Etiquette Hell

General Etiquette => Family and Children => Topic started by: Dindrane on October 29, 2012, 08:34:32 PM

Title: When family gets a little naggy...
Post by: Dindrane on October 29, 2012, 08:34:32 PM
Background 1: I'm going to be traveling to my home city in a few weeks with my husband for a relative's milestone birthday party. As such, all of my immediate family and the majority of my extended family is also going to be in Home City at the same time, and we'll be spending a lot of time with them.

Background 2: My husband is currently in the end stages of a PhD. He's currently writing his dissertation, and has made some definite progress, but he still doesn't know exactly how much longer it's going to take. For a variety of reasons, he's feeling a lot of pressure to finish it as quickly as possible. Added to that, he's also recently gone down some less-than-fruitful paths in his writing. He feels like he's wasted his time, even though he stopped and changed direction as soon as he realized that what he was doing wasn't working. Essentially, his frame of mind regarding his dissertation is not particularly sunny at the moment, and probably won't be until he's actually done.

Background 3: My parents, a few of my other relatives (the ones that have always had a quasi-parental role in my life), and my husband's parents have all been kind of harping about my husband's dissertation. They all frequently make comments that make it clear they think he ought to hurry up and get it done. These comments come from a place of caring and love, so we mostly try to ignore them (which is generally pretty easy to do), but they grate on both of us. They add pressure that my husband doesn't need and which doesn't help, and frustrate him because he is finishing his degree just as fast as he can.

The Situation: Since DH and I will be spending several days with my family, particularly my parents, I'm trying to think of ways to gently but forcefully (got that? ::)) change the subject when DH's dissertation comes up. I know my parents mean well, but neither of them has ever done anything even remotely similar to a PhD, so they really don't get that it's supremely unhelpful to remind DH that he has to finish soon.

I don't really want to explain why it is so unhelpful, because that's more detail about the inner workings of our marriage than I think they ought to be privy to. I also don't want to shut them down too bluntly, or change the subject too abruptly, both because it totally would not work (it would make it into a Thing, and they would insist we satisfy them on the subject), and because they really are nagging because they care. It's one of the ways they show (unintentionally) that DH is a part of the family -- he's close enough to them that they feel a vested interest in his successes and want to help, not realizing that they are in fact doing the opposite.

My role in all of this is firmly in the middle. I would like to try to shield my DH from the worst of it, and figure out things to say that will allow me to change the subject without turning it into a Thing. Everyone in my family (myself included) can latch on to certain topics or ideas like a dog with a bone, so I'm trying to think of ways to avoid having that happen with DH's degree.

So if you've read all of that, my question is basically, how do you change the subject when you're talking to people who don't let go of topics easily, but who are also people you love deeply and don't want to be blunt with? I will get blunt if it becomes necessary, but since it would be at least a little unpleasant for everyone (DH and me included), I'd really like to avoid it.
Title: Re: When family gets a little naggy...
Post by: NyaChan on October 29, 2012, 08:42:50 PM
I get the feeling that once it is brought up, the damage is done as far as your DH's feelings are concerned.  My mom was in a similar situation (visiting family that liked to make comments about my sister's weight) and she took the crucial people aside and let them know in no uncertain terms that they were not to bring the topic up as she simply wouldn't tolerate it.  Did it still happen?  Yes.  But this time 1 out of the 2 people who broke the rule actually apologized. 

In this case, I'd call ahead and tell them that DH is having a hard time right now and that this topic is off limits, nicely of course, but more firmly if they seem to resist.
Title: Re: When family gets a little naggy...
Post by: Dindrane on October 29, 2012, 08:58:30 PM
In this case, I'd call ahead and tell them that DH is having a hard time right now and that this topic is off limits, nicely of course, but more firmly if they seem to resist.

I probably should have mentioned this in my OP, but it was getting long. The biggest reason why I don't just tell my parents (who are the primary offenders we have to worry about right now) that they really need to just leave the topic entirely alone is that DH gets mildly annoyed with me when I do that. He thinks it makes him look like the bad guy, and he doesn't want my parents to not like him. I personally think he's being a teeny bit ridiculous, but I also know he's responding to how that scenario would likely work out in real life.

