20 Transcript: How Self Care and Gratitude Can Improve Your Relationships (with Esther Littlefield)
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J: You're listening to the Vibrant Happy Women podcast, episode number 20.
E: When I started taking better care of myself, I stopped feeling so resentful for having to take care of other people.
Intro: Welcome to the Vibrant Happy Women podcast, stories of vibrant women living happy lives. And now, your host, Jen Riday.
J: Hi there, Jen here, and this is Vibrant Happy Women. Our mom's 5-day sanity saver meditation challenge begins today and you can still sign up if you go to jenriday.com/challenge. This is for any mom who feels frazzled, would like to have more focus and ‘me time’ and gratitude and patience, it's going to be the perfect start to your week; again, go to jenriday.com/challenge. On our last episode, I spoke with Amber Lilyestrom about creating a life you love. And today, I have the pleasure of chatting with Esther Littlefield who explains how she had to give up the idea of changing her husband and focus instead on simply changing herself. We talk a lot about gratitude and perfectionism and self-care and even finding fulfillment through creativity and following your passions in this episode. So we'll go ahead and get started.
Welcome to Vibrant Happy Women and I'll be chatting with Esther Littlefield today, a friend of mine. She's a feisty pastor's wife to her husband, Scott, and a mom to her daughter, KJ. They live in Maine where they enjoy as many outdoor adventures as possible in the midst of homeschooling, business, and church life. In her free, you'd probably find Esther with a cup of coffee, a good friend, and a sink full of dishes; she has her priorities straight. Esther writes at wellnessmomlife.com, helping moms balance marriage, motherhood, and ministry by caring for their personal, physical, spiritual, and relational wellness. Esther offers a free 5-day better attitude marriage challenge for moms to help them have less stress and more joy in their marriage. Welcome, Esther.
E: Thank you, Jen, so glad to be here.
J: So we'd love to start out with a favorite quote, and I can't wait to hear which one you would like to share with us today.
E: Sure. The quote that I chose is from Beth Moore and it says, “Courage comes from a heart that knows it is loved.”
J: Mm, nice. So how has that helped you in life?
E: That actually came up a couple of years ago in a Bible study I was in and I was really struggling with taking some steps and moving forward in some areas that I wanted to, but I was nervous about it. And so that quote just kind of solidified for me, you know, that I can have courage and I can do those things because I know I'm loved. And it was just a powerful thing and I haven't still written up on my… on my chalkboard in my office to remind me of that every day.
J: Mm, nice. And has that quote helped you through any of your low times in life?
E: I would say yeah, because, you know, there's been times when it feels like everything is kind of crashing down around me, but yet I still have known the love of God and the love of my family and people closest to me and that's allowed me to move forward in those situations and be able to, you know, just kind of put one foot in front of the… in front of the other.
J: Mm-hmm. So do you have a specific low point in mind that you'd like to share with us today?
E: Sure. I had 2 in mind so I'll start with the first one that took place when I was younger.
E: When I was 13, my family lived here in Maine and my dad was always very adventurous. And there was a time when he and a bunch of us, a bunch of my friends, went out for a ride on our Jeep. And actually, one of my friends was driving and my dad ended up falling off of the back of the Jeep, and as a result of that accident, he passed away the following day. And so that's… that's probably the most significant low-point I've had in my life because of just that sudden and tragic loss of him. For our family, it was a very difficult time to go through, especially as a young… a young girl, you know, no longer having my father in my life, that was just a very tragic time for us. So after losing my father, you know, it was a time where we had to kind of come together as a family and the things that really held me together at that time was just having the love of my family. A lot of family members came from out of State to visit with us and stay with us, as well as my faith really became vital during that time in my life and.. and during that low point for me.
J: And then you mentioned the second low point, tell us about that.
E: Okay, sure. So the second low point is… is much more recent and so it's actually a time in my marriage when, probably about 5 or 6 years ago, my husband and I had been married for about 8 or 9 years, we had had my daughter at that point and she was just very young. And prior to her being born, we had gone through some difficult times and kind of had some challenges, but it had been okay, we had been able to get by. But after my daughter was born and that first year of her life was pretty challenging, in our marriage, we just… we were really in a difficult place. We were both feeling very unappreciated, unloved, you know, I was extremely tired and exhausted from caring for our daughter and my husband was working hard to support us, but we were both just kind of on different pages, I think, and not feeling appreciated by each other. And so that was definitely a low point for me because I was struggling to figure out, “How are we going to…? How are we going to survive?” and it really wasn't how I wanted my life to look. I didn't want to be angry and resentful and that's kind of where I was at that time. So that's the other low point that I was thinking about.
