STFU: How can I deal with one family member who always ruins holiday parties?

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I’m slated to host Christmas Eve at my home again, and last year it was fun… except for one uncle ruined it with snarky comments and flat-out negativity. He bitched about the food, the tackiness of the decorations, and the gifts people gave.

At the time, I was more concerned about hosting duties and making sure my family was having a good time, so I just tried to roll with it. Nobody in the family had the guts to say anything, except to talk about it after he left.

This year though… fuck that, I don’t want any of that shit in my house.

How do I keep his horrible attitude in line in my own home? My initial response to myself is “just tell him to shut the fuck up” but I know that would cause more trouble than what that’s worth.
-Melissa

Ooh, you know we love doing cut ‘n’ paste conflict resolution! Obviously, no one phrase is going to work for every family situation or communication style, but we’ve wrastled up a few ideas for things you could quietly but firmly say in response to your uncle’ negative comments:

  • I really don’t appreciate your tone of voice. Please respect that a lot of work/effort/thought went into _______.
  • Sounds like you’re unhappy about ______, and while I sympathize, the rest of us are trying to enjoy our evening.
  • We decided to ______, and I hope you can respect our wishes even if you disagree.
  • I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m trying to enjoy myself tonight and your negative comments are really interfering.
  • I love you, but your negativity this evening is making it difficult to enjoy your company. Please be quiet.
  • It sounds like you have some strong opinions about _____. Perhaps next year you should host. This year, however, we’re hosting, and if you’re unable to enjoy your time here, you should consider leaving.

Ok, Homies. Your turn!

How do you firmly but respectfully deal with family members who ruin holiday parties?

Comments on STFU: How can I deal with one family member who always ruins holiday parties?

  1. Is there a trusted relative or friend who can be your wingman? If he/she can hang out with your uncle and talk to him and keep him occupied, he’ll be too busy to complain. Most people just want an audience, so even an audience of one is sufficient. “Please, Cousin Jane, if you can keep an eye on your dad and prevent him from complaining about everything, I’d be ever so grateful/buy you a bottle of your favorite wine/take you to dinner next week.” I’ve played this role at a wedding to keep the bride’s parents from throwing shade on everything, and she was so appreciative. I do something similar for my dad at family parties–he doesn’t start shit like your uncle does, but he has a better time when he can quietly grouse to me about whatever. Good luck!

  2. This article comes at a prefect time! I just found out that my sister-in-law will be going to our Thanksgiving get together. Does anyone have any advice on how to deal with someone that always tries to “one up” everything I say? I try to be nice, I try to ignore it, but sometimes it’s really hurtful. Last time I saw her, she was bragging that it’s harder for her to put on weight than it is for my very thin special needs son. His weight has been a struggle for years, she knows this, and she made it sound so trite. For a long time, I thought it was just me being over sensitive, but EVERYONE else in the family is noticing it to. I don’t know how to say something to her without me lashing out at her.

    • One-up-manship usually comes from a place of insecurity and unhappiness. It might be a bit easier to deal with if you can see her with empathy (it’s hard, I know!) instead of anger. Even when she hits your sore spots, don’t take it personally. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with her own unhappiness.

      If ignoring her and changing the topic isn’t an option, try validating her. Even a, “Sure, I can see it that way,” to her opinion/comparison/whatever (even if you’re lying) helps you short-circuit her and move on. If you try to fight back against her claims, you’re only giving her more attention and more opportunities to make her points… which is probably exactly what she wants. Kill her with kindness, and don’t let yourself be baited into debates that will only leave you feeling worse.

    • I like over-sympathizing to this kind of thing, although it works better with strangers than with people you see frequently. So for instance in the situation you mentioned, over-sympathizing might look like, “Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry you’re going through that too! What kind of diet has your doctor recommended? Have you tried X food/drug/something you know she will never in a million years have actually been told to do? Here, let me take away that glass of wine and get you some Ensure.”

      It basically confuses people enough to keep them quiet, while making them look like an idiot in front of everyone else, and if you’re a good enough actor you come out of it looking completely blameless.

      • I use this tactic. You need to be pretty secure to tread into these waters, though. Works like a charm!

