Dear Viv: How can I cope with my nightmare family?

In this monthly special, Viv looks into the archives for some wisdom on spending time with difficult family members

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By Viv Groskop on



I have a very awkward brother who seems to incite an explosive argument every time the whole family gets together. 

We both live in London but we may as well be on different continents, as we only see each other 4/6 times a year, if that. He never calls, never wants to see the kids, never buys them birthday or Christmas presents.  We all went away to Paris in June, and he was prickly from word go (eye-rolling at all the sight-seeing but making no effort to suggest alternatives). The arguments are mainly between him and the female members  of the family, and usually revolve around how useless he thinks women are. He's always using stories from the news to support his low opinion (don't get me started on his comments post-Weinstein..)

My husband just wants a nice holiday season with no stress - he likes my brother but just wishes we'd all just get on better. We are hosting a family dinner over the holidays and my husband would rather he didn't come, but my mum loyally wants to have him with us. How much slack should I be cutting him - he's 44, and never seems to learn to bite his tongue! (brother not husband).



How can I stop becoming a giant baby around my ageing parents? When my sister and I are around my my parents, we revert to the behaviour of our teens. Bickering and arguing; we are stroppy and sulky. It’s unedifying, because we are both in our late 30s and married with a baby each of our own. I always end up feeling ridiculous and disappointed in myself, and so have begun to avoid going to gatherings that my sister will be at. Which upsets my parents. How do I stop being a massive baby around my parents? And how do I get my sister to stop being a massive baby too? I feel like we bring it out in each other, and it will take a joint and concerted effort to stop it. 



I'm hoping you can help me find a solution for coping with my in-laws. When I was first introduced to them, we got on really well. They have always been big characters and they constantly seemed to be falling out with people, but it made for lively gossip around the dinner table. However, some time ago they moved further away and now, when we see them, we have to spend entire weekends at their house, rather than just the odd meal. During the last few years, I have obviously done something to offend them, as the tension is palpable whenever we visit.

My husband says he finds them difficult and doesn't look forward to going there, but his advice is just to "treat it like water off a duck's back". There was never a major incident that kicked it all off, that I can think of – it seems to be more of a low-level hatred. There is a bit of a class divide – they are much posher than me. This was not an issue initially, but I feel that it has been hinted at since and I'm not sure they approve of the way I'm bringing up their grandchildren.

I feel my hackles go up the second we start planning a visit. I'm sure they can tell I don't want to be there, so I'm probably creating a vicious circle of animosity. The idea that this is going to go on for the rest of my life terrifies me. How do I make it end?



Can you divorce your parents? They have never been anything but judgemental and negative about the choices I’ve made as an adult, and I’m sick of it! I want to live my life without their cloud hanging over me.



My mother won’t stop comparing me with my sister. She’s four years older than me and has a well-paid job, while I’m pursuing a much less lucrative career in theatre. She got married this summer, while I haven’t had a proper boyfriend in a long time. And, to make things worse, there’s already a baby on the way – my parents’ first grandchild. Whenever I see my mum, she talks about my sister, and the idea of grandchildren, as if it’s all she wants from life, which makes me feel like I’m failing her. We’ve never had a very close relationship, so we’re not really the kind of people to sit down and have a proper talk about it. What can I do?


Got a question for Viv? Email her at The Dear Viv podcast airs weekly on The Pool at 5pm on Tuesdays. All letters will be edited for length. Unfortunately Viv cannot reply to your emails personally. 

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