. They’re just laughing at us.” I thought that was so interesting because that’s exactly the reason I didn’t want to go there. That was a little thing that was a bad habit in the family, was you make fun of everyone and you talk about everyone to where … In our family, we were trying to talk about ideas and about things happening in the world, but this was just a tearing down of people.
Brandy: So your kids would put on this pageant and then the rest of the family would heckle them?
Kathie: Well, that’s what my daughter felt like they were doing, and it was a lot of work for us to do it as a family. For a while, it went really great. It went really great for a while, and then it didn’t. I thought to myself, “Well, that was sort of a compromise, right?”
Brandy: Right. Yes.
Kathie: Yeah. Even though I was carrying a lot of the weight of it, it was still a compromise, and we did it for some years and then we stopped.
Brandy: Did you just one year not invite people, did people ask, “Oh hey, are we doing Christmas at your house?” That conversation where you have to say, “I think this isn’t working.” Did you have to have that conversation?
Kathie: No, actually what happened is little by little people dropped off. You know how things have … they have their own timing sometimes?
Kathie: I like to respond to things like that, and so … but then it was my daughter, and I kept thinking, which is my normal sometimes bad habit of turning on myself. I kept thinking why I didn’t send out the invitations early enough or I didn’t this or I didn’t that, which is possible. I mean, because it’s easy to get overwhelmed at the holidays, but it is what it is.
Brandy: What I always come back to in these situations is, it’s like … This is going to sound so random, but I can’t stand the show “Three’s Company,” and I feel like maybe I’ve talked about it before. But I can’t stand it because it’s always a miscommunication. It’s like if the one person, if Jack would just talk to … I can’t even remember the girls’ names. Oh, Chrissy. If Jack would just talk to Chrissy, and Chrissy would just talk to Jack, they would know what’s going on and then there would be no episode, right? But it used to make me crazy to just know that this whole thing hinges on a conversation, an honest, authentic conversation. In a sense, it reminds me of this, which is I don’t understand, for holidays or really any days, but specifically holidays since we’re talking about it, why two different families or two different sets of people would both show up to something that they both don’t want to be at. I don’t understand how people do that, and I feel like a lot of holidays are that for families because of all the expectations and the obligation and the guilt and the fear and the different personality dynamics and all of this.
Brandy: I mean, and there’s a way to be super extreme about that, which is, well, every holiday doesn’t have to be only the best people that you love the most. There can be some softness around that. But I feel like we should all have the autonomy and we should all be able to set the boundary that, “You know what? This isn’t working for me.” As I’ve found, some people are able to do that and to speak their truth and say what they want and what they don’t want for themselves and their family, and they’re able to do that with kindness, but also keeping boundaries and autonomy. Like, “I’ll give you your autonomy if you give me mine,” and you just cannot control how the other person is going to receive that and whatever their baggage is around it. You can say it in the nicest, most authentic way, and if that person has their own idea of what that is, and even if it’s different than what you intended, all of a sudden you find yourself with a big mess. I think that that’s why a lot of people don’t set those boundaries because they don’t want the mess. But by not wanting that mess, then they accept the mess on the holiday, and then the night of the holiday or the day after, they go, “Oh, that really wasn’t fun for me, and it was annoying to have so and so who I know doesn’t give a shit about my family or whatever.” I mean, again, I don’t know what the right answer is there, but I think that that’s a struggle for a lot of people, is when to put up a boundary, and if I put up a boundary, does it ruin everything?
Kathie: Yeah. Yeah. When I came from a family with no communication, then I built a family founded on communication, I mean to the point that we had the kids, we would have these little sessions when they were little, where they could draw pictures or write their feelings and talk about their feelings. We made time for that. That was a thing we did, and I think as a result of that, we do have better communication. It’s still always going to be human communication-
Brandy: Exactly, flawed.
Kathie: … which is broken at best. But I did notice when I was asking the kids about what … I was asking them their favorite memories of the holidays, and if they had anything that they remember was a kind of a downer. They were very resistant to go there.
Brandy: Was it because they don’t have anything to say or because they just didn’t want to talk negatively?
Kathie: I feel like they sometimes try to protect me. Anyway, two out of seven … No, three out of seven answered the negative question, and then the others dodged it.
Brandy: What was your question, specifically?
Kathie: Well, the first question was, what was your happiest memory of the holidays? And they went there … I mean that was really actually fun because it grew a long thread in the text. But the other one was, what was something that was problematic for you based on somehow my lack of organization or something? It was very interesting to see the different methods of dodging, and it coming back round, “Hey, forgot to answer the question.” They were like, “What question?” But I feel like even though we do not have perfect communication, we keep coming back round. We keep trying, we keep trying, we keep trying, and so finally when I nailed down one of my daughters, she said, “Mom, why would I do that? Why would I go into my memories to look for something negative? Why?”