        • As a mom of a 4-year old with ongoing eating disorder, need for supplemental high-calorie formula, and former failure to thrive (only because I set an alarm and did round the clock feeding with cancer patient supplements for 2+ years while she slept), I would totally do the over-sympathy as well. I have given up on trying to educate folks like this and go for the jugular. “Who is your specialist? What is the supplements you are using? Have you tried duocal/benecal to add calories even though they are not nutritionally complete? What about your GI–they are totally horrible if they can’t help you gain weight. You need the full endoscopy, colonoscopy, and GI workup, just like my daughter did to assess her failure to thrive AT TWELVE MONTHS OLD YOU IGNORANT BLEEPITY-BLEEP.” Well, you may want to keep that last bit to yourself.

          There seems to be a fundamental inability of some folks to understand the “hidden” special needs. As in, those kids or folks with special needs that aren’t visible. Sometimes they truly are ignorant, other times, they want the attention themselves. Regardless, I take it serious and go the opposite extreme–“Here, let me help you find some specialists. Do you want to borrow some of her nutritional supplement to try? X is better than Y.” etc. They either are validated and back off, or realize that they have been called out on their exaggerations and usually back off fast.

      • That’s just brilliant. I know at this point I’m talking to ghosts, but I just had to say how genius I think this idea is.

    • Sounds like we have the same sister-in-law and (and same special needs kids!). I do a happy puppy act and pretend like I have no idea she is jabbing me. I also make a point of saying “um-hum” to everything she says and never encourage the conversation. By the end of the night she is so wound up and frustrated looking for a fight that I just thank her for such a wonderful evening and leave, always taking the high ground. By giving into it, taking the bait and fighting, I am saying that I value her opinion. I also know that her misery is all her own and I refuse to share in it. If you are concerned about your children maybe taking what she is saying to heart, then say her name, followed by “that (comment) is not appropriate and this topic is non of your concern, thank you.” Some times you need to be direct.

    • I used to be a one-upper. But I didn’t realize it till someone told me that they felt frustrated and hurt that I didn’t just empathize with them when they would tell me something. Instead it felt like I was belittling their anger/hurt/disappointment/happiness/achievement because I so often launched into a story of my own instead of recognizing and validating their part of the conversation.

      I swear, I thought I was being empathetic by sharing a story that was similar to their’s so they could see how I really could understand their situation. I’m so SO SOOOOO glad someone pointed it out to me with love. Nobody wants to be the asshole everyone is afraid to hang out with. It’s hard but I would find a way to lovingly express your true feelings if you think there’s any way you can without turning it into a huge fight.

    • I love the suggestion that advice-giver extraordinaire Carolyn Hax has given on this issue. You can just say, “You win.” Or better, “Wow, you win! Your weight problems are worse than the problems of my special needs son. Congrats!” Does it still count as lashing out if you say it with glee? πŸ™‚

  3. The last bullet point was going to be my suggestion. The nice version of “If you don’t like it, then it sounds like you’re volunteering for next year! Congratulations, we’re all going to Uncle Grumpypants for Christmas Eve!”

    I’m, um, blunt, to say the least. I would just, at some point in public, come out with, “you know, if you really think that you can do all of this better, I think we’d all appreciate it if you hosted next year to prove your skills. It seems you’re quite the expert.” But, then again, I’m not the nicest person to people who’re being passive-aggressive jackwagons, so I’m not exactly a golden rule on that.

    • I think you’ve solved it: they should just call him Uncle Grumpypants every time he complains.

      Sorry you don’t like the food, Uncle Grumpypants.
      I wish I had gotten you a better present, Uncle Grumpypants.
      Uncle Grumpypants, can you pass the peas?

      It’ll catch on wonderfully.

  4. I love this one: “I love you, but your negativity this evening is making it difficult to enjoy your company. Please be quiet.”

    My grandfather on my mothers side is a real piece of work, and though I’m not hosting I’ll be seeing him, and I am glad to have this line in my back pocket.

  5. I really like all the suggestions, though I have to say that the last one is my favorite. Any variation of “if you think you can do better, by all means step up” will probably shut him right down. Since, you know, if he was such a great mega host he’d probably already be hosting. Or, maybe Uncle Jerkface secretly really really WANTS to host Christmas, and he’ll jump at the chance to show his chops next year?

    • If he were such a fabulous host, he would probably have the good grace to keep his mouth shut.
      Or at least phrase his criticism constructively, or offer to help out in small ways.