Basically, if I call my parents now and tell them something along the lines of what you said, they will question why, and toss in their opinion of why I'm being silly and jumping to hasty and unwarranted conclusions about them into the bargain. I can just repeat it until they give up, but the aftermath of doing that is often worse than whatever they were going to nag me about in the first place. It tends to become a sore subject with them when I do that, and it often turns into an argument in the moment about why I won't just listen to their advice (or whatever it is they are trying to tell me) and how I'm being stubborn. Since it's actually rather unpleasant, I try to save that tactic for really big important things. This particular issue is more of an annoyance right now, and hopefully won't ever become that big a problem.

What seems to work better are more noncommittal answers that allow them to believe I am agreeing with them (without actually agreeing with them) paired with a change of subject. The trick is that I'm not always very good at coming up with noncommittal answers on the fly. It's exacerbated by the fact that I really am stuck in the middle of this, because DH isn't really okay with talking about his discomfort with my parents directly. He isn't too terribly bothered if the topic comes up (like if someone asks him how is dissertation is going), as long as nobody actually starts nagging him about finishing it.

If this were likely to be a long term issue, I would address it more strongly, but I think we're both hoping that it will become a moot point soon because DH finishes the dissertation and actually gets the degree. Thank you for your thoughts, though -- I hadn't really thought to address that specific aspect of the situation.
Title: Re: When family gets a little naggy...
Post by: Amara on October 29, 2012, 09:05:16 PM
Can you go in the opposite direction? "It's going great! These take everyone such a long time to write but we are both pleased at his progress. What? Oh no, it's too complicated to go into details--even I don't know all of it--but I promise you that he is very happy with his work thus far. Thanks for the well wishes. We both appreciate it!"
Title: Re: When family gets a little naggy...
Post by: CuriousParty on October 29, 2012, 09:31:34 PM
What about a reply that may induce THEM to change the subject?  like, "Oh, I know!  He's been working so hard, every day and late nights!  In fact, we weren't sure we should come to visit AT ALL, since he really wants to be charging to the finish.  In fact, maybe we should go home early so he can write!  Do you think we should??" 

Innocently, of course.  ;). Perhaps they will be less eager to nag him about finishing if it seems like it will mean they see much less of you?
Title: Re: When family gets a little naggy...
Post by: weeblewobble on October 29, 2012, 09:36:26 PM
Has anyone in your/DH's family ever written a dissertation?  Because they may be underestimating what a huge effort it is.  Trust me, I sympathize.  I make my living writing, and you wouldn't believe the number of people who think that you sit down in front of the computer and POOF the words just appear.

I get very little sympathy when I'm on a deadline.  When hassled by people who don't understand why I don't just rush through projects to get them done, I have been known to say:

"I don't want to do it fast, I want to do it well."

"When you don't spend a lot of time writing, it's easy to under-estimate how much time it takes."

"A quality (body of work) takes time."

"Thank you for your advice, (jerk), I'll take that into consideration."  (The "jerk" is silent.)

Title: Re: When family gets a little naggy...
Post by: sparksals on October 29, 2012, 09:45:39 PM
It sounds like your parents don't respect boundaries and that you prefer to humour them rather than letting them know they are treading in unwelcome territory. 

I like NyaChan's suggestion to call them ahead of time.  You are really between a rock and a hard place with both you and DH not wanting to set any boundaries - he doesn't want them to think it's coming from him and you are in the middle trying to appease your parents.   

Honestly, being direct and letting them know the subject is off limits, lather, rinse and repeat is your best course of action.  If you don't change how you react to them, they will continue to badger and steamroll.  Even though their 'concern' comes from good intentions, it is having the opposite effect and causing you and your dh stress. 


Title: Re: When family gets a little naggy...
Post by: Deetee on October 29, 2012, 11:13:59 PM
My husband and I both have PhD's and we both explained to our families mainly using time scales rather than what we were working on. As the whole process takes just under 5 years, I mentioned when I started writing, but was clear that I was aiming for being done "next summer, next spring if I'm lucky" (My writing process was about 8 months, my husbands was closer to 2 months, more due to our supervisor's approach and the format they preferred than anything else.

Anyhow, I would go with "Yup, he's writing up now. He hopes to be done in a year/6 months/4 years/whatever applies" and "His supervisor looked over the first draft of chapter 3 and really liked it"

I mean , if you don't know what a PhD entails, you can only judge it on what people tell you. And even then, I would still cheerfully tell people, I spent a solid week on one figure that will take up half a page.

