No visit home over the festive period is complete without at least a few annoying or insensitive comments from your extended family.
Often, your family means well when they inquire – yet again! — about your relationship status, your body, your baby plans or what is (or isn’t) on your plate or in your glass. Or perhaps they’re oblivious to how inappropriate these remarks can be. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s exhausting to deal with these same comments year after year.
We asked therapists to reveal some of the most common rude comments relatives make around this time of year and offer some advice on how to respond.
1. “Looks like you’ve put on some weight!”
You haven’t seen your Aunt Kathy in two years and the first thing out of her mouth as she greets you is about how you’ve gained weight since the last time you were together. Really?! Talking about weight changes – which are normal throughout the course of our lives, by the way – is uninteresting and pulls focus away from the meaningful things that are happening with us. And while strides have been made when it comes to cultural acceptance of larger bodies, we still live in a fat-phobic society where these kinds of comments can sting. If you have a history of disordered eating, these remarks can be triggering.
“It’s OK to set boundaries and let family members know that you don’t appreciate these types of comments,” New York City psychologist Melissa Robinson-Brown told HuffPost. ”Express your own love for your body just as it is.”
“It’s OK to set boundaries and let family members know that you don’t appreciate these types of comments.”
– Melissa Robinson-Brown, psychologist
You could simply say “Yup” with a smile and leave it at that. Or try something like, “I’m happy and healthy, thanks for noticing,” eating disorder therapist Jennifer Rollin suggested in a HuffPost blog on the topic.
Another option? Tell them you don’t know if you’ve gained or not because you don’t weigh yourself. Boom.
2. “Have you lost weight? You look skinny!”
Even compliments about your body from relatives – saying that you look thin or like you’ve lost weight – can be damaging, too. These people don’t know what you may have been dealing with behind closed doors: perhaps you’ve been too stressed to eat, living with a chronic illness or struggling with an eating disorder. Even if you’re in a good place, this intense focus on the size of your body can just be uncomfortable.
To respond, Allison Hart – a psychological assistant at Wellspace SF in Northern California – suggested acknowledging your relative’s good intentions but firmly stating that your body isn’t a topic of conversation. Try something along the lines of: “I know you mean that as a compliment, but I am not interested in discussing my appearance. Let’s talk about something else,” she said.
It’s especially common for new moms to get unsolicited feedback about their postpartum bodies –xfholida sometimes negative ones, sometimes “positive” ones about how they’ve lost the baby weight or “bounced back.”
Hart suggested saying something to the effect of, “I know you mean well but to discuss my weight after my body did something so incredible in making and giving birth to a baby just seems silly.”
3. “You’re not drinking anymore? What a bummer.”
Navigating the Christmas period can be a challenging when you’re not drinking and everyone else seems to be getting plenty toasty. In fact, addiction experts have observed an uptick in relapses around this time of year.
Maybe you’re in recovery, maybe you’re sober curious or maybe you’re just not in the mood to drink at this particular party. Whatever the reason, some relative will inevitably make a comment about how Christmas must suck if it doesn’t involve alcohol.
You don’t have to lament your decision not to drink if you don’t want to. Instead, try focusing on the bright spots of a sober holiday season.
You can say something like, “You know, I really love connecting to people through meaningful conversation and I have a lot of fun just being myself,” Hart suggested. “I get to be fully present for others and spend the night in ways that make me feel good about myself.”
If your cousin says something like, “Don’t you just want one drink?” Take a page from writer Brooke Knisley’s page and say: “Yes, I’d love to have just one, but I cannot – which is why I’m not drinking.”
4. “So when are you going to settle down?”
Being a single person at a family gathering with a bunch of couples can make you feel like a bit of an oddity. Everyone is trying to get to the bottom of why you’re not in a relationship (the subtext: something must be wrong with you). It doesn’t occur to them that perhaps you’re happily single. Or maybe you’ve been dating up a storm but you just haven’t met the right person yet.
If you feel comfortable talking about it, let your family know where you stand on settling down, Robinson-Brown said, whether that’s something you see for yourself in the future or not. “And feel free to share the things that you have going on in your life that are bringing you joy and leave it at that,” she added.
If you’re not in the mood, it’s OK to say you’re not interested in answering these types of question about your love life. “Say you’ll let the family member know if and when that happens for you,” Robinson-Brown said.
5. “You still haven’t found a job?”
When you’re not working, the barrage of judgemental questions from family about your employment status can be exhausting, to say the least. And if job stuff is a sore spot for you right now, they can be hurtful, too.
When the questions start coming, “grab a friend or other family member who can help distract from the conversation or ask for your help in the kitchen,” Robinson-Brown said. “Just because it’s your family, doesn’t mean you have to answer or endure conversations that are rude and insensitive.”
If you’re up for it, you can tell them you’re still looking and that the search process is working just fine for you, she added.
Deflecting in a cheeky way is an option, too.
“Feeling a little sassy?” Robinson-Brown said. “Try this! ‘The only job I’m looking to complete tonight is where I whoop your butt in this game of spades or Taboo or Cards Against Humanity.’”
6. “When are you going to have a baby?”
Depending on your situation, your feelings toward this common question can range from mildly annoying to downright painful. If you’re childfree by choice, you might find it tiresome. If you’re dealing with fertility struggles, it can bring you to tears. No matter the circumstances, when you’re having kids, if at all, is really none of this person’s business.
An easy canned response to have at the ready: “‘We aren’t sure! Speaking of kids…’ and then redirect the conversation to another child in the family,” said Rockville, Maryland psychologist Samantha Rodman. “A lot can be solved by a one-sentence vague answer and topic change!”
If you’re feeling more forward, you could say, “That’s a rather personal question, don’t you think? Anyway, how’s your new job?” fertility advocate Rachel Gurevich wrote in a piece for VeryWell Mind.
Of course if you’re up for talking about your fertility journey, then you can use this opportunity to fill in your relative about what you’ve been going through. And if you’re not, pretending you didn’t hear them and changing the subject or walking away is perfectly acceptable, too.