Surviving holidays with the family: Top 7 rude comments and how to respond.
Surviving holidays with the family: Top 7 rude comments and how to respond.

Surviving holidays with the family: Top 7 rude comments and how to respond.

With family like this, who needs Mean Girls?

When families gather for the holidays, it’s often a mixed bag of fun and horror. You might enjoy getting together and sharing food and merriment. At the same time, you may feel hurt, frustrated or alienated by insensitive questions or remarks.

Unconditional love is great but, unfortunately, family members may feel entitled to say outrageous things they’d never say to friends or coworkers. You might feel trapped, or like avoiding the situation completely, but you need not give up holiday cheer to avoid the grinchy comments.

Read on for tips to manage uncomfortable family interactions over the holidays.

Illustration of person ignoring rude family holiday comments
Illustration by Joseph Moore
How to respond to awkward comments from family
  1. “You look so different. I hardly recognize you!”
    This is often a backhanded way of recognizing weight gain or other physical changes.
    You can set a boundary: “Let’s talk about something other than my looks.”
    Or, you can respond lightly and shift the focus back on them: “Hey Stranger! Is that a new shirt?”
  2. “Still single? When are you going to settle down?”
    Unless you want to launch into a heartfelt conversation about relationships, humor may work best: “Relationships are expensive! I’m saving up for a cruise instead.”
  3. “Aren’t you ever going to start college/get a better job/do something with your life?”
    If you’re up for talking about your hopes and dreams, go for it. Otherwise, a casual response may suffice: “I’m good where I am. How are things with you?”
  4. “Looks like you’ve had enough cookies already.”
    Unless you’re 5-years-old, this comment is so inappropriate that it’s hard not to respond with anger.
    If you want to stay light, you can say: “Don’t worry, I’m pretty good at feeding myself.”
    If you’re up for a dose of honesty, you can say: “It sounds like you’re concerned about me, but that’s really my business.”
  5. “Don’t you want to have kids?”
    Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. If you don’t feel like getting into it, keep it vague and change the subject: “I haven’t decided yet, but I’ll keep you posted. Do you have any big plans for next year?”
  6. “What did you do to your hair?” “Why do you have all that metal on your face?” “What’s up with the tattoos?”
    Judgment oozes from these questions. You might respond to their curiosity rather than their implied criticism by talking about the significance behind your choices: “Cool, right? I got this tat when I landed my first real job.”
  7. “Your sister sure is doing great things! Aren’t you impressed by her promotion?”
    Maybe you feel genuine delight over your sister’s accomplishments and can respond enthusiastically to this sort of question. However, if you’re tired of comparisons and implications that you’re somehow less than, you might require a different approach.

    If you feel hurt by direct comparisons and want to address them head-on, you can say something like, “You keep comparing me to Susan. What are you trying to tell me?”

    If it isn’t a good time to confront the person, try turning it back on them to see what it means to them. “Yes, I’m proud of her. What do you think about what she’s doing?” It’s possible that getting them to reflect will illuminate their concerns.

    If neither of those works, try humor: “Sure, but I just got made Dungeon Master of my D&D group, so we’re all moving up.”

If you’re dreading awkward interactions with your extended family, prepare yourself mentally by remembering:

  • You can’t change them. Your Great Aunt Sally doesn’t have a filter and will say whatever comes to mind. She probably even thinks she’s being helpful! Do what you need to do to take care of yourself, but don’t expect family members to change.
  • You can and should set boundaries. It’s okay to change the subject, say “Not today,” or step away and take a breather. If it feels too painful, it’s okay to leave. Don’t be afraid to take care of yourself.
  • Drink in moderation. While it’s tempting to keep filling your glass to cope with an uncomfortable or downright maddening situation, alcohol makes it more likely that you’ll say or do something that you’ll regret. It will also make it harder for you to leave early if needed.
  • Practice gratitude. When you focus on the things for which feel grateful, it’s easier to tolerate (or even enjoy) your family. Are there people you enjoy seeing? Is the food good? Do you like kidding around with your nephews?
  • Keep your sense of humor. Seeing the funny side of awkward situations will help you stay calm when things get weird.
Next Steps

The holidays are stressful for many of us, boorish family members or not. It’s a particularly difficult time for those of us who struggle with anxiety or depression. Take care of your mental health and seek help if you need it.

If you feel overwhelmed and need help developing healthy ways to cope with stress, contact Athena Care, for mental health care in Tennessee.

One of our Care Coordinators will help you get the care you need.

Photo of Rachel Swan
Rachel Swan, MS

Rachel has a Masters of Science in Clinical Psychology from Vanderbilt University, where she spent 16 years as a Research Analyst in the Psychology and Human Development Department.