It’s the most special time of the year, right? It can also be the most overwhelming, especially as a parent. You’re trying to focus on family, create new traditions and honor the old, and deal with shopping and cooking and traveling. Though spending time with extended family is one of the best parts of the holidays, it can also be more than a little stressful. After all, relatives are universally known as nosy, and that often means a lot of obtrusive, annoying, and tough questions from family when everyone is together during the holidays.
As a parent, it’s hard to not get offended by constant questions of why your child doesn’t eat this thing or the other, why your baby girl is dressed in blue overalls instead of a pink dress, why your toddler is SO clingy, and why on earth you can’t just let them stay up past their bedtime? And, of course, the most popular one: “So, when are you having another baby?”
It’s enough to make your head spin. The good news is that a little preparation can go a long way in helping you to keep your cool. Here are six ways to handle those tough questions from family during the holidays based on our own personal experiences. Please, learn from our mistakes and actually enjoy your time with family this holiday season.
1. Hold your own
The truth is that you are not obligated to share any detail relevant to your life or your children with anyone else. You just don’t have to. So, if someone is asking when you’re going to get married, when you are having a baby or another baby or yet another baby, or if you’ve gotten a mammogram yet (yes, it’s happened), just be blunt. Respond with a simple, “I don’t really want to talk about that,” and either change the subject to something you do want to talk about (i.e. “You know what’s going really well at work? I’ve been on this great project.”) or turn the conversation back to them (“Mom told me you re-did the kitchen. What was that like?”). Sure, it’s a pretty straightforward response and it might annoy some relatives, but hey, you get what you give, right?
“So, if someone is asking when you’re going to get married, when you are having a baby or another baby or yet another baby, or if you’ve gotten a mammogram yet (yes, it’s happened), just be blunt.”
2. Be honest
This one always depends on your comfort level with vulnerability and personal emotions, but if you are feeling confident, honesty can be a great way to make others recognize their own pushiness. For instance, if you are struggling with fertility and your aunt keeps pressing you on another baby, be honest: “You know, I’d love another baby Aunt Jude, but we are trying and struggling.”
If you want to really hit the point home, add a, “When you and other relatives continually bring it up, it doesn’t exactly make it easier.” If you come from a family that generally avoids all kinds of confrontation, this might seem harsh. But, in reality, it’s a really gentle way to promote some reflection and awareness.
3. Lay on the guilt
This method works even for those hard questions (like the above) or simple, annoying queries. With one long-haired boy and another boy who loves pink and purple, I get a lot of irritating Qs that center around conservative social and gender norms. After years of being thoroughly annoyed, I’ve finally come up with the perfect canned response to most anything that has to do with my kids and their preferences in clothes, temperament, play, hairstyles, or hobbies: “We are proud to let him be who he is.” Simple, but effective.
And, for those relatives who just won’t quit, follow up with: “I hope that once you take the time to get to know him, you’ll be just as proud.” Gentle, but with just the right amount of firmness (and that added dash of guilt). Boom.
4. Beat them to the punch
You know what people love to do? Talk about themselves. So, get them going first and you likely will never have to answer an awkward question about yourself ever again. Prep yourself with any of the recent goings-on with attending family members—new babies/grandkids, house remodeling, health challenges, weddings, careers, etc. With just a few well-timed questions, you could essentially enjoy your wine and help with food prep while everyone just chats around you.
“You know what people love to do? Talk about themselves. So, get them going first and you likely will never have to answer an awkward question about yourself ever again.”
If you’re likely to crack under the emotional pressure, like me, keep a note on your phone with relevant or general conversation points that have nothing to do with you or your family.
5. Have a friend on call (or text)
Sometimes it just helps to have someone to be like, “OMG, they actually said that?!” And, that is what friends are for. When you feel the aggravation start to creep up after inappropriate comment after inappropriate comment, text a friend. Let them join you in your annoyance and validate your feelings, and you’ll automatically start to feel better. You might even be able to let it go right then and there.
Even better, plan to meet a friend (cousin, sibling, spouse, whoever!) for drinks to decompress after most of the festivities are through. The best part about being with family over the holidays is all the built-in babysitters, right?
No, there is no get-out-of-jail-free card for being rude and inappropriate, but the truth is people are flawed. Once you begin to understand that on a deeper level, it becomes easier to see familial relationships for what they are instead of the idealized version of what you wished they’d be.
People will generally give you their true selves most of the time. It’s up to you to see that reality, accept it, and move on. Sure, there’s always a twinge in your stomach each time you wonder why your parents/in-laws/grandparents/aunts can’t be more considerate or compassionate or why they won’t take the time to get to know you. But, their personal growth and development is not your responsibility, nor could it ever be. Acceptance and forgiveness are the only things within your control. And, not only will those things free your mind a bit, it might even help you enjoy those overwhelming family gatherings just a bit more.