  6. The copy and paste suggestions sound great, and I think they would work well for this situation. However, there is one I would recommend against using:

    “I really don’t appreciate your tone of voice. Please respect that a lot of work/effort/thought went into _______. ”

    Perhaps it is just one of my personal issues, but I really dislike any comment about someone’s behavior that starts with “I don’t like your tone.” I know that in this case the phrase was suggested for use on a male, but it is often used as a way to shut down women’s arguments by essentially accusing them of being overly emotional and angry for no good reason. I think that telling anyone that they have to express themselves in a certain way in order for their thoughts to be heard is problematic. (Yes, I know in this case we’re talking about an annoying complaining person, but perhaps use all the other suggestions for conflict resolution instead of this one.) Here’s a good article that explains the problem with the tone argument: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Tone_argument

    • I’m familiar with the problems with tone arguments, and while I think it’s a critically important concept in social justice contexts, I’m not sure it’s as relevant when you’re talking about a crabby family member grumping about holiday decorations.

      • This whole tone-argument thing has only recently come to my attention, but I think if you’re talking about someone taking a rude tone, at an inappropriate time, it’s fine to call him or her on it.

        For example, as a former sandwich artist, there are a number of tones in which you can pronounce the question “Can I have some more olives?” (and it’s *always* the olives) and most of them are genuinely unpleasant and unnecissary.

        • Calling someone on unnecessary rudeness is one thing, and often necessary. (Believe me, I work as a cashier, and I know the sort of rude tone you mean.)

          However, telling someone that they are too upset or angry about something and should calm down can be problematic. If someone is really upset, a sympathetic word will go much further than telling them to stop being upset because you don’t like their tone.

        • Former sandwich artists unite! I really thought it was just in my area that it was always the olives. I swear, some people want half a can on a 6-inch sandwich!

          Back on topic, I’ve been familiar with the tone argument for a while. There is a HUGE difference between telling a marginalized group/person to watch their tone as a way of shutting them down and calling out someone who’s being downright rude.

      • Actually, I kind of think it is still relevant in this context. Given that I’ve felt very belittled by family members who didn’t like my tone, I don’t think it is only relevant in the larger social justice context. Perhaps it is just my own quirks, but I often find myself infuriated by people refusing to listen to me because they are hung up on how I am saying something. I do my best to work on this, but there is only so much I can do.

        Don’t get me wrong, I think this family member sounds annoying and should be dealt with. Just perhaps use one of the other suggestions for dealing with him.

  7. I’m more for trying to keep it light. I would say something like, “Whoa negative nelly! We’re having a party, get your knickers out of your butt and have fun!”

    If he continued, I’d probably make it point to make him uncomfortable about his comments.

    Grumpy Uncle: This decor is tacky!!
    Me: Christmas can be over the top. Don’t you just love it?!

    GU: This food is dog slop!
    Me: Um…I got the recipe from grandma. She said it was your favorite.

    GU: Who gives toe socks as a gift??
    Me: Sometimes each toe needs a little extra love.

    I think addressing the comments but still keeping it light will allow you and your guests/family to enjoy the party. He may just get frustrated enough he shuts up.

    • “Sometimes each toe needs a little extra love.”

      Serioulsy best reply ever to giving socks for the holidays! i love it πŸ™‚

      • I love toe socks and they’re the only socks I wear! (More comfortable due to a toe injury when I was 12.) I frequently ask for toe socks for Christmas! If uncle Grumpypants doesn’t want toe socks, send them to meeee πŸ™‚

        • So a bit of a confession… I have two toes that are stuck together. I can’t wear toe socks. I’ve always been so jealous of the 99.9% of the population that gets to wear them. I’ve been given them once as a gift and I was so sad because they were so cool and there was nothing I could do to wear them.

          • My middle toes are partially webbed, so I can’t wear toe socks either. I’m with you on the jealousy!

          • Have you tried Japanese tabi socks? They’re meant to be work with sandals and are like mittens for feet! Also, Cassie, have you tried out a few brands of toe socks? I have found that some of my socks have very short toes on them that make my toes look webbed. They might work for you. If the socks had labels, I could advise you but try to look on Amazon and look for reviews “complaining” that the toes are too short. One person’s bug is another person’s feature.

    • I love these light-hearted responses! My old standby is the cliched “Would you like some cheese with your whine?”
      But it gets confusing if you are holding a cheese platter.

