Updated: Jan 1
When families get together in clans, for holidays, celebrations, or other occasions, sometimes interactions that are well-meaning can take a turn for the awkward or hurtful. Here are some suggestions of ways to keep it clean and considerate, by trying to steer clear of the following common pitfall topics. It might be a good idea to not comment on:
1. How people look: style, weight, modesty- appearance is super-personal to most people, for a variety of reasons. Instead of commenting on how people look, (yes, even compliments – you might be surprised how many of them can sound backhanded, even unintentionally.) Instead, maybe stick with: “It’s so great to see you!”
2. Religious or political differences or jokes: Religion and politics can get heated and personal fast. Discussing meaningful ideas and sharing wisdom can be a great way to bond. But criticizing, preaching, or mocking the beliefs or practices of others, directly or through hinting, can be hurtful and divisive.
3. Other people’s parenting: When hanging out with cousins or grandchildren, it can get a little sticky when some adults have opinions about others’ parenting styles or kids’ behavior. We need to keep our own kids and belongings safe, but it’s best not to give unsolicited parenting advice (even in the form of passing comments). Also, try not to engage in the competing or one-upping that can sometimes happen between parents; kids are not a contest, and it's just not worth it.
4. Other people’s dating life: Please, please don’t tell single people what they should be doing to “get themselves married” or ask personal questions about their dating and relationships, if they aren’t 100% clear that they want to share. Even when well-intended (which it usually is) it’s generally unhelpful and sometimes humiliating.
5. Family planning: Never, ever, ever ask if someone is pregnant. Or when they’re planning to have a baby/ another kid. We never know what people are dealing with in their own relationships.
6. What people are eating: Similar to weight, body, and other appearance comments, sometimes even remarks that are meant are jokes, advice, or compliments can be painful to the listener. Pay no mind to what others are eating, (unless you need to tell them it’s spoiled or something like that).
7. The state of others’ homes: Some are messier, and some are neater. Some are organized, and some less so. Some can decorate or maintain their homes more elegantly than others. Here, simple compliments should be safe, or offering to help with setting or clearing up for meals, but skip any other, less favorable feedback.
8. Affording stuff: This one is more subjective. But in extended families, there can often be discrepancies in financial situations. Best to be sensitive to these differences when sharing about activities, purchases, or plans that touch on those realities.
9. Past embarrassments: An innocent walk down memory lane can often morph into a subtle bullying session, when recounting events or moments that some relatives might prefer to forget. Please reminisce tactfully.
10. Disclosing personal information: When a relative (or spouse or child) tells us something in confidence, such as a health issue, or a relationship challenge, it can easily “leak” out when surrounded by mutual loved ones. But people, (even children), are entitled to privacy. When unsure whether to share or not, err on the side of discretion.
These are just a few ideas that are worth keeping in mind when hanging out with family. Some other safe topics for chatting are: good books, podcasts, or lecture content, how tasty the food is, light anecdotes, or the weather.
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