Relationship 101

Dear Dr. Mark,

Thanksgiving sucked. How do I help my divorced mom deal with our relatives from hell whom she has to include for Christmas dinner?

PROTECTIVE SON at University of Pittsburgh


I admire your wish to protect your mom from your blood-sucking blood relations. Many college students only care about themselves as soon as they get away from their parents. Of course it is ultimately up to your mom to learn to stand up for herself now that you’ve left home.

In the meantime, here is something you might try to help her and you have a happier Christmas dinner this year. First a little psychology about obnoxious relatives. One of the reasons these people are such pains in the ass is that they often feel that the world treats them as unimportant. Being awful at holidays is one of the ways they get even.

Two weeks before Christmas dinner, (you) call each of these relatives and say to them: ‘Since you’re an important part of our family (because we haven’t figured out how to kill you yet), I wanted to ask you a favor. I would like you to help my mom and me to make people more comfortable and even bring them out of their shell, if you can. We don’t really know what kind of year people have had— whether any of them are in big financial trouble, whether their kids are doing drugs, or whether anyone is seriously ill. You know how awkward these dinners can be (since people like you ruin them) and I was hoping you could help us out. Whaddya say?’

Regardless of whether they cooperate or not, you’re going to make it difficult for them to be obnoxious when you’ve so graciously asked them to help out. What are they going to say: ‘No thanks. I was just planning to ruin the dinner like I do every year.’

Then when they show up for dinner, tap them on the shoulder to remind them of your request by saying: ‘Can I count on you.’ Give it your best shot. Your mom’s lucky to have a son like you.