In a discussion based on their book Overwhelmed, Kathi Lipp and Cheri Gregory explain how you can find peace when dealing with people who are "crisis creators" or who overwhelm you with their personality. Our guests discuss setting healthy boundaries, practicing self-care, relying on God, and more. (Part 2 of 2)
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Jim Daly: Hey, John, last time, we started what I believe was a tremendously helpful conversation for those who feel overwhelmed by relationships, especially during, uh, the Christmas holiday season, which I think is pretty much everybody at one point or another. I mean, I see it with Jean, too. She gets a little stressed out. And, uh, you know, she’s trying to do it well, do it sometimes perfectly. And even though she would say, “I know I can’t do it perfectly,” but, um, she’s still gonna try. And I loved what Kathi and Cheri shared about last time - that importance of making it a point to pre-decide, uh, how you’re going to respond before you’re in the situation, and you respond out of the emotion of the moment, rather than out of what God would want you to do. And, you know, sometimes we leave God on the side when we’re dealing with our family, uh, because they know we’re Christians, and we don’t have to put it on display. And, uh, sometimes that’ll get you in trouble. And we’re gonna give you, I think, wonderful tools to be able to better manage the chaos of this holiday season.
. And we have that and a CD and free download of our conversation at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Kathi and Cheri, welcome back to Focus.
Kathi: Always great to be here.
Cheri Gregory: Thanks for having us back.
Jim: Now we ripped it open yesterday...
Jim: ...And started talking about all those painful moments...
Jim: ...Uh, the in-laws, the husband gets on your nerves, all those...
Jim: ...All those great details. And if you missed it, I would download it or get the, uh, smartphone app so you can listen to it at your leisure. But it’s a wonderful conversation we started and very real. I appreciate that. I think that’s one of the disservices we can do in Christian communication is we kind of go with perfect. And everybody’s going, “I don’t live there.”
Jim: And so I - you guys always bring that wonderful heart of imperfection. That’s a compliment by the way.
Jim: That is a compliment, so...
Kathi: We’ll take it as such.
Jim: And let’s start there for those who didn’t hear the program last time. Describe what being overwhelmed during this time of year looks like and feels like.
Kathi: Well, I think the keystone feeling for me is feeling like it should be easier - it just should be. It seems like everybody else, they’ve got it under control, their kids rise up and call them blessed. Uh...
Kathi: Exactly, right? And everybody’s family gets together, and they agree on everything. And by the way, I’m an excellent cook, and so I can just put this feast on the table and nobody has to help out. And I can have those fantasies, you know, in August. But as November and December land on me, I realize, you know, my family, we have these points that are stressful. And then I’m not as good as I think I am when it comes to all the cooking and all of that kind of stuff. And why isn’t anybody helping me, even though I didn’t ask anybody to help me? And the overwhelm...
Jim: That’s good right there.
Kathi: ...Can get - it - the overwhelm can get to every area, and you feel like, not only am I failing, but I’m in this boat alone.
Jim: Now, Cheri, I don’t mean to put you on the spot. But being the firstborn daughter, do you have a little bit inside of you that says, “Well, I’m close to perfect in that way - I get things done?”
Cheri: You know, I am a getter-doner, but my mother was a home economics major.
Cheri: And so...
John: Different standards.
Jim: There’s just no relief for you.
Cheri: ...There was - there’s just no way I could ever - and she had a double oven. I finally figured that out last year. I could never...
Cheri: I could never get hot foods on the table hot and cold on the table cold. And I finally - my brother reminded she had a double oven, and I don’t. I’m like, well, there we go.
Jim: You know, nowadays, it’s a triple oven.
Jim: I’m kidding. I don’t know.