    • I’ve used this method of keeping it light and it totally works- the person just ends up shutting up because they realize they can’t get to you! My favorite one is “Ooooohhh you’re cranky. I better leave you alone…” said with a big smile and a wink, and I turn and walk away and happily talk to someone else. It’s kind of rude but… the person’s comments are usually pretty rude.

    • The best advice I can give is DONT TAKE THE BAIT! Like this poster suggests, answer every negative commenty with an impossibly upbeat response. Make lemonade out of lemons at EVERY oppertunity.
      GU: The stuff in these christmas crackers is crap
      Me: Don’t you love tacky plastic toys and silly paper hats? They make me smile.

      GU: The turkey is dry!
      Me: But wont it make great leftovers when covered in cranberry-mayo?

      The thing that pisses off a negative person most is not being able to take you down with them. If you give a positive response to every negative or snarky comment, eventually they will get bored and complain to someone else. Negative people feed off of making other people feel shity, but YOU have the power to decide how you are going to feel. Don’t ever let someone take away your power just because you or your spouse happens to be related to them.

    • “GU: Who gives toe socks as a gift??”
      In a sing-song voice-
      “Oh! I know who’s getting a Starbuck’s gift card next year then!”

  8. Honestly, an exaserbated “Is there anything you DO like” has gotten me good results from friends who were doing this. A lot of times people just think they are being witty/making conversation and don’t realize just *how* negative they are being. Pointing out that they haventsaid anything positive will often make them at least be more well rounded in their commentary. Chances are, they are plenty of things you uncle liked and enjoyed, but to him those things arent worth mentioning because theyre fine and dont need improving. He probably doesnt realize that you have no idea he appreciates them.

    • That’s exactly what we’ve had to say to our habitually grumpy neighbor who always joins us for Christmas Eve when being nice fails! Alternately (and this may be because I am a teacher), I sometimes try “I’m sorry you feel that way. Is there something you ARE enjoying?” to hopefully force out something positive. At the very least, she looks like a flaming butthead if she doesn’t come up with something nice to say, and that’s cathartic! Good luck! It’s really tough to keep a happy spirit with someone dragging you down, so I hope something works out this year.

  9. “Now Uncle, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!” – while channelling Julie Andrews.

    If he’s acting like a child, deal with him like a child – nothing shouty or mean, just tell him off with a big smile.

    • Ahh that is SO my grandma’s weapon of choice. When she disapproves of something, she’ll either mutter “well, if you can’t say anything nice…”, or she’ll just sigh and force you to notice her lack of saying anything at all. And she disapproves of a LOT of things.

  10. Unless he’s the family jerk or you think it was a one-time sour mood, try sending an email before the party ever happens to intervene. Once you’ve confirmed that he definitely plans on coming (maybe he’s just going to opt out this year if last year was sooooo awful,) just send a note along the lines of “As you know, I’m hosting it again this year, so I was wondering if you have any ideas to make it more enjoyable for everyone.” This might give him the opportunity to unload his bad feelings ahead of time, or he might actually have something concrete to offer. Either way, follow up with a no-dramaz email that’s like “Thanks so much for your input. I promise I’ll try to find a way to make this party as great as I possibly can.” And then just do exactly what you were going to do anyway, unless any of his ramblings suit your fancy.
    If you’re worried that the email will cause drama, just send it to everyone as a BCC and start it with a “Hey everyone!”

  11. That person in my family is my mother-in-law. With her, it’s all about *who* tells her to knock it off, rather than what is said. If my husband or her other kids said any of the above to her, even quietly, it would be full blown dramatic meltdown. BUT if I or one of her other daughter-in-laws say something to her, she will pretend like she never said anything and be super fake suck-upy the rest of the event, and will save her bitching until she gets home. (To be fair, I think my sister-in-laws and I come off a little more polite in general than our dudes) It’s not a perfect solution, and I hate that it has to be that way, but seeing as it’s never good enough for her anyway we kind of just have to work with what we’ve got.

    • We had the opposite problem with my grandmother. If a Man told her to knock it off, she’d obey and grudgingly stop talking. If a girl told her to knock it off, she was being rude, that was really hurtful, or whatever, she’d double down on the bitch-i-tude until she got someone upset enough to leave the room, cry, or start yelling. So sometimes it can backfire on you, but it’s worth a shot.

