It’s that time of year again, when meaningful family traditions, freshly-baked holiday treats, and never-ending gift giving flood our lives until the new year approaches. While it all sounds like an exciting and joyful scene straight out of your favorite Hallmark movie, the holidays make it challenging to avoid the inevitable: soon you may be dragged into tough conversations loaded with personal questions, unsolicited advice, or you may even overhear comments that rub you the wrong way.
The family that you probably adore will now get the opportunity to swarm you with questions that you really don’t want to answer. “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend, yet?” “When are you all going to get married?” “Oh, you started your own business? What exactly is it anyway?” — the never-ending interrogation. You may begin to feel overwhelmed by your family dynamics and struggle to set boundaries that will help you handle these gatherings.
Everyone has that one relative, friend, or co-worker who you don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on all topics with. The best thing you can do in these situations is to make a mental note of what topics you are going to completely avoid engaging in (if you want to avoid conflict in a group setting) — whether this be politics, human rights, or just general gossip. Rather than allowing your enthusiasm for the holidays to wither away, put your focus on how you’d like to navigate these tough conversations if they arise.
Reframe your thinking and provide them with a little bit of insight
In some instances, a loved one may unknowingly ask a hurtful or extremely intrusive question. You can use this as an opportunity to inform and educate your family and friends. Try not to take their questions or any implied criticism personally. It’s important to realize that they are not you and are not living your life. In fact, they probably have a completely different set of values or social pressures that they think are the right way an adult should be living life.
Take this as a chance to share who you are, what you do, and why you may believe in some of the things you believe. Rather than completely dismissing them and being irritated for the rest of the dinner, try to let them into what’s going on in your life. Maybe they don’t quite understand your work in the creative field or how you make a living. Show them a few samples of your work or share some highlights of your professional accomplishments. The loved ones who truly care about and adore you probably just want to know more about you. Though they may not understand (or even agree with) all that is happening in your life, they will possibly be able to understand what is bringing you joy.
Respectfully decline and change the subject
Always remember, you don’t have to discuss anything you truly are not comfortable with. You can always politely suggest talking about something else. If you’re well-versed in smoothly changing a subject, you may find it easier to deflect an uncomfortable question by keeping your response brief and vague or look to others in the room to join the conversation. The goal is to keep your holidays joyous and the stress at bay by discussing topics that may you feel good. Never feel like you have to reveal every single detail of a traumatic experience from the past year, or chat about a recent hardship just to have something to share at the dinner table. Instead, dive into the thousands of other topics of conversation that you find worth having. And if you are not knowledgeable or don’t have an opinion about something, kindly let someone else lead the charge.
Institute the buddy system
No one likes to feel like they’re being ganged up on. Bringing someone with you to the family gathering can be a big help. Your best friend or partner can easily become an ally that has your back if the conversation goes south. Come up with a safe word or gesture that can be used as a cue for when you need to change a topic in the conversation or make up an excuse to leave. Whatever feasible thing you can think of to bail one or both of you out of the situation and allow you take a breather.
Don’t lose your confidence
Family can often be the biggest critic in our lives. A family gathering may bring along a plethora of clashing personality types or opinions and “advice” from grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, so on and so forth. And they all like to put their two cents in the pot of what you should be doing in life or why their lives are in a better place than yours. In situations like this, don’t let your confidence waver. Stand firm and advocate for yourself. While you can hear out their advice, you don’t have to follow it.
Bring out family-friendly games and activities
When the family is busy being entertained, there’s no time for debates and prying into each other’s lives. Bring out the board games, turn on a holiday-themed movie, download an interactive gaming app on someone’s phone, or plug in the karaoke machine. Remember, the focus should be on creating sweet, new memories with each and simply spending time together. Laughter is the best medicine and will be the remedy for those tense and uncomfortable moments. After all, who has the time to explain about why you haven’t moved to that new state yet or share the purpose of dating apps?
Don’t let the anticipation of the not-so-merry encounters with family and those tough conversations interfere with your joy during the holidays. Handle them with grace, keep your chin up, and don’t forget to enjoy yourself!