Cheri: Yeah. But, you know, I think part of this is realizing I don’t actually like to cook unless there’s a lot of people in the kitchen with me and - because I’m a collaborative person. And so when I started realizing, “Hang on, I’m in the kitchen all by myself, everybody else is out someplace else having fun. I’m in here feeling persecuted, but I have to do it this way because it’s the way we’ve always done it.” It was so helpful to realize, you know, let me figure out who could help me with different dishes. And it turned out my daughter wanted to learn how to make, um, the tabbouleh. My son wanted to learn how to make the, uh, baklava. And so I started divvying up some of the dishes and inviting them. I think this is so important - is we - we have it all in our head, we don’t ask for help, we don’t let other people know the expectations, and we think our expectations are the only ones in the room. And I also found out of all the things that I - because I actually did start cooking all the foods from my husband’s side of family and all the foods from my side of the family, so like, 20 dishes all for the same meal. And we finally sat down and said, “Let’s talk about what we really need. Let’s all talk about what it really takes to make this a good holiday.”
Jim: Sounds like the Mediterranean diet is where you landed?
Cheri: Yeah, well, we did, yeah.
Cheri: But you know what? It turned out is it turned out that what my kids wanted is they wanted a mom who was present and happy.
Cheri: They didn’t care about anything else. They wanted mom to be a lot less stressed.
Jim: I want to kind of, er, put a little more emphasis on this idea of expecting people to do more without asking them to do more. Because I...
Jim: ...I think every woman’s going, “Oh, I meant to,” or saying, “Wow, yeah, I do that.”
Jim: How do you catch yourself to be fair to that person?
Jim: I mean, here we get - we...
Jim: ...Build up this bitterness or resentment.
Jim: And they’re not mind readers.
Kathi: Okay, it’s all time and expectations. This is a common theme for us. And so what I finally did is - because I have people in my family who want to help, but I’m in such a mode it’s hard for me to say, “Yes, go make the fruit salad,” when it’s just easier to do it myself because...
Jim: Is it easier, or is there a little bit of pride there - if I can get it all done, then it shows how efficient, effective and wonderful I am?
Kathi: I’m very low on the pride angle.
Kathi: But I understand...
Jim: Well, I mean for some...
Kathi: ...For other...
Kathi: ...People, yes.
Kathi: And, you know, there are some...
Jim: ...Shaking her head yes.
Kathi: Well, there are some people...
Jim: No, that’s fine. I love it.
Kathi: ...Who are known for their...
John: We’re all wired different.
Kathi: ...Pumpkin pie.
Kathi: And it would be sacrilege in the family for anybody but Aunt Betty to do the - the pumpkin pie. Let Aunt Betty do her thing. That’s great. But in my house, it’s like putting the cheese plate together. And so now what I’ve got is I have a list; I call it my help list.
Kathi: And so I think through, at least a day before, maybe it’s two days before, what is anything that anybody else could possibly do? And so putting the cheese plate together, unloading the dishwasher, walking the dog - we live in a townhouse, so we - the dog needs to be walked twice a day. And somebody else can be doing that while I’m basting the turkey. And so I put together that - that whole list. And this is gonna sound crazy, Martha Stewart. I don’t care. It helps me, and so it makes me happy. I put all the cheeses that need to go on that cheese plate in one bag and says there’s the cheese plate. And by the way, I don’t care what the cheese plate looks like at the end.
Jim: Okay, now you’re talking my language.
John: Well there you go.
Kathi: As long as there are carbohydrates and cheese products on the plate, my family’s happy.
Jim: I am typically the cheese plate preparer.
Kathi: Yes. Now...
Kathi: ...Are you given very specific instructions...
Kathi: ...Or do you just get to go wild?
Jim: I think I actually have a little knack for display.
Kathi: You have a flare.
John: He does it well already.
Jim: Or - yeah.
Kathi: You’ve got a natural...
Jim: Jean buys the cheese.
Jim: But it’s just me cutting them, and...
Jim: ...Well, I might even put little pickles around and relish.
Kathi: Look at that.
Jim: John’s puckered face.
John: Pickles on a cheese plate?
Jim: Well, you know, like, little pickles, and you...
John: Sure. Why not?
Jim: ...Put other stuff on there, too.