Brandy: But so that’s interesting that there is not something just on the surface. For her, she would have to dig for something. I think that’s different. I’m just going to give you the full out here. I think that that speaks to there’s nothing on the surface, that she said that she would have to dig. That would mean, “Well, if I really had to think about it,” but if it was right there, if it was like, “God, my mom never did whatever,” it would be right there. Maybe she’s lying. I mean, there’s also that, but I mean, knowing you, I doubt it. But what were some of the gems that you got from them about the happiest memories?
Kathie: Oh, about the music in the house, about some of our little rituals. We had little rituals building up to the holiday, where we would use candles and sing songs, and that was mentioned. Just being together, and then there were these tales of Santa Claus bringing a bike to one, and then the other one said in, “Oh yeah, and the next year, mine was stolen.” I mean, it was just this childhood memory kind of a thing.
Kathie: But mostly I think the things that we did year after year. One thing that was mentioned a lot. We went to church at night, the night before Christmas, and when we would get home, they could open one present. They could pick one present to open because we didn’t celebrate presents on Christmas Eve because I wasn’t that organized. They got to open one present under the tree, and they just … all of them mentioned that they just loved it. They loved it that when we got home from church we could open that present.
Brandy: That is so simple. That right there is so simple, and we’re in an era right now as mothers that we think that that moment that our kids go, “You know what was really the greatest,” is going to be when every night, for 30 days, we moved an elf and made it do weird shit in the kitchen. The standards that we have for the amount of work we have to do to get that response years later is so high, and I just love your reminder that it’s like, no, just opening a gift on Christmas Eve night could be a wonderful memory, and we don’t have to do all this other stuff, the gingerbread houses and all of those things. But I think this is where we all get screwed up, is we’re like, “But what if the gingerbread house was the thing?” And our kids’ personalities are so different. So it’s like I almost feel like we just go overkill so that we make sure they have a memory, but then we’re exhausted and actually don’t enjoy the holidays like we wish we could. So thank you for that reminder of just the most simple thing. That’s not a thing. It’s just you got to open a gift early.
Kathie: Yeah. Well, and that felt like rule breaking, which kids love.
Kathie: Like going to the beach in the middle of the night to watch the sunrise. It feels like rule breaking.
Brandy: Listen to Kathie’s other episodes. I think they are episodes … I don’t know, somewhere in the twos and threes, to hear about how she did that.
Kathie: But I don’t think you’re going to avoid the exhaustion, no matter what. Because we’re-
Brandy: Well, this interview is over. This, Kathie, no. Remember, let’s go back to the beginning when I said blowing minds.
Kathie: Well, I’ll-
Brandy: You’re not blowing minds right now.
Kathie: This is going to blow your mind, because how do you make magic?
Brandy: You don’t.
Kathie: How do you make magic for kids? I don’t know. I feel like the part of me that was the most alive was the magic making part, but often the practical details below that, that’s where I would feel overwhelmed. I heard this a little bit from the kids as well. I don’t know that I enjoyed it as much as they did, but I mean that’s how magic is, right?
Brandy: Right. When I was a kid, I know I loved Christmas more than anything. It was amazing. My mom didn’t necessarily go above and beyond with magic making, but I just loved everything about it. So it makes sense that our kids really experience it in such a fun way that we don’t experience maybe all of that.
Kathie: Well, then I feel like we get a little help from our culture in that, because regardless of how well we’re doing, there’s just … everything is turning magical all around us. I mean-
Kathie: … granted, it’s a part of … the money making machine granted that’s why, but I mean, when you see a tree and it’s lit in the night, when you go to do some regular shopping and you hear songs, which I know are hateful in some ways for people who don’t like that particular message. It’s like, “Oh, there they go again. There’s the angels again.” But it’s almost like you can’t help but get caught up a little bit in the magic.
Kathie: But I do recall a lot of exhaustion.
Brandy: Well, okay.
Kathie: So yeah.
Brandy: Now, I’m going to pull the train back on the track. Okay, but then what is your take on it like, “Don’t try to stop the exhaustion because the exhaustion is going to be there regardless?” Or looking back, are there things that you would’ve done differently? Do you wish you enjoyed it more or looking back, are you like, “The exhaustion was actually part of the magic?” Please tell me that’s not true.
Kathie: Well, my practical brain is telling me that any time I’m doing an event, there’s a certain level of exhaustion that comes, and that’s what we’re doing for our kids. We’re creating this major event, however we do it. Even actually whatever tradition we’re from, it’s an event. At some point, depending on what’s going on in the rest of your life, you reach a point where you’re either right on target, ahead of the game, or you’re way behind. I used to resent some people’s way of checking Christmas off a list. Don’t be offended, Brandy, because I know you’re a good shopper.
