Oh no! My critical mother-in-law is to visit.

Christmas can be stressful especially when difficult relatives arrive.

If Christmas wasn’t stressful enough, this year my mother-in-law is coming to stay. Nothing I do is ever good enough for her. She can’t help but criticise my housekeeping and cooking. My husband says it’s just for a week, to keep my cool, but I’m afraid I’ll lose it with her. What should I do?

An angry explosion won’t make for a peaceful Christmas, but it will make it a memorable one. Your family could talk about this blow-up for years. And, if you make your outburst vicious enough, your in-laws will tip toe around you, or avoid you altogether, for many Christmases to come.

Most of us feel uncomfortable with criticism. It feels like an attack. Criticism means we are neither accepted nor approved of, and all of us need acceptance and approval. But it’s possible to see criticism as a gift; as an opportunity to expand our self-understanding.

Criticism can only hurt us when it falls on fertile ground. When we agree, at some level, with the criticism.

No, I hear you say. You don’t agree with your mother-in-law. She is wrong. You take umbrage with her harsh words and defend yourself vigorously.

The truth is that at some level your have doubts about yourself. Whenever your mother-in-law’s comments sting, deep down, you feel there is some truth in them. If you don’t believe me, step back for a moment. Stop defending yourself, and assume that she is right to some degree. You will find that you have doubts about yourself as a good wife or as a good mother. It doesn’t mean that these doubts are true. But they exist, and you need to deal with them.

Critical people like your mother-in-law are very unhappy. They see the world in grey and are always looking for the negative. They are fundamentally afraid. They focus on the negative in an attempt to stay safe. They fear anything out of order. Of course they have their own quirky view of what constitutes order, most probably shaped by their parents and grandparents criticism. Critical people usually fail to see all the positive around them. Such people feel like victims, and they go on to victimise others with their criticism. The only people who take their criticism seriously are those who harbour self-doubts.

Now you have an opportunity to clean out these self-doubts. Examine where they came from. Did your own mother feel insecure about herself? Did she receive a lot of criticism? Did your parents have high expectations of themselves and their children? Were they critical people?

Think seriously about how you are running your household. Are you a perfectionist trying to do it all yourself? Are you failing or cope and not prioritising properly? Forget your mother-in-law’s criticisms for a moment and consider whether there are any improvements you would like to make. For this to work, you need to be honest with yourself. You decide how you run your household. Run it to your standards not anyone else’s, and that includes your own parents and grandparents. Be realistic about the order you want in your home. Don’t try to be superwoman. Take Annabel’s Crabb’s view if it suits you. “My house is a testament to my view that there are more important things to do than housework.”

Once you feel completely secure in your abilities and decisions, you do not need react emotionally to your mother-in-law’s criticisms. You can greet them with a cheerful, “Oh really” or “Yes, I see you feel that way.” Then walk away, continuing on your set course while letting her words evaporate into the atmosphere like the sun evaporates water.

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