It just takes awhile.
Title: Re: When family gets a little naggy...
Post by: AnnaJ on October 29, 2012, 11:50:04 PM
Sorry, I have no advice, but lots of sympathy - I went down that road and changed my mind.

My favorite story about a diss was a friend who was traveling in Europe (we both live in the States) and ran into a former student in the Paris airport who immediately asked "So how's the dissertation going, Professor C.?"  C.'s reaction (not to former student, but while telling the story) "I'm in %#$%%$ Paris and someone is nagging me about the diss?!?!?!" 

Title: Re: When family gets a little naggy...
Post by: ClaireC79 on October 30, 2012, 03:32:31 AM
Could it be approached with a 'he's taking a few days off from the dissertation so he can go back and reread/finish it with a clear mind - so no one is to even mention the D word'
Title: Re: When family gets a little naggy...
Post by: Free Range Hippy Chick on October 30, 2012, 03:46:33 AM
"Oh, let's not spoil Relative's Milestone Birthday Celebration by taking over the whole thing with DH's dissertation - believe me, if you give either of us half a chance we will bore you to hysteria on the subject. The last person who asked was taken away after two hours, whimpering and sucking his thumb... We're not talking about that this weekend. Have you seen Relative? Doesn't s/he look well? Is s/he looking forward to the party?"
Title: Re: When family gets a little naggy...
Post by: sidi-ji on October 30, 2012, 06:49:15 AM
"Only DH's advisor has the necessary background in this topic to question his progress, even I don't.  This paper could take a while- prodding is unproductive(torture).  Thanks".  Said gently to the parents while acknowledging their good intentions,  this might encourage them to interest themselves in some other activity that their  beloved SIL enjoys.  Does he fish, or teach or paint?   :)  Good luck.
Title: Re: When family gets a little naggy...
Post by: CaffeineKatie on October 30, 2012, 06:52:41 AM
I went through this with my DH and my parents years ago.  I think I'd agree with Free Range Hippy Chick and use something along the lines of "Oh no, he's working on it night and day at home--we BOTH need a break from his dissertation and doesn't the Birthday Boy look so young, etc." and just refuse to discuss it.
Title: Re: When family gets a little naggy...
Post by: lowspark on October 30, 2012, 07:54:45 AM
"The dissertation is coming along fine but DH & I made a pact that we were taking a vacation from it for this week (or however long that you're in Home City) so we can relax."

Then bean dip like mad. And lather-rinse-repeat as needed.

The mention of the pact between you & DH and the word vacation, repeated as often as necessary, should drive home the fact that the topic is off limits for this trip without making it sound like it has anything to do with you not wanting the parents to ask, but more to do with your own needs to take a break from it.

I've found that often, the best way to get someone to do something you want is to put all the blame on yourself. So instead of implying that their asking is annoying, you're stating that it's all about your need for a holiday from work.
Title: Re: When family gets a little naggy...
Post by: rigs32 on October 30, 2012, 08:41:52 AM
Perhaps the family need also be reminded that done isn't good enough.  It also has to be good enough to be done.

Is your DH in a field where his dissertation may later be published?  Perhaps use that to spin the time commitment and make them understand.  i.e. "It can be frustrating, but DH is working so hard to finish with a strong dissertation.  Did you know that with a great dissertation he'll 1) be so much closer to publishing his first book or 2) be a much stronger candidate in this tough economy.  Think of it like building a house.  Do you want the builders to finish fast or build it strong?"
Title: Re: When family gets a little naggy...
Post by: Dindrane on October 30, 2012, 08:44:19 AM
Thank you, everyone, for all of your wonderful suggestions. They've really helped me think about how to talk about it differently.

There are a couple of things that do kind of stink about the situation and make it harder to talk about. For one, DH is entering year 7 of his PhD (and he started the darn thing with an MA in hand, no less), which is much longer than anyone (him and his advisor included) were expected at the outset. So the original plan, when he was young and full of hope, was to graduate this past spring. Which, of course, totally didn't happen. He's a little frustrated with that, because he's more than ready to be done. I am totally fine with the timing, except for wishing my DH wasn't unhappy about it himself.