J: Oh, okay. So you were on different pages and kind of struggling, what helped you to get through that time?
E: I think what helped me was realizing that I could only control my own actions and behaviors and attitudes in… in our marriage. I was spending a lot of time and energy trying to control my husband and trying to get him to change because I really thought that most of the problem was his fault, which I think happens a lot in marriages. But I finally came to recognize that there were things that I could do to improve our marriage and part of it actually started with taking care of myself better. I realized that I had to prioritize taking care of my own… my own spiritual needs, my own physical health, my own mental health, and then also control and… and nurture my own attitude towards my husband. And when I started to do those things more, you know, consistently and… and making small changes over time, that really started to make a change in our marriage. And amazingly, my husband started to change as well.
E: And so, you know, it brought us gradually to a much better place in our marriage where now, you know, we are… we're definitely more on the same page. We still have our struggles, but I think it was really me realizing that I had to… I had to make some changes myself and just focus on that and then allow… you know, allow him to make the changes that he was going to make on his own time.
J: Hmm. So… so you're saying that, once you made some changes, he seemed to change as well.
E: Yeah, yeah. And I don't know if it was… if it was as much him changing as my attitude changing and my perspective changing.
E: You know, I think it was probably a combination of both where, when I started to make the changes myself and started to look at things differently and started to have a better attitude, then I think I stopped being so focused on all the things that I felt were… were not going well.
E: So that definitely made a difference. And then I do think that he also made some changes and things started to improve possibly as a result of me treating him better and, you know, having a more loving attitude towards him; it's… it's easier to love someone back when you're feeling loved.
J: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
E: So that definitely made a difference for us.
J: So you mentioned feeling loved and you also mentioned self-care, did you find that self-care helped you to love yourself a little more and maybe also connect with your faith that God loves you?
E: Yeah, absolutely. I think when I started taking better care of myself, I stopped feeling so resentful for having to take care of other people. And I think, you know, realizing that I needed to spend time investing in myself and that that wasn't a bad thing, that I didn't have to feel guilty for that, that, you know, taking time to go do something with girlfriends or to, you know, participate in a Bible study or to do these other things that were life-giving to me was actually better for my marriage and for my daughter than if I was just constantly, you know, caring for them and… and focused only on those tasks; that made it… made a huge difference in how I felt about the responsibilities that I had as a wife and a mom.
J: Mm-hmm. Yeah, sometimes we get lost thinking that our spouse needs to make us happy.
E: Yes. (Laughs)
J: And once… exactly what you said, once we decide that we're going to make ourselves happy and take care of ourselves, it becomes way less codependent and more of a strong independent partnership between 2 people; so I love how you said that. So you share these tips in a Facebook group, is that correct?
E: Yes, yes.
J: So tell us more about that. Do you have any stories of people kind of changing their marriages as they've come to realize the importance of self-care and not being so resentful or critical of their spouses?
E: Yeah, I've had a few people that have participated in… in the challenge that I've had that have said, you know, that just simply taking the time to be aware of their attitude made a difference in, you know, just small interactions that they had with their husband on a day-to-day basis and that there were times that they started to notice that they, you know, we're getting frustrated and… and getting upset about a situation, but then they made a choice on how to respond in a different light or in a different way. And so that… you know, and… and I think, for them, it was just a moment of saying, “Okay, I'm frustrated it's not going well, but here's how I'm going to respond,” and then the result of that interaction was much different than if they had responded in a negative way.
E: And then I have another… another mom that I'm thinking of that, you know, she just decided to really start spending more time investing in herself. And I think… I think her marriage it wasn't so much about our marriage, but about just that mindset of being able to take small, small actions each day and not looking at it as having to change your entire life around, you know, to do self-care. You can… you can do self-care in ways that are just small little snippets of your day that can help you to have, you know, a healthier… a healthier life.
E: And so that was a change that she was able to see just by taking small steps and following some of the suggestions that I had offered in the group and in the challenge.
J: So what are the suggestions you like to give people regarding self-care?
