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Rude! How to respond to 5 parent-judging comments at the Thanksgiving table

"Do you really want to hear about my sex life at the dinner table?" and other family holiday come-backs.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

Like any holiday, Thanksgiving has its pros and cons, whether you are a kid or an adult. There might be some football playing in the backyard with cousins if you are a kid, but there is also the game of dodging Great Aunt Edna's bright fuchsia lipstick on your cheek later. If you're the parent, it can be great to get together with loved ones near and far and show off your little people and how much they have grown... until someone knocks over one of Uncle Jerry's tchotchkes and he goes all law and order on your 4-year-old.

Yes, parenting while celebrating a holiday is a task with a high degree of difficulty, especially with relatives involved. Never fear: before you head over the river and through the woods, we have some tips from experts on how to handle those rude and uncomfortable comments and questions from your own personal peanut galleries.

1. "You're STILL breast-feeding that baby? That's not right."

Who knew people had such strong opinions about how a child eats? Child development expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa told TODAY Parents that one way to respond to such concerns is to work under the assumption that the person asking the question is genuinely worried about your child's welfare.

"With no sarcasm whatsoever, ask, 'What concerns you about it?'" Gilboa suggested. "Throw it back on them, but be really respectful at the same time. Say, 'I believe you love my kid, and you're worried... so why exactly are you worried?'"

Gilboa said parents should also feel free to "throw an expert under the bus" when responding to such questions. "You can say, 'My doctor said this was the healthiest option for my baby,' or you can cite the World Health Organization guidelines," she said.

If all else fails, you can always rely on (slightly snarky) humor with an answer that makes it clear you are answering the question but not inviting a conversation or debate about it, said Gilboa, who is herself the mother of four boys. "Parenting is hard. You can give yourself a laugh," she said. "Something like, 'I read breastfeeding makes up for all my late-night drinking.'"

"But that answer might make you feel better, but it won't necessarily make Thanksgiving better for everyone," warned Gilboa.

2. "You're pregnant AGAIN?! You know what causes that, right?" (or alternately, "You really need to give that child a brother or sister!")

Your first response might be to burst into tears or use sarcasm — "Do you really want to talk about my sex life? Because I don't" — depending on your situation. But again, Gilboa said this is an opportunity to take the high road and respond in a way that shuts the commenter down respectfully. "Go with a heartfelt response, like, 'A lot goes into making a family, and we're doing the best we know how,'" she suggested.

You can choose to respond very directly and cut to the true point of an invasive question without losing your cool, Gilboa said. "Try, 'I appreciate your interest, but I don't want to talk about our family planning in this setting,'" she suggested. "Remember, you do not have to actually answer the question itself."

3. "What he needs is a good spanking!" (Said about toddler who has just driven five hours, blasted through his nap, and eaten mostly pumpkin pie all day.)

Any adult who believes hitting a child is the right way to change the child's behavior won't be interested in hearing an explanation of why the child might be behaving badly, said Gilboa. Therefore, you have a few options: You can ignore the comment altogether and lead little Bobby to a different, less threatening area of the house. You can try acknowledging the behavior without actually addressing the comment itself — "You're right, he is really unpleasant to be around right now" — and then walk away.

Or, said Dr. Gilboa, you can do a combination of responding respectfully and citing experts. "'I totally wish I could (spank him), but I’ve been told by expert after expert that spanking actually makes behavior worse,'" she suggested. You can also take the tack of passively-aggressively agreeing without really agreeing, she said, by responding with something like, "Ah, my dad would have said the same thing."

4. "When you/your brother/your Uncle Murray was your age, he was walking/speaking full sentences/doing calculus (said to you while you hold your 8-month-old baby)!

Here, Gilboa said, you could call the person out on the statement. "'My mom says the same thing about my little brother, but I remember differently,'" she suggested. Or even, "Babies were so much more advanced before we had cell phone cameras and videos!"

This is also a situation when you could respond assuming real concern on the part of the commenting relative. With a furrowed brow but no hint of sarcasm, you can ask the relative, "Are you really worried he's delayed? Are you saying you think I should get him checked?"

"Let them reassure you that's not what they meant," advised Dr. Gilboa.

5. Don't forget the teenagers' favorite: "Where are you going to college?/What is your plan for your life?"

Ask any teenager what they are dreading most about the upcoming holiday, and this will probably be the answer. "Adults expect us to have, like, a plan," a high school senior told TODAY Parents, spreading her hands out wide. "I don't have a plan!"

Rachel Simmons, Leadership Development Specialist at Smith College and author of the upcoming book "Enough As She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Healthy, Happy, and Fulfilling Lives," told TODAY Parents that this uncomfortable question gives parents a valuable chance to talk about boundary-setting with their teenagers.

"Every kid needs to know that it's okay to set a boundary, and it can be done politely, so this could be a great opportunity for parents to model and coach it for their teenagers," said Simmons.

Simmons recommended making sure teenagers have a response prepared — and perhaps even practice by role-playing with a parent — before they hit the stage that is a holiday dinner table. "Have a plan for what to say in your back pocket," she said.

She recommends beginning with a deflecting comment — something like, "It's such an overwhelming topic. It's a holiday! Do we have to talk about such serious things?" Then, it's easy to change the subject to one that takes the spotlight off the teen, said Simmons.

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Simmons also said it's important to teach teens that they can always say, kindly but firmly, "This isn't something I want to talk about right now."

"Kids don't often have the opportunity to practice this skill with adults," said Simmons. "The ability to say no in a way that doesn’t put someone off is a skill that a young person will need, if not in college, right afterwards in the workforce," she said. "It's a critical skill."

Gilboa said this is a critical skill for parents as well; dealing with nosy or judgmental relatives at the holidays might not be fun, but it can be useful. "Children get pushed to answer questions they don't want to all the time," she noted. "This gives us a chance to show them how to handle ugly peer pressure. And if we handle it well, it gives us credibility with our kids," she said.

And when your seat at the dinner table gets hot, Gilboa said it's important to try to keep your sense of humor... or remove yourself from the situation. "It's great if you can have a side bet going with your parenting partner or another friend as to who will get a judgey or snarky comment first," she said. "You can always sneak off to watch YouTube videos of your happy place, or offer to go to the grocery store for more food or wine!"

This story was originally published in 2017 but ALWAYS comes in handy.