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Author Topic: When family gets a little naggy...  (Read 12687 times)

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When family gets a little naggy...
« 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.


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Re: When family gets a little naggy...
« Reply #1 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.


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Re: When family gets a little naggy...
« Reply #2 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.


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Re: When family gets a little naggy...
« Reply #3 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!"


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Re: When family gets a little naggy...
« Reply #4 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?


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Re: When family gets a little naggy...
« Reply #5 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.)


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Re: When family gets a little naggy...
« Reply #6 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. 


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Re: When family gets a little naggy...
« Reply #7 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.


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Re: When family gets a little naggy...
« Reply #8 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?!?!?!" 


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Re: When family gets a little naggy...
« Reply #9 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'

Free Range Hippy Chick

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Re: When family gets a little naggy...
« Reply #10 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?"


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Re: When family gets a little naggy...
« Reply #11 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.


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Re: When family gets a little naggy...
« Reply #12 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.


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Re: When family gets a little naggy...
« Reply #13 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.


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Re: When family gets a little naggy...
« Reply #14 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?"