Kathi: And by the way, there is somebody in your family who w
Kathi: Now, my husband will help all the time. He’s great.
Jim: I hear a little hesitance there.
Kathi: What do you mean?
Jim: Yeah, he’ll help all the time...
Kathi: No, he...
Jim: ...But not very helpful at all.
Kathi: No, no, here’s what I’ll say about what I’ve learned. Roger will do anything that I don’t tell him telepathically. I have to actually tell him with my mouth, “Hey, it would be great if you unloaded the dishwasher. Hey, could you - can we...”
Jim: We have just moved into marriage advice.
Kathi: Yeah. It’s...
Kathi: It’s never occurred to him that the dishwasher needs to be unloaded.
Jim: Everybody’s overwhelmed in different ways.
Jim: That may be most guys going, “I don’t even know where to start here.”
Kathi: Right. And he doesn’t want to do the wrong thing that...
Kathi: ...Then will set me off.
Kathi: Like, “Why are you out cleaning the barbecue? That...”
Jim: ‘Cause it’s outside the house.
Kathi: But, you know, there are other people - I would never ask my mom to come over and clean my bathroom...
Kathi: ...You know.
Jim: Her day is done.
Jim: She doesn’t need to...
Jim: ...Do that.
Kathi: She is now the queen...
Jim: She did her time.
Kathi: ...Bee. Yeah, she - and she still helps, but let’s give her fun projects.
Jim: ...Kind of tape it to the cabinet?
Cheri: I have spreadsheets.
Jim: Yeah, spreadsheets.
Cheri: I literally...
Cheri: Yeah, but...
Jim: That might be a little much, but...
Cheri: But, you know, I think a lot of it is we think this should all come naturally.
Cheri: Like, you know, it happens every year. I should remember. Oh, my goodness. But when you make the list, and you’ve got it saved on your computer, and you keep adding to it each year, and you tweak it just a little bit, it is such a comfort to bring it up. And a lot of stuff can be done in October...
Cheri: ...A lot of stuff can be done early.
Jim: But now here we are in November. So the...
Jim: ...Advice you would have is to take a deep breath, get through this year...
Jim: ...Let’s aim for next year.
Kathi: And then write down everything you did...
Kathi: ...So that you can repeat it for Christmas.
Jim: Those things that you liked?
Jim: Not everything...
Jim: ...You did.
Kathi: Right, right.
Jim: Yelled at grandmother.
Kathi: Oh, no.
Jim: Don’t write that down.
Kathi: Don’t write that down.
Kathi: So even do the back of an envelope and say, “Here are the 10 things that we need to get done, and here are the three people I can ask.” And do that list right now. Do not get up from where you are sitting right now listening to this. Make the list now.
John: All right. From the back of the envelope to the spreadsheet...
John: ...A lot of good advice from our guests on Focus on the Family about, uh, mitigating some of the, uh, anxieties that you’re gonna to face this holiday season. Kathi Lipp and Cheri Gregory on Focus on the Family. You can get their book and a download of our conversation at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Okay, what about this situation where, um, I’ve seen this happen with the daughter-in-law wants to help out...
John: ...But it’s never gonna be done properly.
John: How do you cut through that? So let’s flip it around and say we want to be with family, and we want to help them, but they don’t want our help the way we do it.
Kathi: Well, I think it depends on if you’re the mother in-law or the daughter-in-law, and then the husband also has a role to play in all of this. So as a mother-in-law, which I am, um, to a wonderful young man, Sean, I want to honor his contributions because he’s as much a part of this family as I am, just because we’ve been hanging out longer together. So he brings a new aspect to things, and I want to be able to honor that. And so as I have a daughter-in-law, I hope I’ll be able to do that as well, to be able to say, “You are welcome here, we want to find out more about you.” And if she says, “You know, in our family, we have cranberry cheesecake every single year. Could I bring that?” I want to be the kind of person that says “The more the merrier. We want to honor that.”