The other thing is that, since DH feels like he just wasted two months, he really doesn't feel like he's able to take a vacation from writing when we visit Home City. I've encouraged him to, mostly because he needs real breaks from work from time to time, and vacation is always a good time to do that. But if his writing is going well, he often won't stop while it is so that he can take advantage of the momentum. If I can convince him to take a break, or at least to work when it's not super obvious he's working, I probably will use the "Please don't talk about it because we both need a vacation from it!" tactic, though.

Has anyone in your/DH's family ever written a dissertation?  Because they may be underestimating what a huge effort it is.  Trust me, I sympathize.  I make my living writing, and you wouldn't believe the number of people who think that you sit down in front of the computer and POOF the words just appear.

In my family, nobody has a PhD. My dad has an MA, but it's more of a professional degree that didn't involve writing a thesis. So for them, I'm positive that they just don't really get what it's like to write a book. I certainly didn't until I watched DH try to do it, and even I don't really know what it's like in the end.

In my DH's family, the nagging stings a bit more because it mostly comes from his mother, who has a PhD and has been an academic for her whole career. I swear she's Superwoman, though, because she finished hers in like 4 years (with three children and a husband in tow). Aside from that, her PhD is in a field that seems to be different enough from DH's that she doesn't actually seem to have a good understanding of how much research his dissertation entails, so she's ended up with some sort of unrealistic expectations about the amount of work necessary to finish.

Perhaps the family need also be reminded that done isn't good enough.  It also has to be good enough to be done.

Is your DH in a field where his dissertation may later be published?  Perhaps use that to spin the time commitment and make them understand.  i.e. "It can be frustrating, but DH is working so hard to finish with a strong dissertation.  Did you know that with a great dissertation he'll 1) be so much closer to publishing his first book or 2) be a much stronger candidate in this tough economy.  Think of it like building a house.  Do you want the builders to finish fast or build it strong?"

That's a good point. DH is going to be interviewing for jobs on the strength of his dissertation (among other things), and my parents know the job market for academics is pretty pitiful right about now, so that might be a good way to answer any questions they have about the timing without getting too confrontational.
Title: Re: When family gets a little naggy...
Post by: TootsNYC on October 30, 2012, 10:31:07 AM
"The dissertation is coming along fine but DH & I made a pact that we were taking a vacation from it for this week (or however long that you're in Home City) so we can relax."

Then bean dip like mad. And lather-rinse-repeat as needed.

The mention of the pact between you & DH and the word vacation, repeated as often as necessary, should drive home the fact that the topic is off limits for this trip without making it sound like it has anything to do with you not wanting the parents to ask, but more to do with your own needs to take a break from it.

I've found that often, the best way to get someone to do something you want is to put all the blame on yourself. So instead of implying that their asking is annoying, you're stating that it's all about your need for a holiday from work.

Since you say that your DH may actually BE writing, then say that you've got a pact to refrain from talking about it.

"It's bad enough he's writing it, let's not talk about it as well."
Title: Re: When family gets a little naggy...
Post by: SPuck on October 30, 2012, 12:58:28 PM
Do you think bringing him on a vacation away from his paper is a good idea if you go to a place where everyone there is going to remind him of it?
Title: Re: When family gets a little naggy...
Post by: Dindrane on October 30, 2012, 01:47:09 PM
Do you think bringing him on a vacation away from his paper is a good idea if you go to a place where everyone there is going to remind him of it?

He isn't really going to be away from his work, because he's bringing a lot of it with him. And in this case, the primary motivation for this trip is not to take a vacation. We're going because of my relative's milestone birthday party, and turning it into an almost-week-long trip because of the time it takes to travel.

Plus, since this trip involves airfare and we are leaving pretty soon, it doesn't really matter if it's a good idea or not -- the trip isn't really subject to change at this point.
Title: Re: When family gets a little naggy...
Post by: Mikayla on October 30, 2012, 05:18:49 PM
It's one of the ways they show (unintentionally) that DH is a part of the family -- he's close enough to them that they feel a vested interest in his successes and want to help, ...

This may be a really effective framework to stress to him if you haven't.  It may not reduce his annoyance, but it puts it into a totally different context.

When I graduated from college, I lived/stayed with my bro and his wife for a summer.  About a month into it, she said something to me I wasn't too happy about, and I mentioned this to him.  He laughed and said "Don't you get it?  She talks that way to family".  I don't recall exactly what it was, but it turned my perception of her statement from criticism to feeling I belonged in this group and had to take my licks like everyone else in the family.  In fact, it ended up as a compliment to me.

