Nasty in-law: Stick up for your mom

Dear Carolyn:
At family gatherings, my brother's wife puts my brother down with negative comments, says indirect, hurtful comments to her son's girlfriend, and is, in general, denigrating to other relatives. My mother has started to speak up when my brother's wife says something negative about my brother, which appears to have brought on comments from my brother's wife about how difficult my mother is and how she should go to a nursing home due to her age. (Both of these comments about my mother are utterly wrong.)  
     My sister and I are trying to figure out how to not enable these situations and also how to not engage in her negative behavior. We don't feel avoiding family gatherings is an option. Should we set boundaries? Should we ignore her? We need help with how we should handle ourselves to make our family gatherings more pleasant.  
 – Two Sisters
     No one has your mother's back?
     When she draws your sister-in-law's wrath for speaking up, the answer isn't to leave your mother hanging out there; that's some thanks for her courage. You need to denounce the negativity, openly, and stop making it so easy for your sister-in-law to dismiss your mother, or brother.
     The key to any bullying situation isn't the bully or the victim. It's the witness. When witnesses stand up, step in, say – in word or deed – that nastiness won't be tolerated in this crowd, then bullying stops.
     When witnesses cower or shrug, or when no one supports the brave ones who do step in, then the bully gets a clear message: "Carry on." Declining to engage is enabling her.
     So please stop wringing your hands and respond to every negative blast, direct or otherwise, with a firm message: Not here, not now, and not to my family. If you're concerned that it will put your brother in a worse spot, remember – he isn't his wife's only victim, nor is your mother. The wife's negativity poisons the shared air of your family gatherings, and every single one of you has standing to suggest she take her hatefulness somewhere else.
*****
Hi, Carolyn!
I have been a very healthy vegetarian (mostly vegan) for 20 years. Since then, I have found dinner parties and other gatherings revolving around food stressful. People ask if I'm vegetarian when they notice what I'm eating, and always (always!) at least one person will ask, "How do you know you're getting enough protein (or calcium/iron/B12/omega-3s/nutrition)?"
     I know people are curious, but it makes me uncomfortable to be put on the spot. I would never question someone, especially in front of a group, if they're sure they get enough folate or how many vegetables they eat! I have started just saying, "I don't want to talk about it," which is true but is obviously unfriendly. And I want to be friendly!
– A.
    
     How is it possible that a vegetarian is still an exotic species?
     Actually, you can say exactly that – especially since it conveys the important message that that's how you're being treated when you're subjected to such questions. A kinder version might be, "Did you know vegetarians have been grazing the earth for at least two millennia?"
     If you can't say that in good fun – necessary to keeping it friendly – then I suggest something I usually don't: being willfully obtuse.
     "You're worried about my health, how kind of you." No further elaboration. Of course they're not really worried about your protein (etc.) intake, they're just somewhere on the nosiness spectrum between mildly curious and self-justifying, which you well know. However, (non-)answering as if they have the most generous motives is dinner-party perfect.
     Another such approach is to treat questions as a technical interest in (BEG ITAL)becoming(END ITAL) a vegetarian: "You're thinking of trying it? I'm happy to talk to you about it after dinner." No harm in deflecting the nosies while giving the sincere a chance.
     If anyone (rudely) presses the nutrition point: "I'd rather not get into it, thanks."
 ********
Dear Carolyn:
My parents are both deceased. I have known relatives only on my mother's side.
     After doing some research, I found family on my father's side a few years ago – a first cousin and her husband. We've met in person and spoken on the phone and through email.
     This cousin, "Joyce," only wants me to be in contact with her – no other relatives, including her children and their families. I'm not comfortable with that. I'd appreciate your feedback!
– J.
     
     An odd request for sure, and the best approach to any odd request is to insist, gently, on knowing why before you agree to it.
     Obviously Joyce has no business telling you whom you can and can't contact, the adults at least – but because she has presumed to do so anyway, expect that ignoring Joyce's wishes will cost you Joyce. Whether that's an acceptable price is entirely up to you.
    
     
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8 comments

Oh, Boy.. As to the first question regarding the snotty sister-in-law, you can't fix this and you only have one real choice: avoid the gatherings or suck it up. You won't change her, so forget it. You can always take the nuclear option and confront her so directly that people line up and take sides. Maybe she'll avoid you all after that, but it's a risky tactic. Otherwise, you're stuck.
Always remember that your relations come from the Devil and your friends from God. If I were you, I would always have an apologetic excuse as to why I couldn't attend, and maybe a little aside to other family members about the real reason

I'd tell them " 'Cause I eat raw cheese, eggs, black beans and rice, and I take Carlson's cod liver oil and tangy tangerine, you damn fool!" Then I'd kick their ass.

What they're really trying to say when they ask those questions is "don't judge me because I feast on the flesh of dead animals. I need to in order to maintain my predatory instincts which you don't have cause you're weak"

BACON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

ELK STEAKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

IF the people asking these questions are real and IF they are actual situations in which they find themselves, then these folks need to either get a life, some new friends or cut the narcissism.

Why is our uptight vegan so "put on the spot" by innocuous questions about what she is eating? Is she ashamed of killing innocent, green, God-created vegetables? Does she not hear their screams as the peapods are dropped in the steamer? Folks, we're all killing something when we eat. My vote with the vegan is that he/she is a narcissist. The clue to this was the first sentence, when she had to parenthetically write (mostly vegan) instead of just leaving it at "vegetarian."

As for this entire column, the presence of features like this and the car guys were true indicators of the demise of The Hook.

Inquirin mind bitter mane

You don't have to kill an orange tree to eat an orange. You don't have to kill a broccoli plant to bite it's head off. You don't have to kill a pine tree to peel it's bark off and devour it. If you want to get cellular on me, please make it quick and concise.