The holidays are a time of joy and closeness, but for many people, visiting in-laws or extended family can sap some of that happiness away. When you’re the brunt of rude, intrusive, or just overly curious comments, here are some responses that can help you diffuse tension and move forward. As a clinical psychologist, I coach my clients to use these types of responses, to help minimize the chances of a big explosion ruining the holidays. Because it could totally happen.
1. “The kids aren’t behaving well.”
Stick to a neutral, “Thanks for letting me know,” and then change the topic to something else — until you can complain to your husband privately. Your mother-in-law may remember that her kids were always perfect little angels, but this is likely far from the truth. There isn’t any point in becoming defensive or, worse, going on the offensive.
2. “You gained weight.”
Something non-attacking but direct like, “Ouch!” lets them know exactly how rude the comment was, without getting into a long, drawn-out discussion that will likely lead nowhere. Obviously, any comment about your looks is going to hurt, whether it’s said directly or in a snarky, passive-aggressive way. Making your hurt feelings known with a direct statement can really stop a relative from pursuing this tack. Nobody wants to be seen as a bully by others observing the interaction.
3. “Are you going to have another baby?”
Answer nicely with, “No idea, but you’ll be the first to know if I do!” Private people don’t like when others ask about their baby-making plans. This question may be nosy, but it’s not usually bad-intentioned, so keep that in mind and respond calmly, without including anything you’re not comfortable sharing.
4. “Are you going to go back to work?”
Instead of taking offense, you can answer openly with, “I’m not sure yet” or “No.” This question can either be a curious inquiry or a judgment of being a stay-at-home mom — only you know your mother-in-law well enough to know which one she meant. With this or any other topic, if there are follow up questions, you can always say, “Thanks, but I’m fine with my decision and no need to talk about it further.”
5. “Are you saving for the kids’ college?”
Any financial comment can be deflected with a joke, like, “Yeah, but if you have an extra million laying around, I am sure we’ll need it by 2025.” If anyone persists, just say, “We’re doing fine, thanks,” and redirect the conversation to the awesome food or killer decorations. Remember, unless they are just genuinely curious, people usually ask about others’ finances to make themselves feel better about their own situation. No need to let their insecurity or desire to one-up you ruin your day.
6. “How are the kids doing in school/is she dating anyone/does he have a prom date?”
Respond with, “They’re doing fine, enjoying life.” If children are struggling in school, it isn’t your place to share their personal information in a public arena — and family get-togethers count as public. Don’t allow yourself to be thrown off balance and divulge too much of your child’s private life, as this can be very embarrassing, especially for more shy kids or teenagers.
7. “When will we see you next?”
I would suggest saying, “It was great to see you. We’ll plan soon.” Likely, if you’re more introverted, you experience extroverted family members’ frequent requests for visits as intrusive and even anxiety-provoking, even if you know they don’t mean to be pushy. Don’t allow yourself to be pushed to commit to a specific visit date if you don’t have your schedule in front of you, just because you feel put on the spot. Deflect nicely, then go home and follow up once you’ve consulted with your spouse and Google calendar.
Overall, it is helpful to recognize that whoever is making these comments or asking these questions, consumed with curiosity, likely doesn’t have much going on in their own lives. A little bit of kindness goes a long way in deflecting any barbs or, for that matter, in redirecting any genuinely curious questions that are outside of your comfort zone. Showing some empathy toward the question asker also models compassion for your kids observing family interactions — even when you think they’re busy with their new toys. So being understanding to your nosy mother-in-law can be the best example of holiday spirit that you could possibly show your children.More On