  12. I’m a big fan of “I feel statements.” I feel _____ when _____ because of _____.

    For example:

    I feel sad when my guests are unhappy because I put a lot of work into this dinner.
    Or
    I feel happy when I look at these tacky decorations because they remind me of my childhood and the magic of Christmas.
    Or
    I feel angry when the gifts I give aren’t appreciated because money is tight.

    Hopefully that covers your examples from above.

    The most important thing is that *your* feelings aren’t *someone else’s* fault. This isn’t about blaming – it’s only a statement of fact. It’s almost like you are asking them to help *you* by changing *their* behavior.

    I have found that men especially respond well to this because it isn’t emotional in their minds.

    You can choose whatever emotions and descriptions fit your needs but the formula goes like this: I feel ________ when ________ because of ________.

  13. Any tips on what to do when you are the Resident Family Grumpypants? “Keep your mouth shut” is a lot easier said than done.

    I want to enjoy family holidays, but it’s hard when it seems like everyone is being stupid and annoying.

    • Great question! I’d vote for breathing exercises focusing on gratitude/patience OR just make plans to go elsewhere for the holidays.

      • I have sympathy with you. My mom used to host x-mass for 20 to 30 extended family members every year and she’d turn into a martinet with me and my sister as her minions. There was so much stress in the house the 2 weeks leading up to the big night that I would get very sick every year. Managed to get pneumonia twice! Christmas is sooooo much fun when you’re wacked out on antihistamines and sitting in a corner like a lump, hating everything and just wishing it would go away. When my sister and I went to Uni, she stopped hosting, and within a year or two, my seasonal illness stopped manifesting. Still not my favorite time of the year though!
        My advice is to bring wine. Lots of wine. No, more than that. I’m talking a couple of Franzia boxes. And you need an ugly x-mass “sweater” shirt that says, “This is why Mommy drinks”.
        I like the Grinch shirt idea too.

    • Cassie,

      My first response (without any context) would be to ask the host if you can pitch in. Maybe if you’re a part of how things come together, or are busy during the party you’ll enjoy it more.

      My second response (again without context) would be to just pass. Go volunteer at a children home, or a homeless shelter instead. I know that helping others always puts my life in perspective and helps me enjoy annoying things more.

      But those might not fit for you….Can you give us some examples of ” everyone is being stupid and annoying.”

    • Wear a Grinch costume or at least a shirt and play the role. That way you can vent, but you’ll be in character. πŸ™‚

      • LOL this is an awesome idea. I should totally do that!

        “Who took the turkey?”
        “A Who didn’t take the turkey. I did! MAX!”

    • I’ve had a few holidays where “every one is being stupid and annoying.” Usually for me it’s smack dab in the middle of the family holiday vacation and I’ve got a serious case of “bah humbug”.

      In my situation it’s usually the result of two things:
      1) I’m an introvert. I love my family and friends but my battery has been thoroughly drained.
      2) I’m overstimulated. The music, the lights, the caffeine/ sugar buzz, the constant small talk, etc.
      The solution for both of these for me is to get away for just a bit. If its family vacation then I “remember” I’ve forgotten a toothbrush or to get a present. (With some family members I can be more forthright, usually the ones who need to escape to a quiet corner as well.) If its at a party then I just ” need to step outside for some air.”

      By the time I’ve returned to the gathering everyone is a lot less stupid and annoying.

      • Maybe grumpy uncle is one of these types….. Perhaps his social tolerance levels are quite low. I’d talk to him before …. tell him you noticed he wasn’t particularly happy last year and what can you do to make him more at ease this year. Perhaps this will give him a chance to get some insight for himself as well. Or maybe he’s just a negative nelly who wants to whinge and whine because it’s just so much easier (for him) – in which case, call him on it…. in a funny way as stated by one of the other posters.

    • This might get some negative press, but honestly I feel a bit better if I self-medicate in these situations… a little wine makes me happier, it is true. Knowing what works for you is the key here. Whatever your happy drug is, it might be a good time to utilize it so you don’t come off as a grouch.

      • Hah, I was going to suggest smoke breaks. Even if you aren’t usually a smoker. The act of smoking creates a de facto breathing exercise, nicotine is calming AND it’s an excuse to step outside and away from everyone.

    • I get really grumpy at inlaw family holidays too. I find that the buddy system works. My brother-in-law and I are both introverts, so we keep an eye on one another. When he needs a break, I dive into whatever he’s doing to give him a chance to escape. When he sees that I’m getting grumpy, he takes a bullet so that I can walk away.

