Your Official Guide to Uncomfortable Questions at Family Gatherings

Source: Bonnin Studio | Stocksy
Source: Bonnin Studio | Stocksy

We’re finally approaching the end of the year when cherished moments of freshly-baked holiday goodies, timeless family traditions, and anticipated gift-giving circles take precedence. We love spending time with loved ones and experiencing the holly jolly that is the holidays, but the reality is this: This is also the time of year when people like to ask questions about your life—a lot of them. And if we’re honest, we don’t always want to answer them all. Questions like “How’s your dating life going?” “So when are you two going to have a baby?” “What exactly does your business do anyway?” are dreadful.

But, if you put some thought into how you’d like to approach these conversations if they arise ahead of time, you can still enjoy the season and the company that comes with it, and we can help. Here is our official guide to uncomfortable questions at family gatherings:

Don’t take anything personally

It’s possible that a loved one can ask a hurtful question completely unintentionally, so this is a great opportunity to educate your family and friends on your current situation, beliefs, or dreams in an informative manner. For example, if someone doesn’t quite understand what you do for work or how you make any money, and they ask you a question that sounds a little like they are underestimating the importance of your job, you can respond by saying something like, “Thank you for asking, but that’s not quite it. I am a [insert job title], and I work on [overview of role]. I love what I do!” You can even show them samples of your work or share some of the career wins you have had this year. Remember, your loved ones care about you and probably just want to know more about what is going on in your life, so they will appreciate you opening up and not getting annoyed with them for not knowing.

Kindly pivot to a light-hearted topic

Is it nearly impossible to avoid serious topics like politics and religion at family gatherings? This can be stressful and frustrating, but remember, not everyone has to be on the same page, and you didn’t come to the holiday party in search of everyone’s approval. If a family member asks what your stance is on a certain topic, and you either don’t feel comfortable sharing or don’t want to get into the conversation at all, you can say something along the lines of “I appreciate your interest in my perspective, but I don’t want to get into [insert topic] tonight. I actually am more curious to know about….” This will help you kindly change the conversation to talk about something lighter. You can ask them about the trip they went on recently, their plans for the new year, or something else that is easy and won’t warrant an argument.

Don’t disclose information you don’t want to

The best way to avoid getting deep into a conversation you don’t really want to be in is by responding in a way that doesn’t give out much information. For example, if a family member asks you what happened with your ex, you can give an ambiguous response like “It didn’t work out, but it’s for the best!” Similarly, if you are asked what is taking you so long to graduate, you can respond by saying something funny like “I’m just trying to get my money’s worth!” By not giving a detailed response, you are protecting yourself from the emotions that might come with a particular topic, and eventually, since you aren’t giving out any information, everyone will stop asking.

Ask for support ahead of time

There is nothing worse than feeling like you are being ganged up on at your own family gathering. Try keeping a sidekick nearby to help move the conversation. Do you have a sibling or a cousin that you can count on? Can you ask your mom before the party to help keep a certain topic of your life off-limits? Prepare them ahead of time by saying something like “I have a feeling [insert topic] might come up. If it does, can you be there to help me [divert the conversation or support me through it]?”

Come prepared with suggested entertainment

If you are worried that conversation could slim down through the duration of the get-together and point toward you, come prepared to suggest some fun things to keep everyone busy. There are plenty of ways to keep family members entertained that don’t consist of drilling each other with intense life questions—like playing a card game, looking through old family photos, or watching home videos. This is far more fun than explaining why you haven’t found a new job yet or sharing how your dating life is going.