Brandy: Wow. Wow.
Kathie: I know you’re good shopper. You’re way in advance.
Brandy: Did you just call me offensive? This is where this is going? Okay.
Kathie: But every year, someone would ask me, “Are you finished with Christmas yet? Are you finished?” I say, “Well, I’ve never missed one yet.” I was that person that would … the last week of Christmas, I was like-
Brandy: Oh my God, no. You were shopping the two days before.
Kathie: Oh, even on Christmas Eve. It was my funnest-
Brandy: (sounds of agony) Kathie.
Kathie: Yeah, my funnest thing, other than for the “required,” everybody had something they wanted and you knew rather quickly that that would be a big disappointment if you didn’t come through.
Brandy: So you at least got those things?
Brandy: Then the rest of it, you left to like-
Kathie: Yeah, like stocking stuffers, and meaning making has caused me some pain at times, because one Christmas … Actually for maybe about three Christmas, I told my husband, “Okay, here’s what going to do. We’re going to go shopping, you and I, for each of the children and get one thing that we both think represents their essence.” Well, you talk about a big … But you know what? I loved it because to me, I’m always at that underneath side of things. I’m looking underneath, but sometimes you feel like let me get those Skittles out.
Brandy: Right. Right. So how did your kids, when they would get these gifts … Just give me an example of a gift that you gave to you kid.
Kathie: Okay. Well, the one was this beautiful little clown, and it looked like Debbie. It looked like Debbie. It was this cute … No, it was a cute little clown with a little China face. It was so cute, and it was adorable and she thought it was adorable too. I don’t know whatever happened to it, but-
Brandy: Hi, Debbie. Merry Christmas. You look like a clown, specifically this clown. Merry Christmas. You didn’t ask for it.
Kathie: I’m glad you were not my kid.
Brandy: Oh my God.
Kathie: Yeah. I can’t think of any. That’s the one that pops to my mind.
Brandy: And did they respond?
Kathie: It was an over the top idea, and I-
Brandy: That was in addition to what they asked for?
Brandy: Okay. All right. All right. We’re good. We’re good. We’re back.
Kathie: Totally. But here’s the thing. I do that to myself, and I don’t know if there are others out there like me, but it’s like I long for the meaning of things.
Kathie: I long for that sort of thing, and that’s the pressure I put on myself sometimes at the holidays. I think of everything that I get very intentionally.
Kathie: It’s exhausting.
Brandy: It is. I’m a gift giver …I mean, I’m not totally off script, maybe like the clown. But I definitely am super thoughtful about the gifts that I give, and therefore I’m not the kind of person ….so what scares me, I feel panic in my body thinking about going two days before Christmas and having to come up with meaningful gifts, because the meaning is important to me. If you only have two days and you don’t find anything, then that means you have to give a non meaningful gift, like bath salts to somebody doesn’t even have a bathtub or something. Like lotions. I’m sorry for all the people out there who are getting or giving lotions. Though there’s people that love it, but it’s like if you give me a lotion, all that means is that you know that I have skin. That’s about it.
Kathie: The secret that the people who are not out shopping late, that those people do not know … Not saying you’re one of them, right?
Brandy: Okay, yes.
Kathie: Is that really it’s not as hard as you think. It’s not as hard as you think. It’s where you go.
Brandy: But see, okay, here’s where I think the problem lies, because, well-
Kathie: This is good! Can we have an argument?
Brandy: Yes, all right.
Kathie: This is so great. I don’t think you’ve ever had one on the podcast yet.
Brandy: I think this is just the difference between you and I, because for me, “meaningful” I think in my mind is useful, and meaningful in your mind is below the surface. How would I say it? Like a soul meaning that actually doesn’t have to make any fucking sense at all. This clown, you look like and represent this clown, and now you will display it. But for me it’s like she just got a clown figurine that just sits there and reminds her that her mom thinks she looks like a clown. So I just think that this highlights maybe one of the differences between us that I treasure. Oh my God also, but wait a minute, you know what’s so funny is I brought you a gift when I came here today, and I don’t know, maybe that had something to do with the essence of you. I gave you salt and pepper shakers that are in … they’re magic wands and there are little holes at them so that you can sprinkle them over food.
Kathie: Enough said. This is perfect. Yes. I-
Brandy: Maybe those aren’t technically … I’m thinking, “I give really thoughtful, meaningful gifts,” and I just gave you garbage, but I thought it would make you smile and I feel like I could just see you because of your magic side. Just dousing … at holidays-
Brandy: … dousing your turkey with magic.
Kathie: You gave me something of meaning.
