It's that time of year when most of us see extended family and relatives we haven't seen in awhile. And they have a lot of questions for us. Lots of them.
Have you heard any of these "life" questions before?
- When are you going to be finished with school?
- Are you dating anyone? Or when are you getting married?
- When are you going to get a job?
- When are you going to move out on your own?
- Why do you have to work on a holiday weekend? Can't you call off?
- Why can't you be more like your brother/sister/cousin?
These are the types of questions that evoke a lot of emotions.
Some of us want to run away screaming. Some of us want to say something really witty or clever but bite our tongues and smile instead. Sometimes we just want to burst into tears at the very idea of the question. Often we want to call our friends and complain about how people just don't understand us. I get it, I've been there. I work with young adults every day who hear these questions on a regular basis.
Instead of reacting with strong emotions, there are healthy ways to deal with relatives.
First, when you get one of these stress-inducing questions, take a deep breath. Breathing is a powerful tool for helping us to remain calm. Second, recognize the relative is probably well-intentioned. They probably have no idea how much they are stressing you out. They ask because they care, even if it doesn't feel like it in the moment.
On a related note, people who are older than young adults have a really hard time remembering what it was like to be 20, 25, and 30 years old. They think they remember. But often the stressful and bad memories have faded while good memories remain. When I tell groups of people that college students are stressed out, a lot of adults react with, "What do THEY have to be stressed out about?!" A lot, actually. It can be really difficult being 18-25 years old, that's why we call it the "emerging adulthood" stage of life.
"When I was your age..." is the classic line that follows up most of those questions.
Which makes you want to do the eye roll. But wait - what if we used this statement as an opportunity? Maybe we've heard the story before about their life, but have you asked about the details? Or asked your own follow-up question about why they chose that path for their lives? Learning from our older generations can be really powerful, even it takes a little bit to get past the generic questions. These intergenerational moments can definitely have a positive spin if we capitalize on the opportunity.
Try some of these statements with your relatives when they ask a life question:
- I think about that question a lot.
- I'm not quite sure right now.
- I'm working on it a little bit every day.
- (If you feel comfortable enough with the person) - I actually feel really stressed when people ask me that question. But I know you ask because you care.
- I've been thinking about __insert temporary plan here__ lately, but it might change.
And then try to bridge the moment by asking meaningful questions.
Often relatives ask those kinds of "big life questions" because they don't know what else to ask you. Most of us are pretty horrible at small talk around the holidays. That's why I love all of the great examples out there about going beyond small talk:
- "How to Turn Small Talk into Smart Conversation" by TED Ideas. My favorite question is, "Who do you think is the luckiest person in this room?"
- Ask open-ended questions like "how" and "why" instead of questions that can elicit a one-word response (8 Ways to Make Meaningful Small Talk).
- Fun Conversation Starters - Lighthearted questions for all members of the family. My favorite is, "If you could eat only one food on this table for an entire year, which one would it be?"
So what tips and tricks do you have for young adults dealing with all these life questions from relatives? Share below in the comments!