Not-so-silent night

Every clan has at least at least one member who just loves to shake the family tree at the annual holiday gathering. Here's your stay-merry guide for dealing with relative discomfort.

Your smother-in-law

Ah yes, the woman who gave birth to your husband—and hasn’t stopped martyring herself since. What a joy it is to gather ’round the piano as she hauls out those time-honoured holiday carols “Why Do I Have to Do Everything Myself?” and “How Come We Never See You Anymore?”

Her opening line “My boys won’t eat your fancy scalloped thingy; I’ve brought my famous mashed potatoes!”

Butter them—and her—up For seven years now, Amy’s mother-in-law has insisted on making exactly the same holiday meal: shrivelled-up turkey, lumpy potatoes and flaccid veggies. “She says it’s what ‘her boys’ want, but I know for a fact that one of her boys doesn’t!” says Amy. Instead of getting into a food fight, Amy rolls up her sleeves and makes a subversive offer to help. “I just say to her, ‘Oh, you’re so busy! Let me mash those for you,’ then sneak in tons of butter, salt and garlic so at least they’ll be palatable.”

Her table talk “I don’t want to be critical, dear, but will that turkey feed everyone?”

Humour her Your reply? “Not if Grandpa eats as much as last year.” Using a well-timed joke (and picking your target wisely) is like donning a Kevlar bodysuit. Her comments will bounce off you and land on an unsuspecting family member who isn’t easily offended. Relative rage safely averted!

Her parting shot “Well, isn’t Little Benjamin quite the mama’s boy!”

Create a drinking game One dose of thinly veiled criticism from her, one shot of Wild Turkey for you. “Oh, you just get slightly drunk and then who cares?” says Amy of her when-all-else-fails policy. “You’ll get through it.”

The bottom line “Remember that her criticisms are really about her, not you,” says life coach Marguerite Tennier. “She’s probably like that with everyone.” Just take care to not seat her next to your granny at the table. They’ll have way too much in common.

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