The Inquisition

Your family has many ways of showing their love. Sadly, one of its most reliable manifestations is a hearty barrage of probing questions about your professional and personal life. Of course if you’re brimming with pride and have more than enough information to share, go ahead and satisfy their curiosity. But if getting together for the holidays is filling you with a sense of dread, step back and create a game plan for navigating family affairs.

What about the future?
When faced with your relatives’ relatively insatiable curiosity, you should never feel like you’re on the defensive. If a question begins to feel like an interrogation, take control of the conversation. Instead of explaining why you’ve changed jobs a few times lately, tell them about the exciting new project you’re working on or how grateful you are to have experienced so much. Sitting in the driver’s seat, you can limit the conversation to information that represents you accurately and favorably. Plus, it’s hard to feel self-conscious when you’re talking about something that honestly excites you and affirms your choices.

Getting personal
When it comes to personal questions, the same strategies are usually effective. Don’t withhold information; just reveal the details that represent what makes you happy. Facing some curiosity about where you are in your search for that special someone? Answer with a stirring story about your friends, your career or your last solo adventure — anything that wouldn’t be possible if you were hitched. Getting a little heat about when you’re adding that new nursery? What about how happy you and your spouse are and how important timing is? No doubt there are plenty of examples of how full and interesting your lives are. If you don’t have children now or you’re not on the cusp of settling down for life, there are reasons, and you know what they are. You’re not finished traveling; your reveling in your independence; you want time to bond with your partner. Trust your own judgment, and don’t let anyone make you feel uncertain about your life choices; you’ve been thinking about them a lot longer than they have.

The best intentions
The probing questions, unasked-for advice, even the unneeded concern all come from a good place. Your family’s curiosity shows that they care about you and your happiness. Besides that, the very questions that drive you crazy may actually be entirely innocent. Your relatives want to engage you, and questions are an easy way to do that. Advice is usually an attempt at support. And it may be that they are honestly looking for details about your life. Insecurity can go a long way toward convincing us that there’s judgment when there’s only interest. When you ponder what’s good about your life before you face the questions, then use that clarity to fuel your answers, you may find that your family is just as satisfied with your choices as you are.

Remember why
When your patience is tested and your buttons pushed, remember what family is — people who have to love you (and be loved by you) no matter what. So, yes your cousin Kate may be at her most infuriating, loveable worst, but she also trusts that you’ll accept her afterwards. And you will. Most of us don’t get to see our families together all that often and their foibles have a way of becoming much less significant later. Get a head start. Let them be small now.

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