My husband and I have a family event coming up and my 79-year-old father always makes snide, sarcastic comments about my food sensitivities. This triggers me to defend myself and often leads to an argument. It ends up being embarrassing and can really ruin the whole event for me. How can I get my dad to understand his comments are hurtful so he will stop?
This is a great question that I think many can relate to. You can’t change your dad. He is the only one that can change and likely at age 79 he is unwilling or uninterested in doing so. What you can change is your reaction to your dad. Below are a few steps that will help you get there:
1. Accept: The first step is to accept that your dad says insensitive things and is uninformed about your health issues. There are many people in the world that may not believe or understand your situation. This just means that they are not part of your support network when it comes to your health. I am sure (or at least hope) your dad has other redeeming qualities. Focus on those and let go of trying to get him to understand you. It is exhausting and stressful to try to convince someone to see things through your lens especially if they are resistant. That stress is not good for anyone, particularly someone trying to improve their health issues.
2. Practice and Prepare: Now that you have accepted how your dad behaves and are clear on what to expect you are ready to practice a new reaction. You mentioned your husband is joining you so perhaps he can help. I love the idea of role playing. Have your husband pretend to be your dad. It is best if he can exaggerate his voice to make you laugh. When he makes that sarcastic comment just smile and don’t respond. Pause for a moment and slow down your thinking. Look at what is happening. Your dad is being sarcastic, and you are not reacting. This is not suggesting that you think your dad is right. It is really saying that you no longer want to exhaust yourself and expend energy on this topic. You are accepting this is him and it is no longer your job to change him.
3. Implement: Welcome the party or upcoming family event. This means you can now implement your great new response that you have been practicing. The moment arrives when your dad says exactly what you predicted but now everything is different. You pause instead of reacting. Now anyone observing the conversation will simply see that your dad said something insensitive and you didn’t entertain him. You actually look like the relaxed, healthy person. There is no more polluting the party with an argument, no more bringing extra attention to your health and no more ruining the entire event for you.
4. Laughter: This is the most important step! In order to live your happiest, healthiest life you need to have laughter. Perhaps on the ride home you can share something your dad said and his reaction when you didn’t take the bait. Be sure to inject humor into the story which will make it even easier to not internalize everything he said. You can also focus on all the great conversations you had with other people at the event. In the past you may have spent hours rethinking one comment your dad made. What did this really do for you? It certainly didn’t add to your joy and happiness. It may take a little practice to focus on the happy parts of the day. But this practice is actually training your brain to think happier thoughts. The wonderful thing about positive thinking and laughter is that it provides so many health benefits to your entire body!