If you’re the daughter-in-law, and you’re not feeling accepted, it’s time to have a conversation with your husband and just say, “What’s our best strategy here? How’s the best way for me to honor your mom in this?” Because you’re not trying to usurp her authority. You’re not trying to kick her out. You just want to say, “Hey, I want to do,” and maybe it’s in a small way, maybe it’s a small contribution. Instead of saying, “Okay, well, in our family, we did these six things, and so I want to bring them to your family,” that could be overwhelming. So let’s say is there a small way you can do it? But I’m hoping that the mother-in-laws out there are saying, “You know, it may not be done the way I would do it, but that just brings something new and fun to our family.” And so we have to approach both ends of this with grace and putting the other person in front of us and honoring each other in the relationship.
Jim: And you talk about the husband being involved. Now you got to give us the instruction.
Kathi: Okay, yes.
Jim: What are we doing with this information...
Jim: ...Once we get it?
Kathi: There are conversations that my husband can have with his mom and that he can have with me that only he can have.
Jim: So he has to play that negotiator role?
Kathi: Right. But you know what? What he’s trying to do is honor both of these important...
Kathi: ...Women in his life. But let’s be clear - his job is to protect his wife. And so he wants to honor his mom. I want to honor his mom. And so I need to tread lightly in those situations. But Roger’s going to be the one who says, “Mom, we need to make some space. You know, it’s not just about us anymore. And I know you love Kathi. So let’s - how do we make room for Kathi?”
Kathi: I can’t have that conversation with my mother-in-law, but she can have it with her beloved Roger.
Jim: Cheri, uh, self-care - we touched on it lightly last time, but we didn’t really drill into it. Um, it’s like the last thing on the list at this time of year. I mean, really? Seriously? Self-care? What are you talking about? Take a walk. What - I don’t have time for that.
Cheri: Well, first of all, I think so many women feel like self-care is selfish and - as if we’re only focusing on ourselves. The thing about true self-care is when we - when we practice self-care, then we can truly take care of other people. Because if we’re wearing down - if we’re getting sick because we haven’t been taking care of ourselves, then the whole holiday season’s gonna be worse for everybody. So...
Jim: What does it look like? Tick off some things that you need to think about.
Cheri: I know it’s gonna sound hard to do, but making sleep a priority - at least in our household, if we haven’t had our - our sleep, we start snapping at each other.
Jim: So guilt-free sleep?
Cheri: It’s not lazy. It’s absolutely necessary. It needs to be a priority. And then for those of us who are either introverts or ambi-verts, when we’re at family gathering - I mean, I’ve learned - I’ve given myself permission because nobody’s gonna look at me and say, “Cheri, you look like you’re overwhelmed. You look like you need five minutes in a - in a darkened room with the lights out...”
Cheri: “...All by yourself.” Or I’ll just...
Jim: That could be a scary comment.
Cheri: Or I’ll even - yeah.
Cheri: By that point, I probably need half an hour, but - uh, you know, or just go take a - you know, maybe they’re out of butter, and I can go run to the store and have a little bit of time away from all the hustle and bustle to come back. But just even for me knowing that I’m gonna take the responsibility to take that time, rather than try to make it through the entire time. Because for introverts, we’re drained by so many people. And to recognize that and to say, “I’m not gonna blame them, I’m not gonna make it their fault, they don’t have to turn down the music today, I’m gonna be the one who says I’m gonna take the break.”
Jim: In that regard, your husband - it - uh, this is normal or typical, but it’s not always true, and I recognize that. But your husband may be more extroverted then. Because usually opposites attract - not always, but...
Cheri: We’re an unusual couple...
Cheri: ...In many ways.
Jim: Well, in that regard, though, in most usual...
Jim: ...Of ways, when you have an extrovert - introverted person...
Jim: ...How can that extrovert be more aware of that? That - it is draining to...
Jim: ...An introvert to be around a lot of people. So what can you say that makes sense?
Kathi: I’m an extrovert, and I have, uh, many introverts in my family.
Jim: You’re doing it for him?