If he doesn't want you to say anything to them, he does need to consider changing his reactions.  Maybe this would help a little.


Title: Re: When family gets a little naggy...
Post by: blarg314 on October 30, 2012, 07:47:33 PM

I've done a PhD dissertation, and even when it's going well, there's a period of about six months to a year where you're working flat out, and  the last thing you want to hear is "How's the thesis going?  Is is done yet?" yet again.

I think I'd drop them an email or a call, and say "DH is really stressed about finishing right now, and the last thing he needs is a whole bunch of questions about why the dissertation isn't done yet/when he's finish.  Can you help me try to take his mind off the stress?"

You don't need to reference details about your situation, because the above request replies to pretty much everyone who is finishing a dissertation.
Title: Re: When family gets a little naggy...
Post by: gmatoy on October 30, 2012, 08:02:28 PM
Chiming in to say: A friend of mine (who hadn't yet had children) was complaining to me (I still haven't done a dissertation) about everyone asking when she was going to be done. I laughingly said, "Ah, it is like having a baby...everyone asks when it is coming and says things like 'haven't you had that baby yet?' As if you didn't want to be done with the pregnancy already!"

She told me later that when her family started on her again, she just compared it the way I had and all the women "got" it and they called off the men. 

Title: Re: When family gets a little naggy...
Post by: Dindrane on November 01, 2012, 09:01:07 AM
So as a slight update, my DH has apparently been thinking about how to head off the questions about his dissertation before we travel to see my family in a few weeks, and perhaps more importantly, before we travel to see his family over Christmas. We'll be spending quite a long time with his family when we go to visit, so everyone will have ample opportunity to wonder why he's still working on his dissertation after all this time.

So DH, who writes a sporadic blog on various topics related to the classes he has taught or the research he has done, wrote a truly exhaustive blog post about what, precisely, he has been doing since he started his PhD degree program. He even included a few scanned documents of the primary sources he is using, so that the whole world can see how incredibly difficult it is to read 100-year-old, poorly-preserved, hand-written documents that are not in English. Then he took that blog link and sent it to his family in an email. I'm planning on mentioning the post to my parents before we go in the hopes that at least one of them will read it.

Since he's done that, we can now redirect any conversations away from "when are you going to finish" to both what he's actually doing, and perhaps more importantly, what he's already done.

I did talk with DH about some of your suggestions, and I think a lot of them will fit in well with what he's said in his blog, as a way of redirecting conversations so that he can talk about what he's doing (which is much nicer than feeling like he has to justify why he's still doing it).
Title: Re: When family gets a little naggy...
Post by: YummyMummy66 on November 01, 2012, 10:49:12 AM
What I think your dh should do is go into a very lengthy discussion of his dissertion.  You know, like an hour or more.   And bring it up every five minutes or so or bring it up into every conversation.   By the end of the first day with your family, I bet no one brings up the dissertation again!
Title: Re: When family gets a little naggy...
Post by: mbbored on November 01, 2012, 10:56:59 AM
What I think your dh should do is go into a very lengthy discussion of his dissertion.  You know, like an hour or more.   And bring it up every five minutes or so or bring it up into every conversation.   By the end of the first day with your family, I bet no one brings up the dissertation again!

When I'm with people who are generally sympathetic and not too nosy, I often compare it to asking a single person when they're going to meet somebody, or newlyweds when they're going to have a baby.

Unfortunately, my family thinks that those are perfectly acceptable questions, so I go with the above. Usually all I need is 45 minutes of me discussing how you determine mosquito trap location, the sexual reproduction of the malaria parasite, and how exactly onchocerciasis makes you go blind and then they leave me alone for the rest of the visit.
Title: Re: When family gets a little naggy...
Post by: Dindrane on November 01, 2012, 11:01:54 PM
He more or less did just that. I talked to my mom earlier this evening, and she had read the blog post. Her response to it was, essentially, that it was interesting and she'll never ask him about it again.

In thinking about, he was a teeny bit defensive in his tone, but at least it gives anyone who reads it an accurate depiction of what he spends his time doing.

It also had the added benefit of having my mom know what I was talking about when I mentioned that DH had spent all afternoon researching a specific set of documents. Now she knows what they are and what they look like!