Brandy: Actually, there’s something that I wanted to go back to that you said. I was at a friend’s house yesterday and I was reading a book that she had that was called Stop Walking on Eggshells. It’s for people who have somebody in their life who has Borderline Personality Disorder. I think it could also go for other mental illnesses. I was just flipping through it because I’m just interested in all that kind of stuff like how to cope with life, how to cope with things you can’t control. But so as it goes through, it validates so well and then it talks about what healthy situations look like.
Brandy: So one of them said … I forget the names they used: Ken cut off communication with his father because he felt his father was abusive, but his brother John did not, and still sees the father and goes to lunch every week. It is healthy for both of them to have a different point of view about it and yet still have their brotherly relationship, even though they disagree on the intensity of the dad and his poor treatment or fine treatment. Going back to what you said about your siblings and how if you asked them, they would have a different point of view, and in my situation and story too, I know that there’s a different point of view that people feel different than I do about the specific person that I’m talking about.
Brandy: But it’s all valid, is what I wanted … which I loved about that book, was that we think that if we feel some way, if we feel like somebody’s abusive, or we don’t want to spend time with them, but the rest of the family doesn’t have a problem with it, we feel like we’re the problem. A lot of times we bend towards, “Well, everybody else is fine with it.” Actually the healthy thing looks like you setting your boundaries regardless of what the other people think. I mean, what if they are a bunch of doormats? What have you have a doormat family, right? And you’re not that? So then you just have to be a doormat? No. I just felt like when I read that yesterday, it was like, “Wow! I’d never seen a professional and in a book like this really point out how that can feel healthy,” and I just wanted to validate for other people how sometimes that can feel like we’re in the wrong, but you know what you feel is valid, and if you feel like your kids are in jeopardy with somebody or even that it’s just in order to gain a certain amount of positivity, there’s a certain amount of abuse that you and your kids have to take on holidays, that’s real. That’s not just made up. Even if the other parts of the family don’t agree with it and don’t have a problem with it, it’s still your truth.
Kathie: Yeah, totally. I think the piece that comes back to me in the guise of longing is to be able to have the conversations, the meaningful conversations, the genuine conversations with my siblings, that I’m able to have with my own little family. I finally have come to the place to understand that I may never get that. Yeah, we don’t have that. We don’t have that. When we talk about it, the closest I get is with my sisters, my two sisters. We just don’t see it the same way.
Kathie: We don’t see it the same way at all. I’ve thought about that a lot because it made me feel very broken for a while. But what I’ve come to is that I am intuitive, I am empathic, and I’m very sensitive to things that a lot of people miss, and that’s me. I’m lucky I can live in my family and be myself.
Kathie: So that tells me that it’s not just me, because there are a lot of places that I can be myself, just not always with them.
Brandy: That’s such a good point, which is when you are … I don’t want to say the black sheep of the family, but when your family has a certain way of operating, they have a certain code of ethics, perhaps, and then you fall on the outside of that, it’s easy to feel like you’re the broken one and that why can’t you just assimilate into this? But we know the fallacy of that, which is you be true to who you are, and if you need to make changes or something is too much for you or something is not enough and you want to speak up about that, you have every right to do that. I always think, especially if it’s done with kindness, right? There’s a way to be loving and kind and still set the boundaries, to be true to yourself and what your needs are, and what your family’s needs are. Your own little family, I think, is so important, and it’s also a new place for many people to be in when they have small kids because they’re used to being one of the kids. Then all of a sudden, they become the parent and it’s like, “Wow!”
Brandy: For example, “My abusive aunt or whatever, I could always put up with that. But now my kids, I’m the protection for them.” So you find yourself having to make hard choices that you never really maybe felt like you needed to make for yourself. But when you’ve got little people who don’t know why the aunt is like that and that it’s not personal to them, she’s just a bitch or whatever, there’s somebody who’s got to stick up for the kids there.
Kathie: Yeah, most definitely. I’m a firm believer we just do our best. I would like to say a word to those who are still trying to figure it out, and it took me a long time to figure this out. I mean, a long time. Longer it seems like than it should have. I would just say to you, just be on your own side when you’re in the struggle, because it’s not easy to come to that choice, and it’s not easy to figure out, “Well, why am I the only one that is seeing this in my family?”
Brandy: Oh my gosh.
Kathie: It’s a lonely place.
Brandy: Yeah, and then you feel like almost like am I being gaslit, or am I over sensitive? But that’s the thing too is like, “But wait a minute.” When you really think about it logically, I just require that my kids and myself aren’t around somebody who is toxic or who likes to make fun of us or push our buttons or make us feel bad. That’s a really reasonable request. I think we sometimes have to think about, what am I asking for? Because those of us in those situations feel over sensitive, feel like maybe we’re asking too much or we’re demanding, and then it’s like, “No, wait. Go back and really look at what you’re asking for,” and it’s not too much. It’s like basic human treatment. It’s like that’s not too much.
