When Gossiping Relatives Gather

Family Gathering

People say the darndest things.  Especially at family gatherings!

Food and conversation are symbolic of meaningful connection.  And because no one knows you like your family, things can be said that may not be said to just anyone.

Gossiping relatives don't intend to be hurtful, most of the time they simply get caught up in the feeling of comfort and confidence that comes from being surrounded by others who love and accept them.

Are You the Gossiping Relative?

When I think of a gossiping relative, it's never an image of me.  But most likely all of us (myself included) have been challenged with a tense moment when someone says or does something at a gathering and you find yourself commenting about it later in the kitchen with someone else.

To understand if and when you may be falling into this trap, think of the conversations you have with family members.

  • "Did you notice how Karen hardly touched her food?  I bet that new guy she's seeing is giving her a hard time about her weight."
  • "I really miss Grandma, but if she were here she'd sure have some complaints about Aunt Lorraine's casserole."
  • "Uncle Bill was sound asleep!  I thought he was gonna go face-down into his plate.  Good thing little Timmy chose that moment to drop his glass of milk onto the floor."

Any of the above comments might be called lighthearted family banter, as long as this is all that is said on the subject.  But if the conversation continues, additional speculations made, or hurtful comments evolve, it surely falls into the gossip category.

Remain Cordial - Even to Your Family

Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.

~ George Burns

Being cordial is the best way to get something off of the conversation table.  It is a tool of tact in gracefully changing the subject.

Keeping a situation from getting tense requires you to practice a version of tact.  Keeping your response friendly, but raising the bar in formality while being polite, is what cordiality asks of us. 

How does this look?

  • When Aunt Lily mentions Uncle Bill falling asleep at the table until Timmy spills his milk, you might steer the conversation to the fact that Timmy told you he hopes to become an astronaut someday.
  • Or when Aunt Jane starts in about how Grandma complained about Aunt Lorraine's casserole, you could break the tension by saying, “Jane, on another subject, I’m curious--how did you find someone to take care of your new puppy today?   Is it hard finding good dog sitters?”

It could be suggested that getting things out in the open is good, and remaining cordial might prevent this.  I say, honesty is usually the best policy, but family gatherings also require a level of tactfulness to go along with that honesty. 

So when Cousin Helen approaches you at Thanksgiving with a hello and a hug, then pipes up, "Oh Marie, I was so happy to learn that you broke off with Tom, he was never good for you anyway," you can stop beating yourself up when the only reply you can choke out is, "Thank you."

That is one situation when an honest response would not work out very well.  Just try and steer clear of Cousin Helen for the remainder of the day.  Surely, she meant well.

Family Gathering Preparedness

As with most other events in life - a big presentation, a stage performance, a final exam - you might not want to go to a family gathering unprepared.  Here are a few preparation tips:

  • Jot down conversation topics that will contribute to a pleasant time.  Sports, current movies or television series, pets and former pets, family events that everyone may be looking forward to.  But always avoid politics or other trigger points within your family.
  • Renew your commitment to be cordial and tactful.  Family members are humans, and therefore unpredictable, so best to be prepared for whatever comes your way.
  • Engage your relatives in talking about the highlights of their year so far.  They'll appreciate your interest.
  • Have one possible question to ask every person attending the gathering.

You Are Family

No one loves - or spars - like a close-knit family.  You may not always agree, you may say things that hurt or offend, and you may not see your family for a long length of time, but that doesn't mean you aren't connected to them. 

Make the most of your family gatherings.  Do what you can to dissuade gossiping relatives and let your love for each other shine through.  After all, you are family.

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