Catty comments from family

How do you deal with unfair comments from older family members? You know, the ones you can’t talk back to? Some of these comments are really hurtful in a very passive-aggressive way. My husband and I are very committed to keeping time spent with each family as even as possible, because if we don’t someone gets upset and feels neglected. Now, I just had to deal with comments from a family member who has still found a way to be mad about it because she thinks this focus on splitting time is some attempt of my husband’s to be mean to them. This is complete ridiculousness! I won’t go into details, but long story short we are doing our best to be fair to both families with regard to how often we visit each and one family still thinks there is some kind of bad intent because we make them equals rather than picking that family over the other.

I explain how we split things up to keep things fair, but it doesn’t seem to help. I’m partly looking for sympathy because it really upsets me, and partly for solutions and ideas from other couples that have had to deal with families getting jealous. We have been militant in our evenness in order to prevent this drama and people STILL complain.

I realize that it probably will not make you feel any better, but you and your husband know you are being fair, and the issue is this person’s, not yours or your husband’s
If you can come around to accepting that it is this relative’s problem/issue not yours, and have the little degree of detachment that this can give you, you may be able to find a way to defuse it, as well as learn to cope with the emotions that the unfair accusation and comments cause you.

What advice would you give a friend? What creative thinking might you do to help someone else deal with these catty remarks. Of course if the person *sees *we are upset or hurt when they are being unfair and unreasonable, then we are unintentionally validating their unreasonable accusation or behavior.

Sometimes considering how we would advise a friend can provide some insight to some harmless thing you can say or do in dealing with a difficult person. Is there some light response you can give with a little smile? As the relationship and circumstances are private, it’s not possible to give an example. You’d need to be consistent, as people sometimes attack all the harder if they see you are escaping from being complicit/being affected by their bad behavior. The person you speak of is sensitive and lonely perhaps, but we all need help sometimes to shake us from some little selfishness and ‘blindness’.

May God bless you and your family members and ma God help you to resolve your relationship problems and careful attempts at balancing relationships, without the pressure you have been enduring.

Kind wishes

Stop explaining yourself. Stop fretting over dividing up time. Stop worrying about what other people think.

Live your life.

Put family on notice that you are not taking any more cr*p from any of them. Then follow through.

I don’t think that I have any advice but you certainly have my sympathy. And as a mother of grown children I have so much respect for you for bending over backwards to be respectful to those who are apparently trying to send you on a guild trip that you didn’t earn.
Even though I have no advice I know what I would do, I would leave ever time they started this behavior.


I don’t believe you need to split time that exactly and I’m sure that you should not have to, as a grown woman, explain your absence. Be cautious about committing yourself some uber-fair time-splitting arrangements, as stuff will come up down the road that will make it less and less feasible. Let’s say it was clear that it was some relative’s last Christmas–would you still stick to the arrangement, if it meant spending Christmas away from that relative? As with children, fair does not need to mean exactly equal.

I recommend the following phrases:

“I’m sorry you feel that way.”

“You know I love you mom.”

“I’m here right now/I’m talking to you right now. Let’s enjoy our time together and not waste our time together talking about that.”

With our family, our time-division between my family and my husband’s family has, as our family has enlarged, been resolved not in favor of mine or his, but in favor of OUR family, as we spend almost all holidays at home.

“I’m sorry you feel that way. What shall we have for dinner?” (or other appropriate change of subject).

Repeat as necessary.


You are not going to make everyone happy all the time. Let them know that you do not have to answer to them for your decisions on what you are doing and that their snarky comments are causing you to want to spend less time than more and then walk off.

Sometimes talking through these issues helps others understand where we are coming from. And sometimes it just creates mountains out of molehills and perpetuates tensions. Since you’ve identified them as “the ones you can’t talk back to”, I’d have to agree with 1ke’s advice, as well as other posters. Don’t bother trying to talk back. Ignore them, or offer a brief comment* as others suggest - eg “sorry you feel that way” - and move on to another topic.