    • Limit the time you’re there. If you’re coming from out of town and staying with family, make plans to go do something (see a movie, meet an old friend, anything) so that you have an opportunity to get out and take a break. If it’s a dinner or party, arrive late and leave early.

      Stupid and annoying is a lot easier to tolerate with your mouth shut when you know you’ll be out soon.

    • My dude and I set up our holidays so that we have a massive family-visiting binge. We make a big round trip of the area, are as vague as possible about arrival/departure times (so that we can leave if one of us gets overwhelmed with family members being jerks or stay if we’re getting along well), then beg off and go home to cuddle or have a beer with friends.
      While at parties, I tend to shift around a lot. Can’t get pissed off if you’re not there when the conversations get stupid.

    • Well, is there one particular part of the holidays that you DO unabashedly enjoy? Making cookies, Xmas music, local lights displays? Find your “holiday bliss” and use it as a kind of focal point. Aunt Gertrude’s party getting too lame? Ask if anyone had a favorite recipe! MIL getting all up in your business? Tell her about that amazing tree and lights set-up they have one town over!

  14. I have a similar question to the one in this post if any Homies have some tips. This year, my family is doing the holidays without our dad for the first time since losing him at the end of last year. While it’s already going to be emotionally difficult, just like this entire year has been, my brothers and I have the added stress of taking care of our alcohol/drug addicted mother, whose mood swings were volatile before and have just been getting worse since our dad passed away. I’d just all of us to get through the holidays without having nervous breakdowns, and I can barely get through a non-holiday visit (or even a phone call) with her without her saying or doing something insane that pushes all of us over the edge.

    So I guess the short version of my question is this: Does anyone have any tips for making the holidays spent with addict go smoothly?

    • Al-anon has helped me immensely and I am seconding Ariel’s suggestion.

      I know this is probably a little vague but when you’re dealing with active addiction it’s important to take care of yourself. it’s okay to set boundaries and stick to them – you’re not being a mean or bad person.

      I’m sorry for your loss and my heart goes out to you.

    • I’m sorry you’ve lost your dad, and that you’re left feeling like a caretaker to your mother. I’d also encourage you to visit the Al-anon resources from above. I have personal experience with some local groups that were able to help me put some of my family’s issues in perspective. There are some written resources available through them that might help your brothers too, as well as some for the younger members of your family if/when the kids start wondering why grandma’s acting differently.

      What has helped me personally in dealing with the addict in my family: entertain him/her; appeasement delayed WWII for a number of years (even though it didn’t really help the underlying problem) and gave some portions of Europe time to prepare for the fight. If Mom hates “The Christmas Story” movie and everybody else wants to watch it, just put on “It’s a Wonderful Life”. If Mom doesn’t want asparagus for Christmas dinner, it’s green bean casserole again for the 4th year in a row. For the little bit of time you all have to be around her, let her think she’s the queen of the universe. I joke frequently about “don’t poke the crazy person” but that’s stopped a number of meltdowns, freak outs, hissy fits, and shouting matches. The trick is getting everyone *else* on the same page in mollycoddling the addict until she either goes so far she’s not safe to be around or everyone suddenly has “other plans” because none of you want to keep up the charade.

      Ultimately, we agree that it’s better to be miserable for a few hours than deal with the fallout of expecting an addict to participate in a truly “fair” situation. (In case you can’t tell, one of my roles in our Alcoholic Family was enabler-in-training.)

    • If she goes to meetings, you could offer to attend a meeting with her around the holiday. I once went to an NA (Narcotics Anon.) meeting with a friend during the Christmas week. He was new to his sobriety, and had vowed to go to a meeting every day for 60 days. But during that week of Christmas it was kinda depressing for him – everyone else is prepping for the holidays etc. and he was just trying to hang onto not smoking crack for one more day at a time. So we went together. I just sat there with him and listened during the meeting, but he appreciated the company, and we had coffee afterwards and it was, weirdly, sort of a nice little Christmas outing.

  15. Honestly, I’d have been inclined to tell him to just go home, since he obviously wasn’t enjoying himself at the party. That might not work here — my extended family has just enough contempt for one another that we’re not afraid to kick each other out of the house.