Kathie: Yeah. Bottom line for me, my filter was, is it okay to be myself here?
Brandy: Like to know if this is a safe place, if I should be here or not?
Kathie: Is it okay for me to be myself, and allowing myself to be on my own side, to say “Yes, it’s okay for you to be yourself,” and then if it becomes uncomfortable, then just back away or do something else. We’re not very good at conflict in my family, so I think in a way that probably kept things from escalating into some really negative stuff. But on the other hand, you can die in silence.
Brandy: Well, that’s what I’m saying about the corpse in the corner, is families that do not like conflict, it’s like you have this rotting thing in your family that everybody can smell and yet they just keep putting up more plastic tarp, just instead of being like, “Hey, does everybody see the dead body?!” That’s how I feel, in my family, I’m always like, “Do you guys know we have a dead body in the corner?” And everybody’s like, “No, there’s no dead body.” And I’m like, “What?” So yeah, that place of not wanting to have conflict. It’s like in the moment maybe there’s less issue and you have less mess, but the corpse is there. It’s like it’s just seeping into everything.
Kathie: Yeah, it’s true.
Brandy: Again, it’s like which way is better? There’s no right way. Both have their downsides.
Kathie: Yeah, yeah. But I don’t think if I had just been a sheep, because I kind of feel like that’s the acceptable thing to be in a way, is to be a sheep, although I could see exceptions to that too. But I feel like if I had been a sheep, I don’t think I would have raised the same family that I did.
Kathie: I think that my choices toward loving behavior and good communication as really the highest values, it was a good choice. I think it was a good choice, and when my husband got diagnosed with cancer, everybody came and we spent four hours talking about how we felt and making space for everyone to say, “Where are you at with this?” I feel like that is the gift that came back to us, is our kids and who they are, and they care about people and they treat people well. I mean, yeah, totally worth it. Yeah, totally worth it.
Brandy: Yeah. When we’re thinking about these moments and these choices that we’re making in our kids’ lives and we’re thinking about them on the real micro level.
Brandy: This is why I always love you so much is because you show the macro level, the how does this pan out part? So to know if you are lock-tight about honesty, communication and love, and your actions follow those priorities, then what comes out of it is when Dad is diagnosed with cancer, everybody’s there and they’re there authentically and genuinely, and they know how to share their feelings and they know that this is a safe space, and it’s the amount of work and moments that you built that are many in those years. And then the fruit of that is being able to have that really beautiful response.
Kathie: Yes, and it brings a clarity to me as I say the words, as I feel into being in this very room, everybody just laying around. No grandkids, just the kids, and they’re coming as the children to their parents to talk about, “This sucks,” and then to plan how we can help, what that looks like, and then showing up. We arrived at every appointment with a gaggle of kids. Whoever could make it, they scheduled themselves, and of course they made it a contest, see who’s the favorite child.
Brandy: Well, with seven, they’re going to be some competitive spirits in there, right?
Kathie: Most definitely. It’s a fun game.
Brandy: When do you want to read that thing? And was that to your question about the positive?
Kathie: Okay, so this is a-
Brandy: Was that you asking her a question?
Kathie: I made this contest about asking these two questions. One was a positive memory, one was a negative memory. One of them said he doesn’t love religion, but he loved the song that we sang at advent and passing the light. We’d turn all the lights out, we would each have a candle and they were little, and they shouldn’t be playing with fire but we allowed them to.
Brandy: The rule breaking again!
Kathie: Yeah, the rule breaking, and they pass the … We would, somebody would sit near the littlest one and try to manage them, but everybody had a candle. We’d pass it around, sing this song, and that was his favorite memory. Then my daughter though, I feel like she went deeper. May I read it to you?
Brandy: Yeah, absolutely. So this is a message from Kathie’s daughter about what her favorite memory from the holidays – or Christmas, specifically?
Kathie: Christmas. Yeah. This also indicates the competitiveness. “Here’s my response. I better win. I loved the house filled with music, all the favorites. John Denver, Roger Whitaker. There was always baking and preparing going on until all hours and early into the morning. I really loved being a part of that. Still do. Didn’t like? That’s a little harder. I think the hard part for me was you feeling like it wasn’t enough when the most wonderful memories I have…” (Kathie crying) Excuse me. “…were always more than enough. I mean, I get it, and I have the same feelings myself as a mom, but what I remember most fondly is the time spent together.”
Kathie: That one broke my heart open, in a good way, in a good way, because she really dove in deep and saw not just her own memories, but also her trying to provide memories to her three boys. Also, I think when we were raising our family, we didn’t have a lot of money. I mean, we had a big family, we were both just kids when we married really, and we didn’t have a lot of money. Dan worked really hard so that I could stay home with the kids, and so our kids witnessed our vulnerability probably more than most parents. So they have this protective sense of … they could see how hard we were trying to give them whatever they wanted, within reason, and make the holidays really, really special. I always felt like I was resistant to the idea that we had to have a lot of money to make that happen, and that’s why we had a lot of traditions and we had a lot of surprises. So the thing you got often, you didn’t know you were going to get it. It was like a surprise.
