How are things?

Our life coach and agony aunt Dr Pam Spurr answers your questions every fortnight. The author of many self-help guides her latest is The Emotional Eater’s Diet for anyone who heads for comfort food in times of stress or unhappiness. More about Dr Pam below.

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Dear Dr Pam,

You might think this a relatively small problem in the grand scheme of parenting but my sister-in-law drives me mad. She was very driven in her career and she’s now just as competitive as a mum. Everything she does with her children is right and everything I do with mine is wrong.

When she’s over she criticises and nitpicks everything from the food I feed mine to the way I handle any bad behaviour. Well I’m sorry but I can’t afford the organic food she gives hers and pardon me if I don’t believe my children should have every minute of their day scheduled.

My husband’s no help, he’s fairly oblivious to it and adores his brother so he doesn’t want to get involved. I dread it when we all get together because my parenting comes in for a hammering and to be honest I’m a mild mannered person who ends up seeing red. Thank you for any help.

Dear “seeing red,”

You say this is relatively small but it’s just the sort of issue that causes family rifts. No one likes their parenting criticised (even if it’s justified). And they certainly don’t like a queen bee type like your sister-in-law putting the sting in things.

I think it’s admirable the way you’ve handed it so far – many would’ve exploded by now.

Here are a few techniques to try:

* When she comments and criticises your parenting simply ignore it. Literally don’t answer her and continue with the conversation or activity that was going on. You have to be ruthless and consistent with your ignoring. This can be very effective as it sucks the oxygen right out of a critical person.

* Alternatively you can try the overly submissive and somewhat cringy but still successful technique of absolutely agreeing with every criticism. She says you shouldn’t feed them non-organic mince in their spag bol and with excruciating sweetness you say: thank you so much, I really needed to know that, I’m going to absolutely make sure their next spag bol is made with the most pure organic mince (and finely-ground by the hooves of unicorns – a joke!).

She may just pick up the sarcasm. And being a queen bee she might pull you up on it. But play innocent and keep saying but she’s absolutely right. This is a risky strategy (potentially a row might ensue) but can be equally effective.

* Or from now on whenever she criticises you, take the direct and honest route, find your inner mum-warrior and say: I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t comment on my parenting. Plain and simple. Don’t elaborate. Then carry on with whatever you were doing.

Ultimately I think that’s the most satisfying technique because it makes your point by standing up for yourself in a perfectly tactful but strong way. She might have her nose put out of joint for a little bit but she deserves to.

As for your husband? We all want to feel supported by our partners but actually this is something you’ll handle yourself. Him getting involved and telling his brother to keep his wife in order seems ‘old school’ when you can sort this out. However he could’ve been more understanding and bolstered your confidence to crack on with this.

Good luck! I’m thinking of you and all other mothers in your situation,

Pam x