DEAR CAROLYN: At family gatherings, my brothers wife puts my brother down, says hurtful things to her sons girlfriend, and denigrates others. My mother has started to speak up when my brothers wife gets negative about my brother, which has brought comments from my brothers wife about how difficult my mother is and how she should go to a nursing home.
My sister and I are trying to figure out how to not enable these situations and also how to not engage in sister-in-laws behavior. We dont feel avoiding family gatherings is an option. Should we set boundaries? Ignore her?
DEAR SISTERS: No one has your mothers back?
When she draws your sister-in-laws wrath, the answer isnt to leave your mother hanging out there; thats some thanks for her courage. You need to denounce the negativity, openly, and stop making it easy for your sister-in-law to dismiss your mother, or brother.
When witnesses cower or shrug, or when no one supports brave ones who step in, the bully hears: Carry on.
DEAR CAROLYN: Ive been a healthy vegetarian (mostly vegan) for 20 years. I have found dinner parties and other gatherings revolving around food stressful. People ask if Im vegetarian when they notice what Im eating, and always at least one person will ask, How do you know youre getting enough protein (or calcium/iron/B12/omega-3s/nutrition)?
I know people are curious, but it makes me uncomfortable to be put on the spot. I would never question someone, especially in a group, as to whether theyre getting enough vegetables.
I have started just saying, I dont want to talk about it, which is true but unfriendly. And I want to be friendly.
DEAR A.: How is it possible that a vegetarian is still an exotic species?
Youre worried about my health. How kind of you. No further elaboration. Of course theyre not really worried about your protein (etc.) intake; theyre just somewhere on the nosiness spectrum between mildly curious and self-justifying, which you well know. However, (non-)answering as if they have the most generous motives is dinner-party perfect.
Another such approach is to treat questions as a technical interest in becoming a vegetarian: Youre thinking of trying it? Im happy to talk to you about it after dinner.
No harm in deflecting the nosies while giving the sincere a chance.
If anyone presses the nutrition point: Id rather not get into it, thanks.