1. Kris

    I have an etiquette dilemma. My husband and I have been married for three years. At the time of our marriage I was working full-time and finishing my undergraduate studies in teaching. I couldn’t find a teaching job come fall so I took a part-time job teaching at a local farm, started my graduate studies and tutored at night. Through that time I also made every meal, did the laundry and my husband and I are perfectly happy. I graduated 5 months ago and while I continue my part-time teaching job and all household duties, every time I visit with my in-laws they hound me about when I am going to find a full-time teaching position (I’ve applied to 67 jobs). I am insecure about my perceived failures and would rather not speak about it in front of their whole family. I want to know how to politely let them know that it’s none of their business, my husband and I are financially secure, and I do have a job that I very much like even if it’s only part time. I ask because the questioning has gone as far as unsolicited advice. Since nobody in the family is a teacher or has had to find a job in the last 20 years their advice is irrelevant. My breaking point was when my MIL suggested I apply to the new Petco opening up and I just felt offended having worked so hard in school to get out of a retail job. I never asked for advice, never complained about money, and never said I needed a job. We are at the point of avoiding family get togethers because of the stressful line of questioning! Help!

    • I hope you don’t think less of those who may be highly educated, but in these economic times have had to take simple retail jobs such as one at Petco. Having said that, I sympathize with your complaint of unsolicited advice. To politely let them know that not only is your job situation not their concern, but that their instructions are unwelcome, I’d tell them exactly what you’ve said here:
      “My husband and I are perfectly happy, and I happen to love my current job. When the economy improves, I may look elsewhere, but for now we are blessed.” Repeat as necessary.

      • Kris


        I don’t think less of anyone making an honest living. I worked in retail from 15-23 and always promised myself I would finish school (despite how hard working full-time while in a full-time teaching program is) and get out of retail. If I didn’t have a job, I’d go back to retail. Thank you for your response and I apologize if I gave the impression that I thought less of anyone! You offered some good advice!

    • Winifred Rosenburg

      You could say, “you don’t have to keep asking about that. Trust us to let you know when we have news worth sharing.”

    • Elizabeth

      Have you asked your husband to ask his family to stop this questioning? It seems like it would be easy for him to say: “Mom, listen, I was wondering if you could help me out. Kris is feeling a bit interrogated whenever we come over for family functions. We are in the midst of a terrible recession, Kris has done her best to find a good job, and finally we’re OK financially whether she does or doesn’t. Could you please ask the rest of the family to lay off the questioning? It is really starting to make her feel self-conscious, and we’re seriously thinking of cutting back on the number of functions we attend if this doesn’t stop. The advice, too – it all has to stop.”

  2. Pam

    I dread the holidays because of situations like Kris has described. It is hard to handle extended family members’ intrusive questions and often ignorant or inane comments. I still don’t know how to handle it perfectly…I’ve just been keeping my distance from certain family members at functions but I don’t know how long I will be able to keep it up. I never understand why there seem to be those of us in the family who are the designated “questionees” and recipients of sarcasm and those who do the questioning and commenting. I would never dream of saying “so Grandpa, why do you waste whole days golfing?” yet he rolls his eyes when we have to get home to take care of our dogs after 6 hours an mockingly says “the dogs, the dogs, the dogs”. It makes me hate the holidays, yet there is no way out.

    • Country Girl

      Lol. I honestly think we all have family members/friends like this: no topic, however intrusive, is off limits. Opinions and advice are given unsolicited (and often). Someone is never doing what, or living how, he/she thinks they ought… Most of who we deem as meddling folks have no idea how intrusive or inappropriate their comments/questions/advice come across. They truly do think that they are being helpful and passing along their wisdom.

      I find the best way to deal with meddling family members (or anyone really) is a well-timed look of innocent shock. An eyes-widened, slightly backing-up, “Did you really just say/ask that?”-type look. It typically doesn’t take much more than a little alarm from the recipient for the meddler to realize “Oh. Perhaps this is none of my business.” You can and should follow with, as Laura suggests, with a vague answer that essentially says “We’re just fine thanks. No advice needed here.” Ie. a genuine smile and a “You know, our family is really content with how we are doing.” or “Yes, our dogs are really important to us.” No need to go into detail, no need to be rude back, just let that end the conversation and move on to new topic. Long-winded advice and questioning typically won’t continue unless you indulge it.

      • Kris

        I like your advice! I am non-confrontational so the ‘look of surprise’ might be the best course of action to pursue! Thanks!

  3. Jerry

    I sympathize with these situations. I can offer only two pieces of advice from my own personal experiences. First, to paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

    Second (and perhaps more controversial) what Kris has described is classic bullying behavior. The only way — the absolute only way — to stop a bully is to (metaphorically) punch them in the nose. I know that the “in fashion” advise is to tell the bully how their bullying makes you feel. It doesn’t work. The whole dynamic of bullying is to

    Using Kris’s situation as an example, after having previously told MIL that her suggestions were unwelcome and offensive, return fire. If MIL advises you to apply to Petco, you might respond “I didn’t know they were hiring. I’ve got a college degree and am not interested in doing retail work, but you should apply! I’m sure someone with your abilities would do well there.” Keep your voice conversational and calm. As I’ve stated before on this site, etiquette does not require you to take abuse. And history has shown us that appeasement doesn’t work.

    Pam, the holidays get better. The designated “questionees” are so designated because the questioner believes that he won’t be challenged. But if you stand up for yourself, you won’t be “questioned” as much. Yes, you may upset some of your relatives. But you always retain the right to defend yourself, and if a relative doesn’t get the hint when you tell them nicely . . .

    • “Returning fire,” as you phrase it, put me in mind of this oft used little anecdote making the rounds on social networking sites:
      Being single at weddings, my older relatives would poke me and say “Ha! you’re next.” They stopped when I started doing it to them at funerals.

      Not that I would advocate this course of action, but one may always have a bit of fun in one’s mind.

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