  • Please note the specific wording may be important. There is a world of difference between saying “sorry you feel that way” or even better “it’s a shame you feel that way” vs “sorry if we’ve made you feel that way”. It’s their issue and you don’t want to use any wording that seems to accept any responsibility for it, or give them some false expectation that you will change.

My Sister-in-law, when she didn’t like a relative, used to take toe-nail cuttings and put them in their face cream. Lovely woman, but strangely, very lonely after my brother died.

Families, I find, are very strange and dealing with them, I leave to my wife. Christmas is a wonderful time for families to get together and tear each other apart.

I tend to go with the advice to ignore them and their catty ways. Keep your heart pure and get a dog.

Remember that people like this are very immature and insecure, and for such individuals insulting people or putting them down is a way to make them feel better and get attention. If in your position (and I have been) I would stop explaining myself at this point. You have done this and once should be enough.

However, if this person persists in making another similar comment you might try a little “passive aggressive” reply. For example, you might make a statement like this: Gee, I am sorry (NAME PERSON) you feel so insecure about our desire to share our time with everyone equally. We don’t want to play favorites so we are going to continue our practice of taking turns visiting everyone. Then turn your attention to others and let the complainer settle for less attention.

Guilt: effectively used by mothers for over 5,000 years, it’s whats for dinner.

You could try going more negative against her it would be kind of fun… when she says you are not spending enough time there, cry and start saying “I know, I know, I am a horrible (daughter), you are so right. Oh no… Oh no… what am I going to do? I have neglected my (family, mom, grandmother, etc.). You must hate me… (pause and wait for the “no, no… oh sweetie”) You must really hate me, I am such a loser. You don’t deserve to be around me, I am only bringing you down. I’ll show myself out. I only wish I could live up to your expectations and been the (daughter) you always wanted. No… deserved. BAWAAAH…!!” Continue to ball and run off. When they call to say they haven’t seen you too much say “I just can’t stand to think of what I have put you through, I need more… time. Yes, I need more (pause for effect) time.” Then, hang up. Problem solved. Is there anything else I can do for you tonight? :cool:

It’s not easy to be criticized for trying to do the right thing.

Whenever I am in a situation that is similar-i just repeat back to the person in the exact words what they just said in question form and let them explain.

So if they say- “you are just being mean” you look at them-and say “I am just being mean?” And NOTHING else. Let them answer. If they say another insult- do it again, and keep doing it each and everytime. Sometimes it goes 3 or 4 rounds but stick to it.

You do not need to explain things-THEY do. This takes practice, but it is effective. You are putting them on the spot. They will stop, and if next time you see them or talk to them if they start- do it again. Throw their words back at them. It is important not to stop until they do. Even do it on the phone. They will hate explaining themselves.

You are not adding to the problem this way, or being confrontational-you are just being assertive.

This will end the cattiness.

This was a huge battle for us the first few years we were married. We did everything we could to make sure we spent time with each family, and that we kept it as equal as possible. Unfortunately for us, on Thanksgiving and Christmas this meant four separate family gatherings (my parents, my extended family, her parents, her extended family), plus three on Easter (my parents, her parents, her extended family). Thanksgiving generally worked out since my parents and her parents ate at different times, and our extended families met on different days. Christmas was rough because, at that time, all four gatherings were on Christmas Day. We’d open our gifts, go to one of the parents’ houses, then go to the others’, then go see her family, then show up late for my family, then get home around midnight. Easter was worse because all three were on the same day, and two of the meals were always at the same time.

We started setting firmer boundaries one year due to the total exhaustion I’d dealt with the year before. We decided we’d see her parents Christmas Eve, then do the other three gatherings Christmas Day. It made sense, but then her parents threw a fit when they found out we weren’t coming back the next day. We tried explaining nicely that this allowed us to spend a lot of time with them Christmas Eve, far more than we were spending with any one family on Christmas Day. When that didn’t appease them I told them this was our decision, it was how we’d be doing things from now on and there wasn’t room for discussion.

