DEAR HARRIETTE: We had an embarrassing moment during the holidays. My mother-in-law made horrible comments to a family member, her other son’s wife. She made jokes about her weight in front of her face. It was ridiculously rude and made everyone feel awkward. To be honest, my sister-in-law has gained a lot of weight over the years. She is huge, but who are we to judge her? My mother-in-law talked about how big her butt is and how she really should use two chairs. It was awful. When her son (the woman in question’s husband) asked her to stop, she just got even louder. She can be kind of crass, but this was just awful. I felt so bad for my sister-in-law. How can we get my mother-in-law to chill out? — Beyond Embarrassed, Syracuse, N.Y.
DEAR BEYOND EMBARRASSED: Sadly, many families have one person who can be crude and rude. People who don’t naturally have a filter to keep them from saying certain things can prove to be hurtful on a regular basis. This is because they usually do not realize how their comments are affecting others.
What one of you may be able to do is to talk to her privately, recount what she has said that was hurtful, and ask her directly to curb such comments. Ask her if she intends to hurt this woman. Chances are the answer is no. If she acknowledges that this is not her intention, you may be able to impress upon her that making such comments about this woman’s body is hurtful, regardless of what she meant by saying it. Perhaps her son can ask her to stop. In the moment next time, somebody can change the subject to deflect the negative commentary.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I was really looking forward to seeing my brother and his family for the holidays, but I just learned that they decided not to visit this year. It turns out that my brother and his wife are getting divorced. They have been married for 18 years. They have three kids, and they really do seem like a happy couple and family. I had no clue. I talk to my brother frequently, so I don’t know how I missed this. I feel like he should have told me. My feelings are all mixed up. I’m sad for them and mad that he kept it a secret. I feel like calling him and cursing him out. I know that’s the wrong thing to do. What should I do? — Beyond Sad, Washington, D.C.
DEAR BEYOND SAD: When people in a family get divorced, it definitely affects more than the husband and wife. It is one of the most difficult crises that families suffer. And yet, it is the main concern of the couple. They probably are choosing not to visit family because they are not ready to talk about the demise of their marriage. Typically, when people break up, they aren’t on the best of terms, which makes it even harder to attempt to communicate clearly with others. They do not want to be judged or interrogated. This is likely why your brother did not tell you; he shut down.
Yes, you can reach out to him, but only in love, not with a barrage of questions. You can call him or write to him, letting him know that you are sorry for his situation and that you love him and want to be there for him in any way you can. The only question you should ask right now is if there is any specific way you can support him. Otherwise, wait for him to come to you. During your family time, suggest that family members respect his privacy during this sad period and be willing to offer love without talking about details that they don’t really know or understand anyway.
DEAR HARRIETTE: A new friend of mine is going on a cruise soon, and she asked her friends to make financial contributions to her trip so that she would have enough money. She asked us to do this instead of giving her a Christmas present. I didn’t like that at all. I don’t usually give a Christmas present to her — or to other adults, for that matter. I give only to the children in my family. Whenever I have given her anything at Christmas, it would be a little token of our friendship, costing only a few dollars. I chose not to contribute to her trip. I did send her a holiday card, as I always do. But I feel weird about it. She even called and asked me if I was going to give her a contribution for her trip. I didn’t respond. What should I say? — Stop the Shakedown, Miami
DEAR STOP THE SHAKEDOWN: Tell your friend the truth, namely that during the holiday season you give gifts to the children in your life but not to adults. Wish her a wonderful trip as you make it clear that you have followed your holiday plan, which is to give cards to all and gifts to the young ones.