Methods For Navigating Tricky Family Conversations During The Holidays

Methods For Navigating Tricky Family Conversations During The Holidays

Since we’re in the midst of the holiday season and spending time with family can be stressful for some — I asked members of the Community how they navigate difficult family conversations around the holiday table. The responses were really insightful and, honestly, quite helpful. Here are some of them:


“I typically say, ‘You feel really passionate about that.’ It makes me sound understanding while signaling to them that they’re overdoing it.”



“For my mental health and sanity, I started going no-contact for most holidays. However, I am not alone during the holidays. I choose to celebrate with immediate family and not extended relatives. It has caused quite a stir, but why should I pay for food, prepare a meal, and clean up after people who don’t love or respect me and make it known? Over the years, I’ve learned that sometimes we shouldn’t include our relatives in important events. Loved ones aren’t always going to be your relatives — sometimes, they are close friends, and you should celebrate special occasions with your loved ones!”


“I pretend my Spanish isn’t as good as it actually is because 90% of the time, my family doesn’t feel like translating what they’re saying in English, so they just move on from me.”



“I (F) have been married to my spouse (M) for over six years. Obviously, our family regularly asks when we’re going to have kids. I always say, ‘We’ve been trying for a while,’ and then, I attempt to demonstrate how ‘I put my thumb in his bellybutton just like this…’ (as I try to put my thumb in his bellybutton), then I ask them questions about technique. ‘Should I use a different finger? Should he try not to poop the next day?’ 80% of the time, they leave me alone about the topic. In the other 20% of the time, I ask increasingly awkward questions as though I believe that’s how babies are made. The only people I don’t do this with are my spouse’s grandparents who don’t need that sass from me.”


“I just sort of turn off and go on autopilot. I get that it’s dissociating, and it’s not healthy, but it’s okay since I know the technical term.”



“I don’t have a relationship with much of my family anymore because there haven’t been any answers to navigating those tough conversations. I can’t even have one with my parents because my mother is so mentally checked out since the death of her toxic mother, and my father is the Olympic gold winner over having it worse than anyone else or just being downright negative with anything positive. It is harder as an only child and having young children of my own and trying to explain to them how to talk to their grandparents. It is an absolutely lonely island during the holidays with a spouse who works offshore and supportive in-laws thousands of miles away and a highly unsupportive family just minutes away. It may be unhealthy to avoid the conversations, but it is the only way to keep from fully falling apart this time of the year.”

—Kellie, 39


“When listening to what others have to say, I just mentally trace back their bad attitude and hurtful language to possible mental issues, childhood trauma, or insecurities. For example, my relative gets into a long rant about people who don’t finish their food being stuck in purgatory, but then, I trace it back to WWII days when literally every single grain was valuable to them. I am privileged enough to have access to mental health knowledge, and I apply what I learn to understand the older generations and help the younger generations.”



“It doesn’t happen anymore, because I don’t feel obliged to endure anyone’s presence like I used to. But when it did, here were my strategies: deflect and ignore inappropriate comment, query and ask another person a question about their job, pet, S.O., children, or hobby, and begin what you know will be a lengthy convo. Avoid the person/s as much as possible. If they corner you, pretend you need an urgent bathroom break and you’ve been waiting to see if it’s available. Go outside and go for a walk. Or, park on the couch in front of a football game and either discuss only football or ask a ton of questions about the rules to take up the verbal space.”


“I’m the oddball in my family. One half is super straight edge and religious, while the other half is sketchy. I’m kind of a lone wolf right there in the middle. My family is a little toxic, so whenever they bring up my differences, I just leave. I’ll take frequent breaks to the bathroom, to quickly straighten up my room, or walk my dog. I know it’s odd to just straight up start doing something else during family time, but it’s for my sanity. For any other introverts out there, don’t be ashamed to need to take little timeouts when you’re feeling overwhelmed.”



“We just don’t talk about politics or religion at our family get-togethers. I usually just sit with a couple of relatives that I don’t mind and avoid certain people who I can’t stand.”


“We usually avoid political or controversial topics since there’s an evident split of a left-wing and right-wing party within my relatives and family, so we don’t really want to have any political arguments. So, yeah, family gatherings are generally chill. If someone brings up a tough topic, we just talk about it lightheartedly and then change the subject quickly. My grandparents would not invite a relative if he/she is known to stir up trouble.”



“Hang out with the kids who are old enough to understand what adults are saying. People are less likely to be rude when in front of children they’re related to.”


“Spending my first Christmas alone, and second Christmas with no contact with my parents. As lonely as it is going to be, it is preferred to a family Christmas. I am getting the crafts I want to do, buying the food I want, and having a day for myself. Still slightly dreading it, but it is free from abuse, so trying to remain positive.”



“My mom was sick of us arguing all the time, so she instituted a moratorium on political topics, and she’s happy to yell at anyone who breaks it.”



“I told my family ahead of time I’m not having these types of conversations with them. We know that we disagree politically to a point that we were not on speaking terms for the majority of 2021. I’ve told them that if they want me and my kids around, that they’ll avoid all politically charged conversations; otherwise, we’ll leave.”


“I communicate my boundaries well in advance to whoever is coordinating the event. For example, I would tell my mom and sisters that the second I felt uncomfortable or attacked, I would leave that very second. Maybe this comes off as a threat, maybe not, but I don’t care. I spent a very, very long time believing in ‘keeping the peace’ and being told to ‘let it go’ when I was being harassed by my own family. After A LOT of therapy, I know I don’t have to tolerate it anymore.”



“In a one-on-one situation, you can either just say, ‘I’m not going to talk about this,’ or if you just want to dodge annoyingness, ‘I have to pee’ works great.”



“My family’s good at not doing this, but as a social worker, I would suggest saying something like, ‘Everyone pause. We can do this, but everyone needs to understand that there may be consequences like hurt relationships at the end of this, and consider that before we keep going. If everyone is okay risking that, continue on; just know that every choice and word does carry a consequence.’ Remind them that they can choose to engage, but that it may ruin family dynamics forever. If everyone agrees to keep going, they now have to own that choice and accept the consequences. If they choose to prioritize family relationships, the conflict will either end or simmer down to a healthier conversation.”



“‘How about them Dodgers?’ I say that, half of the table talking about a controversial subject stops to ask me what I’m talking about, and my mom says, ‘She’s saying stop talking politics — let’s find something else to talk about.'”


How do you handle difficult family conversations around the holiday table? Tell me in the comments below!