Navigating the Holidays


Morgan Fuerstenberg graphic

Happy Holidays, Pioneers! It’s that time of year again when we get to spend time with families and loved ones. We get to catch up on how the year has passed and what important events happened nationwide, all while eating a delicious meal. Unfortunately, topics at the table can turn sour and that certain family member starts to get a little too opinionated about you and your life choices. How are you going to deal with that?

This was the topic discussed in a recent Zoom meeting on November 16 run by Campus Climate. Some representatives from Counseling Services as well as other reputable sources, such as a representative from the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, explained methods on how to deal with family members who are speaking in an offensive way about your body, shape, eating habits and personal love life or sexuality.

Generally, one the best part of the holidays is mealtime and all the wonderful food only made once a year. Obviously, a full plate of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and a mom’s butternut squash is going to be consumed in large amounts. A full plate and more are okay for anyone who feels the plate is an adequate amount of food, but some family members may want to comment on it. This is rude, offensive and completely unnecessary. Everyone deserves to be confident with what they choose to eat and how much they weigh.

Attendees of the event discussed various scenarios in which family members might make offensive or degrading comments.

“You look great now after you lost all that weight,” says an older auntie at a family gathering. In the aunt’s mind, this may have seemed to be a very complimentary or encouraging phrase. Instead, she comes off as a mean and judgmental person.  The word “now” implies that something with the person’s physical body was wrong or unappealing in her eyes before the seen change.

An uncle adds on to the conversation with “You are so confident wearing those clothes”. Again, the above statement is not nice nor is it appropriate. People should not be complimented for simply existing. Each person has their own way of living their lives and no one needs to add their opinion just because they feel like it. The logic of complimenting one’s lifestyle because one is living it without any active judgment for their way of life is not being nice but rather creates some hostility to the receiver. It undermines and acts as a back handed compliment to their confidence. One way to react to this is to directly confront him and tell him exactly how his statements affect the receiver. There is no perfect answer on how to respond because every individual situation is different. It is a good idea to maintain a comfortable position or interaction so you can maintain a safe, personal headspace.

Also, family members have no idea what you are dealing with personally, mentally and/or spiritually which can add to the stress of these conversations. This can lead to a product of something rather terrible. In preparation for possible negative comments, Counseling Services advised to set up boundaries with your family members. Directly tell them what is okay to talk about or simply leave the conversation when it becomes uncomfortable for you. The holidays are meant to be relaxing and enjoyable, not causing intense mental issues.

Personally, one way to give joy this holiday is to compliment a smile and their hug while greeting each other. There may be rough patches, but other students and faculty experience the same situations. Remember you are not alone in your feelings and experiences in life. Counseling Services is here for you at 608-342-1865.

Happy Holidays!