A highlight from 95: Encore: Happy Holidays? Dealing with Difficult Relatives


The holidays are approaching and to gather or not to gather that is still the question. What do you do? What are you guys doing? You know, we host my in laws and it's wonderful. And we have a real kind of set routine. Everybody brings the same thing every year. We've got to kind of down and last year we did it outdoors in mid October. And this year, thanks to vaccines and testing, we can do it indoors. How about you guys? We're still trying to figure it out, you know, trying to see where everyone's comfort level is. And we've been getting a lot of feedback from our listeners about help. They want help, and this letter came into us. It says, dear doctor Lisa. Last year, we skipped having my in laws come for Thanksgiving, and it was such a relief. This year we're back to our regular routine. My husband's parents are fundamentally decent people, but having them come for the holidays is always tense. They rub my 13 year old son the wrong way because they're loud, opinionated. And they talk down to him like he's a young child. And they make me uncomfortable because they talk in front of our ten year old daughter about inappropriate topics. My husband is over it. He shuts down when they're here, and while I feel for him, I'm the one left holding the bag. I want Thanksgiving to be a pleasant family experience. And I don't want to feel like the person who has to make that happen. How do I deal with this conflict? I don't want to dread the holidays. Please help. Ah. Where do you begin? Probably half of our listeners. My guess. But it is a true inflection point, right? I think so many people are going through this. It is, and I think there's so many people are stocking up on a lot of wine. Because I think a lot of people had really mixed feelings about last year's thanksgivings in particular being disrupted on the one hand, it was very sad for a lot of people, and I think a lot of people were like, whew, you know, like Dodge that bullet for a year. So I know that many families are bracing for the return to old routines. So I want to start with a teenager component to this. Yeah. So how would you tackle that? Because your kids are first priority here, right? Yeah, he's not having it, right? And you can totally picture a 13 year old boy just having actually any 13 year old having zero patients for the loud opinionated grandparents who talked down to him. Like that is so classically exactly how to antagonize a 13 year old. And you know, I'm thinking about actually in our most recent episode, we were talking about materialism and 13 year olds being pretty concrete. Yes. And so you still have that problem here. You have a pretty concrete kid who may feel like their jokes, I don't want to deal with them. I don't have to be nice. You know that they may feel very much that way in the world. Now you also may have a 13 year old who's thinking has shifted into a more sophisticated space who can get it that just because the grandparents annoy them, they still have to be polite and at least try to be friendly, let it roll off their back. So you have to know which kind of 13 year old you have. And if you have the really concrete 13 year old, I think you probably need to make a rule. Which is to say, look, I get it, that they get under your skin, I need you to be polite. And just be really straightforward about it, empathic and straightforward, and it reminds me when I was growing up. I had a really good friends whose parents used to pay them to be nice to their grandparents. Yo, really? Yeah. Was that on the head? Well, that's the solution they came up with in their family. And I just, I don't know that I'm recommending it. It cracks me up. But I do like whatever, you know, setting aside the financial transaction, I do like the parents acknowledging, like we're asking you a favor. We're asking you to play a long with their behavior. And I think actually with the 13 year old, the little object lesson you could slide in here is, it's not personal, right? This isn't about you. They're not, they don't think you're a little kid. They're not thinking about it. And see if, you know, wherever you're 13 a year old, is developmentally see if they can get a little distance on it. And a 13 year old who thinks in a more sophisticated way, and it's just a neurological event that has happened or not. It's not an intelligence question. A 13 year old who's a little more sophisticated is going to be able to latch more readily on to the idea of like, eh, that's them. They don't really get me. They don't know me. This isn't an insult. This is just how they operate. I can separate myself from that. But I think there's going to be some advanced conversations with the 13 year old. So I'm curious Lisa about the ten year old and the inappropriate talk in front of the daughter. That's not so great, right? Right? That's a tricky one. What do you think, reena? What would you do? Well, you know, I just feel like these days even talking politics can feel inappropriate, and you just don't want to wade into it anymore, right? 'cause it's just gonna be such a tense topic, especially after the elections, right? Yeah, no, that can be pretty hot. It's funny. Have you ever heard this? I don't know why I just remembered this now. At somewhere along the way, I heard this thing about rules for submarines and meals at submarines, which was you couldn't discuss religion or politics. And this was forever. And I think there was sort of this sense of we are all stuck here together. We are all trapped in a very small space. And I think it's stuck with me because it seems so smart in a way. I love that. Yeah, so I wonder. So everybody should send big submarine images and emails to saying the submarine rules apply or something submarine rules is Thanksgiving. Well, actually, okay, so it's funny right now. I wonder if, first of all, preparation is your best friend. So this is a parent who's already thinking, this could go sideways with my in laws they could say something I don't want them to say in front of my kid, and then you're rightly anticipating, oh, there's lots of ways that the dinner conversation could get super weird and uncomfortable. What I wonder, and tell me if you think this is a plausible plan. I wonder if the parent could kind of be ready with a light and funny intervention. If it starts to get weird, you know, to say something like, hey, let's go with what I've heard our submarine rules. We're like, at the dinner table, especially maybe we're the holidays. You don't talk politics, religion, or about that super weird TV show you're watching, that doesn't really sound appropriate for ten year olds. You know, something like that. I wonder if there's a way to have that in a parent's pocket. What do you think? Oh, that's a great idea. It's all about preparation, isn't it? Like, you've got to have a plan. You can't just wing it is what I'm hearing from you. I think you can't, especially if you know who you're dealing with. The other thing that occurs to me is you could just have a new topic. Right, I mean, maybe you have something really compelling that you are sitting on. And so then you can see your in laws taking the conversation down some road that you definitely do not want to see what is further down that road. And then you say, oh hey, have we told you about the incredible thing that, you know, let's say the little girl's name is Molly, that Molly did in her art class. He Molly, go get that pottery.

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