Kathi: I’m doing it for him.
Kathi: And then I have a son who has social anxiety issues. And so he and I have a prearrangement that, one, you come for 45 minutes, and then you decide whether you want to stay or not. When he was living at home, it was 45 minutes. I asked him to participate, and then go to your room for a while. You know, go read a book or go watch a movie. And then when you feel like you’ve got that reserve built up, you can come back. For a long time, I was the guilt mom who said, “Your grandmother’s here. You know, you need to be here.” But what I’ve come to...
Jim: I can hear that.
Kathi: Yes, but what I’ve come to understand is he’s better for grandma when he is honored for who he is. And being an introvert and having social anxiety, I need to be able to say you get to have a break because you’re a better you when you come back.
Jim: No, that’s good. In the book, you mention this, uh, idea of crisis creators. Boy, people are going, “Oh, I know that person.” Or maybe some people are saying, “Ooh, I can be that person.” Define crisis creator. And then let’s get into some of the descriptions of people during Christmas and the holiday season. They do things that, you know, really disrupt the event.
Kathi: I think the perfect one to talk about at the holidays is the self-sabotager. And this is the person who has the idea that basically they’re gonna remodel the house before the holidays.
Jim: So this is a crisis creator?
Kathi: Yes, this is a self-sabotager who says, “I’ve got these crazy, over-the-top ideas, and I don’t care if it kills me and everybody around me...”
Jim: We’re gonna remodel the house for the holidays.
Jim: Huh. So how do you deal with the self-saboteur?
Kathi: Yeah. So I think there - as a woman, I will say I love to make things beautiful. That makes me super happy. I love to make food that’s wonderful. But I have to pick one or two things. I have to pick something that I’m going to excel at, and then the rest of it, we can figure it out. So we just did - this was our most low-key Christmas we’ve ever done in our entire lives. And we did two things that we just turned it on its head. We didn’t have any of the traditional food. We did something called Raclette, which is kind of a Swedish fondue, where you grill meats, and you grill, uh, cheeses and things like that. So we did that. And then our main activity, we called it Christmas trivia bingo. And so we got...
Kathi: We got 10 and 15 dollar gift cards, and we played bingo. And it was something that was so easy for everybody to be included in. Dinner was DIY because we set out the cheese and the meat and the - the stuff, and we said, “Go for it.” Everybody loved it. We kept it simple. And here’s the thing - am I looking at what am I impressing people or including people?
Kathi: And what’s the holiday that people are going to remember? When they felt loved and included. And we had people there from different faith backgrounds, different relationship backgrounds. We had a blast.
Jim: Yeah. And DIY, do it yourself.
Jim: Okay, I got a simpler meal plan for you.
Kathi: Do it.
Jim: It’s called, uh, delivery pizza and all the football you can watch.
Kathi: That might not be as inclusive as you might imagine.
Jim: I’ve not - I’ve not had...
John: Which crisis creator is that?
Jim: Probably the selfish one.
Kathi: Yeah. And then there are others - the whiner - you know, the person who is just going around and picking out everything - when you say, “Oh, I’m so disappointed because it wasn’t like it was last year or two years ago or four years ago.”
Jim: Oh, this is good.
Kathi: You know, when your common theme is “I’m so disappointed,” you may be a whiner, I’m just going to say. And so the people who are not participating but are complaining, that is a crisis creator. So I think if you’re the one who’s hosting, and you know that that person is a crisis creator, and they’re the ones who are whining, I think this is a great clarifying question - what’s going to be important to you this holiday that’s actually doable? You know, we can’t recreate the Christmas from 10 years ago. But is there a dish that would make you super happy?
Jim: Now, how do you do that without saying, in no uncertain terms, “You’re a whiner, and I’m here to try to make you happy?”
Kathi: You know what?
Jim: That is sufficient.
Kathi: Yeah. That was so important to him. I did not know that cranberries were actually berries until I was in my 30s.
John: You thought they were in a can?