E: Oh, well, I think it's… one, I think you have to start with figuring out what you enjoy and figuring out what you love; for me, anyway, that was something that made a difference. When I started looking at, you know, “What are some of the things that I just really love doing?” and spending more time doing those things. And I'm not meaning… I mean, as moms, as women, we often have, you know, lots of other responsibilities, so I'm not saying to drop everything and go, you know, follow your dreams to be a rock star, if that's… that's what you love (if that's not realistic), but I think, you know, if you love music, then spending time playing your instrument or, you know, going to a concert or doing some things that you enjoy on a more regular basis.
E: And then the other things that I focus on are, you know, physical health, you know, taking care of your body, whether that means some type of exercise on our regular basis, eating healthy. It's a lot of the things that most of us know we should do, but I think sometimes when you're just in a group of other women who are… who are choosing to do that alongside of you, it makes it easier.
E: And then another habit that I have found to be really helpful, for me, and then I encourage other women to do is getting up earlier in the day and starting your day with some quiet time, whether it's, you know, depending on what you believe, I start with my quiet time with God and I have some prayer time and that type of thing. I've found that to be super, super helpful as I go into the rest of the day of all the responsibilities I have, to just start with some time alone and focused, you know, without any responsibilities that I need to worry about.
J: Hmm. Yeah, you mentioned on the first point that you need to figure out what you love, and as you said that, I knew immediately what mine is; quiet. And then on the third point… the third point, you mentioned quiet again. So, yeah, getting up early is key for me because of my 6 kids having that quiet time.
J: I love it and I need it. So…
J: Yeah. So if someone wanted to join your challenge, where could they find you for that?
E: They could go to wellnessmomlife.com/marriage-challenge.
E: So… and I think actually, if they go right to wellnessmomlife.com, you'll see that first thing.
E: But, yeah, the marriage challenges right there on my site.
J: Okay, and we'll put a direct link to that on our show notes page at jenriday.com/20 if that's easier to remember, and then you could find that there. Okay, so, Esther, you made it through the death of your father, and that was obviously really tragic and hard, and then you made it through your marriage struggles, were there ever times where you thought, “These kind of challenges shouldn't be happening to me. Why me?”?
E: Absolutely, absolutely. I think that was especially after… after my father passed away, that was my biggest question was, “Why? Why me?” you know, I think it's just the natural reaction for any of us to experience that question…
J: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
E: … when we go through a tragic loss or a difficult situation.
J: So was there a change in your mindset that allowed you to go forward accepting that this had happened to you?
E: You know, I… I thought about that a few times because it happened so long ago and I was so young when it happened that I don't think my mindset really changed necessarily, but I gained perspective as I got older.
E: And I started to recognize that, you know, difficult things happen to everyone.
E: Every single person goes through an experience that is… is unexplainable or that is just very challenging. And, you know, so it's not so much, “Why me?” but, “Why not me?” you know?
J: Oh yeah.
E: There's difficult things that we all are going to go through and now, I am able to speak to other people who have lost a loved one in a different way than someone who maybe has never lost someone.
E: I've found that, as I've gone through my life, I've encountered numerous people who have, you know, just experienced a death in their family and I know what to say and what not to say because of my own experience.
E: So that's been a benefit I think that I can say it's… I can understand now, not necessarily why it happened, but that it can be used for good in my life.
J: Right, developing that compassion, mm-hmm.
J: So, Esther, tell us more about what vibrant happy living looks like for you today.
E: What it looks like for me is kind of going back to one of the things I mentioned before, doing more things that I love. I spent a lot of time in my life being a people pleaser, I really like to succeed and I really like to make other people happy. And so a lot of my life has been trying to live up to other people's expectations of me or even my own expectations of what I think… what I think other people want me to do. And so I've realized now that I want to spend more time doing the things that are really important to me, that I really enjoy, and that… that I can… I can help other people along the way doing those things, but I'm less concerned about pleasing other people as I do those things.
E: So, for example, I love writing and I put off writing for a very long time because I was… I was doing other things that I thought were the right career paths for me.
E: And now I've decided, “You know what? I love writing it's something that I want to do so that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to pursue that and make it… make it be part of my… part of my career.”
J: So I know a lot of people think they might want to try something, but then they go back a few steps and get stuck on the idea that, “Was this what I was born to do? Is this… is this what I'm… my purpose in life?” So given your faith in God and your own intuition, were you able to mesh those 2 things and figure out, “Yes I want to do this and I'm meant to do this,”?