Kathie: The one year that comes to mind was when our second oldest was a senior at a small high school, and he didn’t have … he had his class ring on hold. We had said, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll get it, but we can’t pay for it all right now,” and it was on hold. We knew the principal and we went and we got his ring and we gave it to him for Christmas. I still remember the shock look on his face because he knew the balance. How many kids know that? Right?
Kathie: But when you don’t have a lot of money, that’s how you do life. I’ll never forget his face looking at that, and wondering, “How the heck did this happen?”
Brandy: Wow. Then that text that your daughter sent, she’s also shaking you a little bit of like, “Mom, you are good enough.”
Kathie: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Brandy: Like, “Don’t beat yourself up over this. Don’t even go there.”
Kathie: Well, my daughter, my oldest daughter, she said, “Why would I do that?” I was telling my son … I was telling it as a funny … My second oldest actually. Yesterday on the phone, I was telling him, “You can’t believe how many people dodged this question in our family.” I told him what she said about why would I do that, and he said, “Well, she’s not wrong.”
Brandy: Yeah, right.
Kathie: So there is this little piece of protectiveness there.
Brandy: Yeah. I think it’s helpful for those of us who are in the young kid stage, is I think we all think we’re going to ruin our kids if we don’t provide them with everything that they want. I mean obviously, different people feel different about how far on that. But we think that our kids aren’t someday going to understand how hard we tried, and so you give a beautiful illustration of that, which is your daughter’s saying, “Mom, it was enough.” All of us who feel like we have to scramble to the nth degree, it’s like maybe we can pull back because we know that as adult children, they come back to us and go, “I know you were trying to do the best that you could,” and they aren’t … It’s like sometimes we forget because in the little kid stage, it’s just like, “Well, did I get what I wanted?” It seems very concrete, but we don’t maybe realize that they grow up and that they see the perspective change. So maybe we don’t cater to the kid version of them 100%, but we cater to the adult version of them as well, and to the whole version of ourselves, and try to, like you said, beyond our own side.
Kathie: Also, I think as I go back, when I think about forgiving my stepmother and forgiving my childhood in a way, I realize that the one thing we did different that I think has made all the difference is that we said we were sorry when we made a mistake. We said we were sorry and we meant it, and that didn’t happen in the home that I came from. I mean, I think always, there’s some things you keep from what … I think some of the magic I wanted to create was from the creative spirit of my stepmother, who created magic for us when we were little. But also, some things you carry on, some things you leave behind.
Brandy: It’s like what you always say about you take what you need and you leave the rest. So you take the parts with you that really resonated, and then the parts that you felt like were missing, then you create them for your own family. I mean, that’s one of the most amazing things about being a parent, is doing, “this is how I wished it had been done.” It’s not necessarily dig at our upbringing because we always know our parents were doing the best that they could, and sometimes, like you’ve said, it fucking wasn’t good enough. Some people have situations where it just wasn’t good enough, but it doesn’t mean that you don’t understand these people had limits and they were trying their best.
Kathie: Right. Also I think too that it’s just like labor. There’s not a magic way that you’re going to figure out to get that baby out, and you’re going to have that certainty, if I just do X, Y, Z, because there are too many variables. It’s the same thing with parenting. It’s the same thing with life. There’s no magic guarantee if you do X, Y, Z. I think I went through a long phase of that, particularly when I was younger thinking, “Oh, my parents didn’t raise me with a very solid religious upbringing.” Then, I mean, that just got all blown out of the water too. It’s like no, there’s no magic answer except I think to keep coming back loving, to keep loving, to no matter what … I said this the last time and I stand by it. There’s nothing you can do that I will not love you. There’s nothing. I can’t not love you, and that’s a big thing.
Brandy: I think to be clear about that too, is I know when you’re talking about it in this context, you’re talking about with your little core family.
Kathie: Yes. Yes.
Brandy: Because I think sometimes people who tend to be maybe more people-pleaser types think, “Oh yeah, I have to be loving, which means I have to just give myself up to make other people happy.” That idea, so that when we’re talking about being loving, we’re talking about with your core family, your little nuclear kids, and also yourself.
Brandy: So there was something I posted on Facebook that I saw go by, that just struck me. It was a poem, and it’s from a book called we carry the sky by mckayla robbin, and it’s just a quick little poem and it says, “No is unnecessary magic. No draws a circle around you with chalk, and says, ‘I have given enough.’ Signed boundaries.'”
Kathie: I love that.