We reevaluated holidays entirely the following Easter. Her family didn’t invite us to Easter dinner. We tried calling about it but they never answered or returned out calls. Her parents then told us they weren’t having Easter dinner that year and would see us the following weekend. We made our plans accordingly and as we were headed out the door to my parents’ house, her aunt called and told us we were invited and that dinner started in 20 minutes (less time than it actually took to get to her house). Her parents were already there, by the way, and knew the plans all along. I said we couldn’t make it for dinner but could show up later. She said if we didn’t show up for dinner, we shouldn’t show up at all. The whole thing was just a way to try to force us to not see my family for Easter since they felt their side of the family had been slighted on Christmas. It got ugly, and after that we decided that we would only see the immediate families on the actual holidays, then work in the extended families if time permitted. We realized that there’s no way we could ever divide the time up so that it appeared even to all parties involved, so we decided to stick with our own schedule and do what worked for us. If anyone wanted to make nasty comments about it, we figured they were more concerned with causing trouble than spending time with us, and we certainly weren’t going to adjust things on their account.

This is where I strongly disagree. You and your husbands have the right to talk back. Your parents and in-laws might be trying to cash in on their status and don’t want to give up control of their kids. But now that you are adults, whether they like it or not, you no longer bow to their rules.

Respecting elders is not catering to their childish ways

I would also not worry so much over being even. Focus more on what works best for your family (you and dh and your children). Especially don’t try to split a day like Christmas morning at house A, Christmas evening at house B. That’s just crazy making for everyone.

Also be aware that things will change over time. As your children get older and have activities you need to consider. As family members get older and need more care or attention. You do have to detach from their catty little comments. In response to the jab about dh, say something like, “oh no, dh is wonderful as you know.” Smile then change the subject right away.

I also wouldnt spread time explaining your schedule or any visits made. however it might be worth the effort to get the two sides together if they live nearby. My mom and mil are very friendly and that helps tremendously when planning major holidays.


I was in the Air Force when we got married. We didn’t have that problem (our two families were 750 miles apart, but even if we would have had that problem, my being stationed in Japan would have taken care of it :stuck_out_tongue:

This has been an issue with us too- most of our family members are fine, but there are one or two relatives on both sides who have made rude and even downright nasty comments to one or both of us about how we spend our time. What we have found is that the less information you give people like that, the better.

If you’re invited to some event, but have already planned to spend time with the other side of the family, do not offer that information. “We won’t be able to make it, we have plans, but thank you for inviting us” is sufficient. They can draw their own conclusions.

Ultimately, though, it’s up to you to stop caring. It’s hard- believe me, I know. My husband and I try very hard to be fair and divide our time equally, but as other posters have brought up, it doesn’t always work out exactly equally. As long as you and your husband are happy with whatever arrangements you’ve made, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about it. It’s much easier said than done to let go of explaining yourself, and we are still working on it. Remember that no matter what explanation you give, it’s not going to be good enough anyway, so why bother?

The times we’ve been vague about our plans (at least with the rude ones) have worked out pretty well. There’s nothing to question if they have no details. It’s also been hard to let go of being upset when someone tries to make you feel badly- but remember that they are being manipulative and inappropriate. If they feel neglected, that’s their issue to deal with. If you can try to avoid concerning yourself with it, you will be much happier and more at peace.

This was something my in-laws figured out when my son was born.

We too, used to run around every holiday. Christmas Eve with one family, Mass with them, then spend the night. Christmas Day with another. Making sure we didn’t show up too late because the in-laws were looking at their watch. Trying to explain that Easter was a religious holiday. That yes, we did like chocolate and candy, but Mass was important. :rolleyes:

It got ugly.

Then we put our foot down.

We will travel Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. We will only travel to one side of the family each year, if it is not your year and you want to see us, come on over. We will not spend the night with anyone. We will sleep at our own house. Extended family? We love you but we refuse to spend our Christmas bopping around the entire state. Want to see us? Make it a different day.

My husband told his parents that they only started celebrating Easter because of our son. And the only celebrated the bunny part of it. And since we saw Easter as a religious holiday, we would be spending it with others that felt the same way. We could meet up with them the next weekend.

All of that to say, I agree that there is no reason that you can’t talk to your family. Talk back to them? No. Respond to their comments? Of course you can.

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