E: That's such a good question. I think… yeah, I think it's… it's a combination of trusting… trusting your instincts and trusting what you're feeling in terms of what you're really passionate about, but also… also using wisdom in that. And so, for me, it wouldn't have been realistic or probably the right thing for me to do what I'm doing now 10 years ago.
E: Because I just wasn't in a place in my life at that time that I think I would have had what I have now to offer, if that makes sense.
E: And so, yes… and so now, as I started to look at the past and going back through… and I think if someone's trying to decide, you know, what should they do, “What… what is right? What's my purpose?” I think you can look back through your life and consider the different experiences you've had, the skills you've gained along the way, as well as what other people have spoken into you as in terms of what are your gifts and talents, and really take time to think about that and take time to recognize maybe what other people have been telling you and you've been ignoring her for a while.
E: That has helped me because I looked back through and saw a pattern of different experiences I had had in different skills I had gained that had pointed in certain directions and that I had kind of ignored for quite a long time.
E: So that helps me to get to the point of deciding to go for it.
J: Ah. That… your comment reminded me, I once heard someone say… and I don't remember where it comes from, but that we're all born with a superpower. And more often than not, we don't even know it's our superpower because it's so natural and easy for us that we can't…
J: We can't see it. So your comment that, we need to rely on what other people are saying to us… so, for me, for example, I always hear, “How do you get everything done?” and finally, a few years ago, I realized, “Okay, I must be extraordinarily organized or disciplined or something.” But not to brag or whatever, but we all have a superpower, and so would you say yours is writing or are there other things?
J: Now you have to brag on yourself.
E: That’s a trick question.
E: Actually, when I looked back through, the things that stood out to me was, one, leadership.
E: I've often been in leadership roles, and when I looked back all the way from high school, I actually had been put into different leadership roles starting at that point. So… and… and for the longest time, I just kind of didn't really consider myself a leader…
E: … or call myself a leader or say that I was going to lead things.
E: And so then I realized, “Okay, no, actually, I think that is one of my gifts,” and that I am… I don't know if I… I don't know if I would say superpower, but I do think…
E: … it is something that (Laughs) I've both, you know, possibly have innately, but and then, you know, through experience, gained a lot of skills along the way.
E: Writing I think is my passion…
E: … and I think it's a tool that I can use to lead others and to encourage others.
J: Right, okay. So let's go to the complete opposite side, what would you say is a weakness you've always struggled with?
E: Goodness. I would say, probably my desire to have things be perfect.
E: I think I allowed that desire to always do things perfectly to stop me from pursuing things. And my very high expectations of myself and of others, that has sometimes put a strain on my relationships and, you know, on myself…
J: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
E: Because I want things to be a certain way.
E: And so that's definitely a weakness.
J: Yeah. So many women, including myself, can sometimes find perfectionism to be paralyzing.
J: So kudos to you for overcoming that…
J: … and starting your blog and your website and all that you're doing; that's great. And there… they look perfect to me, so that obviously wasn't the problem. (Laughs)
E: I spent a lot of time agonizing over… over all of that and spending, you know, several hours of just trying to make it perfect. And then I was like, “Okay, I don't care, I'm just I'm just putting it out there.”
E: “It's not going to be perfect and I'm going to make changes along the way.”
J: Right, right, great. Well, so, Esther, is there anything else you want to add about how you're currently living a vibrant and happy life?
E: I think just also spending time, quality time with other people that I love, that's something that really is important to me. So, you know, having time with friends, having time with my husband and my daughter that is quality time, that's definitely part of my… my happy life and just choosing to enjoy those moments that we have together…
J: Mm, mm-hmm.
E: … and live life to the fullest.
E: It’s something that I try to do.
J: Okay, we all try, and it's tricky, but balancing it is so… so rewarding, like you said. Well, so now, I would love to ask you about a few of your favorite things. So many of my friends have said, “Oh, I wish I could be a fly on the wall in her house and… and see what she loves and what her life is like,” so this is just a small opportunity to hear more about you. So, first question, what's your favorite personal habit that contributes to your success?
E: I think it would go back to the habit of getting up early and having that quiet time at the beginning of the day. I find that, on the days that I don't do that, I definitely have more of a struggle throughout the day to just kind of maintain my own emotions and… and my own thoughts. So getting up early, having that quiet time with God is probably the number one habit that I… that helps me be successful.
