How you can deal -- and firmly -- with rude relatives

Parent Connection

December 4, 2008 

I have enjoyed the comics, or "funnies" as my dad used to say, since I was old enough to read. I'm not sure why this ritual caught on with me so early in life, but I think it's because there is much truth in the adage that laughter is truly good medicine. I continue to find myself learning some valuable lessons from these humorous panels of life.

As I hammer away on my laptop, Sally Forth (by Francesco Marciuliano and drawn by Craig Macintosh; King Features) is facing yet another holiday with her difficult mother. On this year's Thanksgiving holiday the Forths are joined by Sally's difficult mother and younger adult (but not grown up) sister. I say difficult mother. In reality, she is rude, constantly condescending, and just plain brutal.

What do you do if you have difficult extended family to your home this holiday season? You need to know that even if you have dealt with this for years, you have rights. If this statement already has you feeling nervous, perhaps it's because you have put up with too much from difficult family in the past. Well, no more. Whether it be an in-law, out-law, or other difficult person who year after year ruins the holiday family gathering, have a plan in mind.

Begin by setting reasonable expectations. Rarely do family gatherings go perfectly. I'm not advocating that you go to battle with your relatives over every little thing. Ignore the small stuff. Bragging brother-in-law Bob, whiney Aunt Whitney, and pessimistic Uncle Pete are all part of dealing with family. Laugh off what you can and show your children that even though you don't act this way, in reality other "adults" do.

What can you do when you have that family member who, like dear Sally's mother, is constantly rude, insulting, and criticizes all your efforts for a nice holiday time together? Pull them aside and spell it out. "Look, Mom, we try to include you and Dad during the holidays but we aren't going to allow you to act this way in front of our children. You are just plain rude, and if you can't do any better then you and Dad can pack up your things and leave. And I'm not kidding."

"What? We haven't even had dessert yet and you're throwing us out?"

"No mom. You are throwing yourself out by acting like a spoiled child. You used to take away my dessert when I misbehaved, so now I'm taking away yours. We would rather you stay with us, but you are not going to insult and criticize me in front of the children. Doing so is just plain wrong."

Easy? No. Sometimes in life we have to make a stand and deal with the fallout later. It may mean that next year you don't have as many folks around your table. Weigh it out. That may very well be better than dealing with holiday conflict from those who are supposed to be your loved ones. Plan ahead and you can create fond memories for your children of happy holiday gatherings.

Bryan Greeson, a nationally certified school psychologist residing in Gastonia, N.C., answers your questions. E-mail him at

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