Q: I’m hosting Christmas dinner for the first time ever this year. I think I’m pretty well prepared, but my mother always manages to say something nasty to me about how clean (or, according to her, how unclean) my house is, and I end up in tears every time she visits. What’s the best way to deal with this?
A: In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to have people in our homes who make us feel bad about said homes. In the real world, though, it doesn’t always work that way. So what you can do is try to limit the emotional damage your mother is doing to you, while still being able to successfully host everyone else. You have two main courses of action, which you can either choose between or combine together as a strategy to make it through.
1. Try to give her less to complain about.
If there are certain things that she consistently finds fault with, one approach could be to try to focus on those things so she can’t complain about them. Fair warning, though: chances are, she’ll either still complain, or find something else to pick on you about. But if a frequent source of comment is, for example, the amount of stuff on your shelves, box some of it up and put it in a room behind closed doors for the duration of the visit. If she tends to bemoan the state of your bathroom, maybe spend a little extra cleaning time in there.
However, don’t feel that you need to change anything to appease your mother, because a very important thing to remember here is that this is still your home, not hers. Which leads us to the second approach:
2. Deflect, disarm, and disregard.
Just because she’s complaining doesn’t mean you have to give her an audience.
“I can’t believe you still haven’t dealt with the dining room.” “Well, I’m so happy you joined us anyway.”
“Why can’t you manage to keep your kitchen in order?” “It’s just the way I do it, would you like some more eggnog?”
This is your house. You manage it how you see fit. If things aren’t up to your mother’s standards, she’s welcome to host the holiday or to find alternate plans. Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of simply walking away. Rather than let things escalate to a fight, or let it get to the point where you feel belittled in your own home, go visit with one of your other guests. Chances are, your mother will still find something to find fault with, regardless of what action you do or don’t take. The only thing you can control is how you react to her, so you’re better off spending your time working on that rather than scrubbing your baseboards with a toothbrush.
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