    Try sitting down with him sometime before the Christmas party and ask him if he even feels comfortable being there this year. I don’t know your uncle, but maybe he lashes out because the holidays are stressful and lonely. Or maybe he’s just a drama king Scrooge who wants a big family fight. Either way, doing it early enough to give him an out — or a reminder that you won’t have that nonsense in your house and that you won’t have Christmas ruined for [insert relative here] — could potentially minimize any drama.

    Or you could drink. *He’s* the one who has to eventually leave, not you.

  16. Maybe this is not possible, but if everyone in the family is being bothered by his behavior, can you all lay down the law ahead of time and say that if he’s not polite, he’s not invited?

  17. Ah, I have that person. Except instead of Mr. Grumpypants-About-Holiday-Celebration, he’s Mr. Rant-Against-The Government / Society / Gays / Immigrants / Etc. It’s painful and really makes me want to punch him. But since we’re all fairly quiet and introverted but he’s the loudest he seems to get his soapbox every time and since we’re all quiet I don’t know which of my family members actually agrees with him versus those that are just like me and think he’s a jerk but don’t know how to speak up.

    I’m fine with people expressing their opinions (even if I disagree with them), but I’m not okay with expressing them in such a way as to shut down others and not be open to hearing other perspectives or just being nasty. Sigh.

    • We have a similar situation with my uber-conservative/religious sister in law. Generally we don’t mind her opinions, though they differ from our own, but sometimes they get big and loud and preachy.
      As a result, our response has generally been to remove her audience, we all just sort of nod and walk away to do fun family stuff in the next room until she’s ranting at no one. None of us has to say anything to her (good for the introverts) we just remove ourselves. It usually quiets her down. As a result she has elected to come to less family gatherings (Which, I wish wasn’t the case, but it was her choice in the end.)

  18. I like the idea of saying ‘would you like to host the party next year?’ or even sending out a newsletter/email asking potential invitees (including your unpleasant uncle) if there is any particular thing they would like to contribute, even if the event is being held at your home. If you have a relative or friend who really likes to decorate, let them be in charge of that. Or if someone loves cooking or has a special dish they like, let them do some of that work. Maybe your uncle would be less of a dink if he was contributing something, or at the very least if he complained after you offered him a chance to contribute something he liked and he didn’t take you up on it, you would have confirmation that he’s just unpleasant and maybe don’t invite him next year. Life is too short to bend over backwards for people who don’t appreciate your efforts!

  19. How much back-up can you expect from everyone else? I suggest you all stuff a handful of peanuts in your pockets. Whenever he says something stupid, everyone throws a peanut at his head and then continues on like he never said anything.

    • This is possibly the funniest suggestion so far.

      If I may, I ‘d to combine your idea with the one about self-medicating to produce: a drinking game! Every time Uncle Scumbum crabs about the food, DRINK. Every time he make a snarky remark about a gift, DRINK. If that gift is his, CHUG. And so forth.

      Or if you’re not a big drinker, just make a bingo card about his bitchery (using, of course, the letters U-N-C-L-E instead of BINGO). Don’t refer to or explain it at all, but do check off the squares in front of everyone. How great will it be when he says, “We’re out of sweet potatoes already? Why didn’t you make more?” and you leap to your feet and shout “BINGO! HA!”

  20. Thanksgiving happens at my parents house, Christmas at my mother-in-laws house.

    My mother is strongly political, and we live in an area where the majority of people vehemently disagree with her politics. The result is that she finds it necessary to unload all of her pent up political arguments (can’t exactly get into a screaming match with a coworker) on us “we care about specific issues to a specific point and don’t understand why you’re so angry” children. The “children” involve myself, my younger brother, my husband, a “youngest brother” that my folks took in about 10 years ago and has grown into a great man, and the “youngest brother’s” girlfriend. We game plan prior. “Alright – if mom goes into a political rant where she starts getting angry, Shelly needs to excuse herself to the bathroom, leave for about two minutes, then wait for a pause, then ask dad how Texas Tech football is doing this year.” When in doubt, divert attention to the baby. Bring out a board game. This works for Thanksgiving.

