The holiday season is supposed to be a time of joy, love, and togetherness, but unfortunately, it can also be a time of stress and conflict. This is especially true when you have to spend time with toxic family members or deal with inappropriate comments about you, your children, or your parenting choices. There are ways to deal with toxic comments from family during the holidays.
It is not uncommon for baby boomers to be known for making rude and inappropriate comments, even discriminatory. However, what makes things worse is that they often try to justify their behavior using excuses that are not particularly valid. For instance, some may claim that they are too old to change their ways, that they are only speaking their minds, that their comments are harmless, that your generation is too sensitive, or that they’ve raised three kids, so they know best!
Generally, I’d say that regardless of the reasons behind their behavior, it is important to educate people about the harm caused by such comments and work towards creating change being more inclusive and respectful. The holidays can sometimes be difficult and not always the time when you want to get into it with someone. Sometimes, for our mental health, it’s easier to get by with quick and easy comments that shut down the conversation.
Be direct with what you say, but honest with how you say it.
Here are some quick and easy ways to handle toxic family over the holidays:
1. Set Boundaries with family members
One of the most effective ways to deal with toxic family members or inappropriate comments is to set boundaries. This means being clear about what you will and will not tolerate. For example, if someone makes a rude comment about your life choices, you can calmly but firmly say,
I don’t appreciate your comment; this is not up for discussion.
How to teach your child they don’t have to hug:
What do you do when relatives try to force hugs on your child? Set boundaries! If your child doesn’t want to be hugged, respect that. As a parent, you must back them on this and help them set those boundaries. It’s an important lesson about consent and giving your child the power to say no. Here are some ways to help them set those boundaries:
Intervene and give your child choices; show them that you can still be respectful while setting boundaries:
Come here and give me a hug!
Parent (speaking to child): Would you like to give a hug or maybe a high-five or wave?
Empower your child to make the choice for themselves even when you’re not there. Let them know that they are always welcome to say no to affection:
Come here and give me a hug!
Child: No thank you. or, Let’s fist bump instead.
2. Stay calm – don’t give toxic family the ability to ruin your holiday!
It’s natural to get upset when someone says something hurtful or offensive, but staying calm, cool, and collected is important. Getting angry or defensive will only escalate the situation and make things worse; don’t ruin your own holiday! Instead, take a deep breath, count to ten, and respond calmly and measuredly. Or walk away.
Try something like this,
Huh, I’m surprised you said that out loud.
That’s a rather personal question to ask someone. I’d prefer not to answer that.
I don’t think you meant to ask that in front of everyone.
3. Find Support for getting though tough family functions
Dealing with toxic family members or inappropriate comments can be emotionally draining, so it’s essential to find support. This could be a friend or therapist. If you have another cousin, partner, or sibling who is aware of the family dynamic, talk to them ahead of time and help one another out, for example when you hear this:
“When are you having another child? They will be lonely – they won’t learn how to share.”
Your partner, mom or someone else can answer if you think this question is triggering.
“Thank you for your thoughts, but our family is happy and complete.”
Here are a few other polite comments to keep in your back pocket for a variety of situations:
“I don’t want to discuss that in front of the children.”
“I value your opinion, but on this topic, I’d appreciate it if you would keep this opinion to yourself. Thank you”
“I understand what you’re saying, but we will continue to do what’s best for our family.”
And when all else fails, a sarcastic smile and “Thank you for your feedback.”
4. Focus on the positive: ways to show family what is appropriate to discuss and what is not
It’s easy to get caught up in the negativity of toxic family members or inappropriate comments. Still, it’s essential to focus on the positive, and by doing so, you can also put them in their place about what is appropriate to discuss and remind them of what truly matters. For example, did they mention your weight, the weight of your child, or eating habits?
I’ve heard comments to my daughter like, “You’re so slender. I’m jealous.” they tried to justify it as a compliment, but compliments like this are damaging; you’ve just told my daughter that her worth is based on how she looks. Plus, behind closed doors, there could be all kinds of struggles that are none of anyone’s business. Shut it down like it is,
In our family, we don’t discuss how our bodies look but what they can do. Did you know Jane has beat a personal best in cross country this year?!
Talk to your kids about this, too, and let them know they can walk away from unsolicited comments and opinions. Let them overhear you setting boundaries for yourself and your family so they know you’ve always got their back. Teach your kids that they can politely stand up for themselves and redirect the question in a way that they can reframe the conversation,
I know you’re trying to compliment me, but I don’t want to discuss my appearance. Do you want to hear how much I’m enjoying… (insert hobby, sport, school, etc.)
5. Take Care of yourself – it’s okay to not attend family functions
Spend time with the people who make you happy and focus on the things you’re grateful for. This will help you stay positive and avoid getting caught up in the drama this season. It’s okay to turn down invitations – that’s you setting boundaries, and that’s totally acceptable!
Make the most of your holiday season. You can find ways to be direct yet polite, and you’ll come out on the other side feeling strong and empowered.