Brandy: I love it too because when we’re talking about love and when we’re talking about coming to something with love and kindness, we also have to remember that that’s for ourselves and it’s not just for everybody outside of ourselves. So going back to what you said when you told me that there’s always going to be the exhaustion of the holidays. You’re probably right about that. So maybe my quest to figure out how to have it be stress free and not exhausting is stupid and pointless.
Brandy: But there are some important parts about that quest, which is, okay, if this thing is not … if we can’t fix it, there’s no magic way to have it happen, but also not have it be taxing in some way. Maybe we accept that there’s going to be exhaustion, but maybe what we can control on it is what kind of exhaustion are we willing to take on and how much. Right? It’s like if you think about it in terms of there’s the exhaustion of the logistical presence for kids, how much of that you’re going to do or not do, and some of the magical making, so whether that’s gingerbread house or advent candle or the singing or all of these things. Then maybe there’s the exhaustion of the emotional side with the family dynamic and being somewhere that you don’t want to be, or having people over that you don’t want to, or whatever version of that people have. So maybe it’s knowing, “Okay, I’m not going to get through this where it’s just easy,” but where makes the most significant difference for me to choose to pull back on?
Kathie: Also for me, what are the things that are most meaningful to me?
Kathie: If I were imagining maybe there was no money, we could still sit in a circle and we could speak a kind word to each other. That’s the lens that I always use. It’s always that, the intangible, and it doesn’t always work.
Brandy: Well, I mean, and that’s the thing too. So to know that everybody out there is going to … Everybody has a different lens.
Brandy: So for some people, they’re going to go, “I’ve got family I love, and there’s no issue so that is a no brainer. But what really gets me down is all the gift buying. So how can I do less of that, or how can I delegate that to my husband or spouse? How can I do it in some way that I’m not running around town?” Or whatever the thing is for you. It’s like I think we all need to sit and take inventory of ourselves and what’s meaningful to us and important, and what things we like. It’s like what you asked your kids, what are your positive memories and what are your negative memories? So maybe we sit with that for ourselves as the magic makers and we think to ourselves, “What are my favorite parts, and what aren’t, and how can I maybe make sure that my energies are put towards the things that I like and that my family likes and that support us?” Then the other things, how can we weed some of those out? So then you’re just shifting the tables. It’s not that you’re doing away with any of the hard stuff, it’s just you’re trying to just have that scale tip, hopefully a lot, but even just a little bit so that it’s a net gain, in some way.
Brandy: So I would love to hear your story about the year that your Christmas tree did not work out, and I would like to compare and contrast it to the year that my Christmas tree did not work out.
Kathie: May I say I was on the phone with you when your Christmas tree wasn’t working out?
Kathie: Do you remember that? Yes. Okay. So this is my version, I’m going to tell it. Brandy, I was on the phone with her and she was ill. You were explaining how the Christmas tree fell over and that you felt … I mean, it sounded like you’re on your death bed, but you are going to redo the Christmas tree that night. I’m thinking in my head, “Why are you doing that?” Okay. This explains why, where my thinking comes from. One year my husband went to … He was, I think, in between jobs and he had an opportunity to work in New York, and he went to New York for two weeks, and it included Christmas, which is just like … that’s the first-
Brandy: Christmas day?
Kathie: That was the first time we’d ever been separated on Christmas, separated for doing the tree, the whole thing. Okay. I was being power woman on this, so I went and got a live tree like we usually do, and I got out his saw, and I cut the end of the tree off, which I thought I did awesome with.
Brandy: Dude, that’s badass.
Kathie: I thought I did awesome with and I saved that little chunk of wood as a symbol of my strength. Then I tried to drill out the inside so the tree wouldn’t die, which I did not do very well on. So I put the tree up and watered it and decorated it, and about, I don’t know, four days, five days later, it was dead, deader than a doornail. I thought, “Oh shit.” I don’t know what got over me, but I just thought … I think I was driving in the neighborhood, and I saw somebody had created a Christmas tree in their yard, and it was made of a ladder, and I thought, “That’s very attractive.”
Brandy: That’s wood. It’s similar.
Kathie: Well, actually, I only had a metal ladder, but it did have green edges, so with a little imagination. So I literally took my … It’s my ladder actually. I asked for it for my birthday one year. It’s my ladder. It’s a short ladder. So I put it in front of my big bay window in the front of the house, and I turned it sideways so that it looked like a tree, and I strung lights on it and I posted it on Facebook, which I said, “Well, this is the next best thing.” Right?
Brandy: How old were your kids?
Kathie: Yeah. Yeah.
Brandy: Do you think that would have been different if they were kids? Would you think you would’ve had a different take on that?
Kathie: If they cried, yeah, I would would’ve…
Brandy: Okay. Let’s cut back to my story.
Kathie: Okay, okay. Please, tell your version.