    My in-laws are always invited to Thanksgiving, but always end up going out of town (my step-father-in-law tries to do a ThanksHannuka week with his sons). My brother typically joins us for the Christmas party, my parents are not comfortable with a “high-key” Christmas. While I think my mother-in-law is great, she is EXTREMELY competitive with board games, which typically come out during the party. So we (a-hem) game plan. Around Thanksgiving, we find a new game that’s up the alley of the ones my mother-in-law loves. Me, hubs, bro, youngest bro – we learn it. Brother-in-law and his wonderful girlfriend? Get in a couple days before Christmas. They learn it. We take it to the party, “Hey, here’s a new game!” She typically will kick our butts, but she’s less gloaty if she thinks we picked it up faster. Fewer hurt feelings. Which has been a big issue with both sons and their significant others.

    Point is, know your teammates. Pre-game – not with booze (though that sometimes helps) but with those who have your back. If the behavior is predictable, then this is easy. If it’s not – talk with the teammates. Let them know how you feel and ask them to handle it. As host, you are basically quarterback – let them cover you.

  21. I’m with the others, make sure you have backup and someone you know is gonna be on your side when you say something, maybe discuss it before hand so you know exactly what to say and what your backup will say (yeah Uncle G, hostess is right, lighten up, it’s Christmas). Personally I would just tell him to STFU or GTFO but that wouldn’t be a first for me and it doesn’t help you.

  22. How do you deal when the comments aren’t grumpy, but super sexist/mysogenistic? Its not my family and I’m not the host so I’ve been keeping my mouth shut, but some of the comments are just jaw droppingly bad and I’m having a hard time keeping my dissaproval to myself.

    • Playing dumb and asking the person to explain themselves? Repeating “What do you mean?” and “I don’t understand, why [thing you just said]?” Sometimes trying to explain themselves will help a person understand that they just said a horrible thing. “Please don’t say things like that around me” is a possibility if you feel like being a little more direct. It keeps the focus off whether what they said is “good” or “bad” which they could argue about ad nauseum, and keeps the focus on you just plain not wanting to hear it.

      • Oh man, my best friend is so superb at this. She digs and digs and digs (“What do you mean?…Wait, wait a minute, explain that again??…”) until they feel totally heard and then she untangles the explanation with a serious dose of biting logic. A real life example: “So you’re saying that men should not love other men because it is not natural, right?” (receives confirmation) “We should only do what is natural, yes?” (affirmed) “But you shit in a toilet, don’t you?” (Stunned, confused, and confirms “Well, yeah…”) “That’s not natural. How about your phone? We’ve got air conditioning and cars, you’re okay with that.(endless examples) So it’s not really about being NATURAL, is it?”

        She goes on a serious rant and usually actually gets them to admit their argument is wrong (!) and that they are basically just uncomfortable by homosexuality/women/whatever. It’s really a sight to behold. Then she closes it, “So you’re uncomfortable with homosexuality. That’s fine. No, really, that’s fine. Just don’t make illogical rationalizations for it. And can’t say hateful things around me or my children, ever.” This is usually an argument with conservative men, and they usually actually agree and smile by the end of it, because they have been beaten with logic and firm boundaries, things they respect more than emotional appeals about human rights. (I could never pull it off, but I don’t envy the amount of practice she has had to perfect this technique, growing up where she did.)

        • Knowing some of the other verses of Leviticus – Like a man must have a beard, no mixing of fibers in clothing, or no woman should be a teacher (if the antagonist is female) can help shut down the religious anti-LGT crap as well. Ask them how they know which parts of the Bible they think it’s ok to ignore.
          I hear a lot of this claptrap in my “conservative” area, especially from my ultra-republican father. It’s tough being a “liberal” baby!

  23. I’d probably say.. “Oh hello little boy, are you talking to me or chewing on a brick? Cause either way your gonna lose your teeth”

    That’s if the guest just wasn’t feeling the love of course πŸ˜‰

  24. Things I’ve learned here thus far:
    1. Cranberry-mayo IS a thing (possibly THE thing I have been missing in my life).
    2. I shall now call my husband Mr. Grumpypants when he is complaining about things.
    3. I am also a means-well one upper (and now that I know I swear I will try to be good).
    4. Toe socks can be very personal (and I will be redoing a pair for a friend, she’ll be in love with the double toe!)
    5. Kill ’em with kindness (and if that doesn’t work probe!)
    6. You all make me happy! Thanks for your great input an life! This whole section made my day so much better (and helped my heart grow 3 sizes!!)

    • A million points for perfectly summing up the comments on this post!!! I actually had forgotten (already!?) how great this conversation was.

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