We’ve all been there – ready to take a bite of our tasty holiday meal when it hits: a dreaded question from a family member across the table.
“Are You Dating Anyone Yet?”
“When will you have your children?”
Are you sure that you don’t need the second piece of pie?
While there’s often an expectation of joy, love and togetherness during the holiday season, for many families “holidays are much more complicated” and can “highlight complex family dynamics,” says Liz Kelly, a licensed clinical social worker with Talkspace.
Questions that span from uncomfortable to downright invasive can make an already difficult time even more challenging.
“Often relatives and loved ones come to us from a place where they are curious or want to connect. But they don’t think about the context, nor what it might cause.
When a parent asks “When are more grandkids possible?” This could be asking someone who is struggling with infertility.
“(Their) motivation may not be negative or bad, but the question itself is really painful,” Kelly says.
You can have a holiday dinner that goes smoothly if you know how. We spoke to experts to find out how to prepare for and navigate those awkward conversations.
Prepare mentally for unwelcome questions
Prepare mentally for the event by getting ready. Kelly advises self-care to get your mind in the right frame.
“Make sure you’re rested, make sure you maybe have a chance to get some physical activity (or) to go outside. So you don’t feel defeated when going to family events.
It can also help to “be aware of those situations or those topics that might make you uncomfortable,” suggests Dr. Benjamin F. Miller, a clinical psychologist and president of Well Being Trust foundation. It is possible to think about your potential responses ahead of time.
It is possible to avoid awkward conversations by planning ahead.
For example, if COVID-19 vaccines are a point of conflict in your family, try inquiring about vaccination statuses in advance so you “don’t have to deal with the awkwardness in the moment,” Kelly says.
Decide how to respond within your comfort zone
Kelly says remember, “you don’t owe anyone any information,” and you should only “share whatever you feel comfortable sharing.”
She says, “You don’t need to feel obliged to answer this question in detail.” I suggest keeping it simple. “Say something simple like: “I appreciate you interest in me love life. But let’s discuss something more interesting.”
Another way is to change the subject by asking questions or changing the topic.
“(Ask) your nosy aunt about her memories or a favorite recipe that she makes,” she suggests.
This tactic can be especially useful for someone struggling with an eating disorder, explains Chelsea Kronengold, communications lead at the National Eating Disorders Association.
She says, “Comments on someone’s appearance and the food they don’t eat can always be harmful or damaging,” especially at holiday-focused food events where there is disordered eating.
To “redirect conversation away from diet or food talk”, she suggests that you come prepared.
More:Learn from Jonah Hill and stop commenting on people’s bodies, experts say
Set boundaries for your mental health
If people do push for additional information, don’t feel obligated to explain yourself.
Kelly states, “You can repeat it more than once. ‘That’s something that I don’t feel comfortable discussing.
Miller explains boundaries are “fundamental to our overall mental health” because they help “protect us” and our mental well-being.
He says it’s critical to be “clear in how you set your boundaries.”
“If the topic comes up of politics, your babies or your job, and you’re not comfortable talking about it, simply say, ‘This is not something I am willing to talk about right now,'” he suggests. It’s possible to ask for respect from others… “It’s okay to say that I don’t want you talking about it right now.
Don’t allow your children to cross the boundaries.
You have the right to make it clear if they continue to violate your boundaries.
“‘Dad, if you bring up the election again, I am going to have to walk out of the room.’ ‘If you ask me about when I’m going to have grandkids again, I’m going to have to take a walk around the block,’ That’s perfectly appropriate,” Miller explains. Miller says, “It isn’t rude, it doesn’t condescending, and it’s certainly not disrespectful.” It actually helps protect you and your mental health.”
Prepare an exit strategy in case things turn sour.
Establish a support network
Miller suggests that it is helpful to have a friend who can support and protect you in times of trouble. You could ask a friend, or a supportive member of your family.
“If you’ve set your boundary and other people keep trying to step over it, it’s always nice to have somebody there who can help defend you – who can say, ‘He’s not willing to talk about that right now. Let’s go on to the next step.
Kronengold says establishing a support system ahead of time is also vital for people struggling with eating disorders.
She suggests that you think about whom you could lean on, regardless of whether they are someone else in the room or somebody you may have to text and check-in with.
Recharge your emotions by finding a way
Once you head home, you may find you need to shake off any tension you experienced during the event or recharge your emotional batteries.
Miller says that he loves to read and take a break from his computer. It clears him of all the long-term thoughts. “For others, it could be exercise (or) going out with friends and debriefing. Whatever it may be, we should do it to help us process the holiday and family events.
“It is hard not to isolate”:Many people are already worried about seasonal depression. Here are some ways to deal.
More:Many families fear the holiday season because of vaccine controversy.