Kathi: I thought it was just this g
Jim: Well, you know, you can smash it so it doesn’t have the can shape?
Kathi: Oh, no.
John: That’s part of the beauty of it.
Kathi: Then how could my dad slice it off and put it on his stuffing?
Jim: Oh, so he really loves the can shape?
Kathi: Yes, that was very important to him. And so when I tried to get fancy - when I tried to get all fancy with ‘em...
Jim: And crush the can shape?
Kathi: Or - well, I thought...
Kathi: ...What if we had real cranberries? And what if we cook those?
Kathi: I just - I rocked his world, yeah.
Kathi: And so he wasn’t a whiner about it. But it’s also something that if you have somebody who says, “It’s not Christmas without,” have them pick one thing.
Jim: Also, you encourage people to determine the big deals and the deal-breakers. Like, you differentiate between the two. What are you getting at?
Cheri: You know, big deals are things that are recurring but are manageable. Um, deal-breakers are gonna be the kinds of things where if it happens once, okay, if it happens a second time, there’s gonna be some really serious conversations. In both cases, these aren’t problems that are solved. There what Dr. Cloud would call a pattern. They keep showing up over and over again, and having normal conversations isn’t gonna solve them. And so for the big deals, you’re gonna have some family conversations, and you’re gonna make some family decisions about how to respond to them. For the deal-breakers, that’s gonna be something where there’s gonna be some of the - the hard conversations and some of the harder decisions, including maybe not showing up for that family...
Jim: Fill in the blanks for me.
Jim: Give me examples of that.
Kathi: Uh, well, I think that if you have family members who are disrespectful to either your husband, your kids or somebody that you have been charged by God to protect, and you’ve had the conversation, you’ve had the conversation, the behavior is not changing. And so, uh, I have kids who, uh, have taken different routes in life than I would have necessarily chosen for them. But - we may disagree, but we still need to be respectful. And so I think that that’s really important. Uh, when there’s been patterns of abuse, whether it’s emotional, physical, whatever that is, and it’s not changing, I think that we have to draw the line there. We have families who are from different backgrounds, and sometimes we’ve experienced racial slurs in our family. And we’ve addressed this several times. And we’ve had to say we cannot be around those type of things. As Christians, we have to take a hard line to sin.
Jim: So have courage?
Kathi: Have the courageous conversation first. The courageous conversation says, “I love you. I want to spend time with you, but this is something that we can’t partake in.”
. It’s one of those tools you need to have and read and apply. And, uh, we have counselors here, too, who can help you, who can talk through the difficult issues you might be facing. It’s true - I mentioned it last time - this is also one of the most depressing times of the year out of loneliness and other reasons. Well, we’re here for you. And we want to be here for you. So call us and, uh, have a discussion about those hard things that you’re feeling right now.
John: Yeah, our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY - 800-232-6459. Online, we’re at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And, Jim, these kinds of resources, um, are only here because we have friends who pray for and then donate to the ministry.
as our way of saying thank you. Let me also say this time of year, this is the kickoff. This is about when half the budget for Focus on the Family comes in - November, December and the first week or two of January. I want to say thank you to those who give at the year-end to help us raise that budget so we can continue to minister to families throughout the year.
John: And if you can, please make a monthly pledge to this ministry today. When you do so, we’ll send a copy of that book as a thank you gift. We recognize that you may not be in a place where you can commit to an ongoing gift and that’s okay. Make a one-time donation and we’ll still be happy to send that book to you. Again, the place to donate and get in touch: focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or call 1-800, the letter A and the word FAMILY - 800-232-6459.
Kathi: Oh, thank you.
Cheri: Thank you so much.
John: We hope you’ll join us again tomorrow when Erin Hawley is here offering encouragement to new moms.
Erin Hawley: So they don’t send you home from the hospital with an instruction manual, and it’s not intuitive - at least to me. So for me, that transition of, “It’s not about performance. It’s about loving. It’s about being present.” And actually learning to depend on God in a whole new way.
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