Brandy: Well, because the crying is part of it, and this is why … maybe this is a difference in our ages of our kids. So we put the tree up. I remember being sick, but I remember there was only one weekend that we were all going to be home and it was like … and then you have the right amount of time so that it doesn’t die, and all of those things. So we put it up and it’s one of those moments when you’re at the place and they’re cutting it, and they’re cutting it and you’re like, “That looks a little bit not right,” but I’m like, “I don’t want to tell this cutter how to do his job, so it’s probably fine.” Well then we get home and it’s slanted in the stand, and so I’m like, “Oh, I should’ve said something.” Anyway, we decorate this whole thing, and at some point we’re looking at it, and I think back then my kids were … My daughter was pretty young. I think she was two or three, so then my son was nine. Anyway, we’ve just decorated this whole thing and all of a sudden it falls over. The whole thing. Yeah, and you’re laughing at me, which is fabulous. So it is pretty funny, and the best … So it falls over, and there are these two or three ornaments that are really meaningful to us. One of them was my daughter’s footprint, and it broke. I saw that it had broken and I completely started crying. In those situations, I’m not an immediate crier, but it was getting the energy to go do it, all the work that went into it, and all of that, and then my kids putting all the stuff on, and then thinking that that was broken. I just immediately started bawling. I was done, right? I was just like, “This can’t be real.” Then my kids, I can just see them, they were like, “What?” Then they looked at me, and then they both were like, “Wahhhh” immediately. Then, it’s like my three-year-old is crying and then my nine-year-old’s crying.
Brandy: My husband was over in the kitchen somewhere, and I know in that moment he was like, “Who are these people? These people are so fragile.” Yeah, it was great. I immediately … In that moment, my kids are crying and I’m so pissed about the tree being cut this way because if it were not cut that way, my Christmas wouldn’t have been ruined and were we going to be able to glue together this ornament and whatever? It was just a whole bunch of frustration. But I know in my mind if we don’t go and fucking fix this right now, we have this mess that is going to just lay with us on our floor for two weeks until Christmas. So I did I think what I’ve been taught to do, is pull myself up by the bootstraps and instead of taking the ladder tree, because I’ve got kids crying and I’m in my head like, “We have to now fix this, we have to teach our kids that when things go bad you, you get back into it,” or I don’t … I wasn’t consciously thinking that, but so we went to the tree lot and got another tree and started the whole process over. This was probably at 5:00 PM when you’re done with it all.
Brandy: We glued the ornament back, and so then we had a lovely tree. You can bet your ass, I was real clear about how to cut the tree so that it wasn’t slanted when we went the next place. Anyway, I know that you and I do things differently. I have my Christmas shopping done usually really early, and you … It gives me a panic to even say it.
Kathie: Panic attack!
Brandy: You go out the day or two before and find “meaningful things.” So I know that’s different, but I think too, if I had older kids, if my kids were older, would I even do a tree? I don’t even know that I’d give a shit about any of this stuff because they were older. But because that moment happened and they were younger and we were all crying, it was like, “Someone has to fix this,” and so I swooped in.
Kathie: You did good. You did good. I will tell you that the older children do notice things, and if they get attached to something, and I’ll tell you how I learned that. We had one Thanksgiving and we always have this fruit salad that’s made with-
Kathie: No. It’s a weird one. Anyway, fruit cocktail and a little bit of mayonnaise.
Brandy: Oh yeah.
Kathie: And cherries and cherry juice. Okay. I was like, “Oh, I forgot it. No big deal.” Kids get here. “Oh my gosh, there’s no fruit salad. Let’s run over the store, we’ll make it real quick,” and off they go. I’m like, “Wow! Okay. Who knew that the fruit salad was going to be a thing?”
Brandy: That it was so meaningful.
Kathie: With the older ones, those traditions, sometimes they’re expecting them.
Brandy: Well, that was a wild ride through all the emotions. Kathie is the best. I hope our candid sharing helped you make a tiny or big change towards being on your own side this holiday season. If you loved holiday, Kathie, you will love her other visits to the podcast in episodes three and four, where she talks about the long game of motherhood and also mother wounds.
Brandy: I’d love to hear what changes you’re making and how they’re going! You can join me and other listeners in our Facebook group, The Adult Conversation Podcast Discussion Group, where we hash out each episode together. I’ve already heard from some of you, which is super inspiring (you guys are nailing this).
Brandy: If you’re enjoying the Adult Conversation Podcast, don’t forget to stop right now and give me a rating (please) or even better yet, a review. Or even BETTER, support me on patreon.com.
Brandy: As always, thanks for listening.
** As always, thank you to Scott Weigel and his band, Seahorse Moon, for providing me with that jaunty intro and outro music. You guy are awesome. Check ’em out on iTunes.