J: Okay. What do you include in that routine when you get up and spend that time with God?
E: Typically, I get up and I come into my office and I try to have my coffee ready; so I love to have my coffee in the morning. And then I'll just either pull out my Bible and do some reading or I will pull out my journal and do some journaling; that's typically how I like to pray is through journaling, so I'll do that. And I have some… a nice window in my office that I can watch the birds and see the trees outside, and so that's just kind of the way I like to wake up in the morning.
J: Mm-hmm, a peaceful time.
J: Great. And… and we had another guest who also kind of felt that journaling was a form of meditation and prayer for her, so…
E: Yes, I heard her say that.
J: … I find that interesting… uh-huh!
J: Amanda… Amanda Teixeira.
J: I believe that's episode 10. So share a favorite easy meal that you and your family like to eat regularly.
E: Alright. Well, I think my favorite thing to do this time of year is use the grill. So whether it's just grilling some chicken or some steak, some kind of meat, and then having a salad or sweet potato, some kind of veggie on the side, that's my easiest and fastest meal in the summertime especially.
E: Because I don't like heating up the kitchen. (Laughs)
J: Right, that's smart.
E: So we go out on the deck and use the grill.
J: Yum. Do you have a favorite salad dressing?
E: Ah, you know what? I don't know if I really do. I like to just kind of…
E: … mix it up and do different kinds. (Laughs)
J: Good, yeah, variety. What's your favorite kitchen gadget?
E: Right now, my favorite gadget is my blender.
E: I love to use the blender to make smoothies in the morning.
E: So that's… that's the thing that I probably am getting the most use out of right now.
J: Perfect. And a favorite book that you'd like to recommend to the Vibrant Happy Women community.
E: A favorite book, I was trying to think about what I would recommend and I think I would say a book that I read recently is called ‘Restless: Because You Were Made for More’ and it's by Jenny Allen. And it actually goes along with what we talked about earlier in terms of trying to figure out what your purpose is in life…
E: … and how you can figure that out. And that book has really been very beneficial to me in the process of deciding and pursuing, you know, what I want to do with my life.
J: Great. We'll include a link to that on our show notes page at jenriday.com/20. And, again, that was ‘Restless’ by Jennie Allen. What is the best advice you've ever received?
E: The best advice I would say is, “Trust your gut.”
E: And I… I heard that when I first became a mother and then again when I was having some challenges with my daughter more recently, and a friend of mine said, “You know, trust your gut.” You've got to just believe that, if you feel something's off or something's not right to trust that because, you know, as a mom, you're… you're the one that understands your child the best.
E: So that's been the most helpful for me in terms of parenting especially.
J: Yeah, good advice. Okay, our final question. If you had to create a 3 to 5 part formula of actions or beliefs that maximize your happiness, what would that include?
E: Alright, it would include, get up early and spend time with God and get outside and enjoy nature, have good conversations with friends and family, and pursue your passions.
J: Ooh, that's a great formula, and you're doing all of those things so you're very happy; you're very happy.
J: Nice. Okay, Esther, thank you so much for sharing your story and your ideas and tips. And before we say goodbye, please give our listeners a parting actionable challenge.
E: Alright, I'd love to challenge everybody to take time to show appreciation to your spouse or another person that's important to you because it will really help your relationships to grow stronger and give you, hopefully, more joy in your life.
J: Hmm, great tip; gratitude and appreciation are the bedrock of all relationships.
J: I think that's a great advice. Well, again, our listeners can find links to everything you talked about at jenriday.com/20 and we'll include a link to your… your Wellness Mom Life blog and that they can find a link to the 5-day better attitude marriage challenge there as well. So, Esther, I really appreciate you taking the time to be on the show and you're really doing some great things, so we appreciate you being here.
E: Thanks so much, Jen, I appreciate you having me on the show.
J: Take care, Esther.
E: Thanks for joining us and be sure to go to the show notes page at jenriday.com/20 to find all the links we discussed in the episode today. Join me next time when I chat with Theresa Lode and we talked about the mind-body effect of chronic pain. Theresa shares how journaling about the relationships between trauma, shame, and pain made all the difference in changing her story from, “I'm broken,” to, “I'm healthy.” See you next time, take care.
Outro: Thanks for listening to the Vibrant Happy Women podcast at www.jenriday.com.