Dear Carolyn: My 27-year-old daughter has her first serious boyfriend — she met him during the onset of covid and a few months later they moved in together. The lockdown apparently accelerated their relationship status. He treats her very well, dotes on her, but is an awful person to me. He makes fun of my looks, criticizes my homemaking, dismisses outwardly my choice to stay home as a mother, and generally disrespects me when he can. This is in front of my daughter, but I’m not sure she’s “hearing” it.

Should I accept the happiness my daughter is experiencing with him as of paramount importance, or should I vocalize my concern that once the new romance elements fade, he may turn on her next?

— Dismissed

Dismissed: The chances he doesn’t turn on her seem vanishingly small. Doting on someone can be an expression of love or a mask for abuse. And once a person decides it’s okay to be cruel, the rest is simply logistics.

But the two options you gave me aren't the ones I want to choose from. As a parent, you have a natural impulse to view this in terms of your daughter's well-being — but you can't decide she's happy or decide she isn't. Both of these are up to her.

There is, however, a simple, incredibly important thing you can still do from your side of the line. You can stand up for yourself.

He: [Makes fun of your looks.]

You: “What an unkind thing to say.”

He: [Criticizes your homemaking.]

You: “What an unkind thing to say.”

He: [Dismisses your choice to stay home as a mother.]

You: “What an unkind thing to say.”

Change your phrasing to suit, as long as you call it what it is.

And let your daughter witness you doing it.

The common defense against an accusation of unkindness — let's call it the Jerk's Rejoinder — is some version of, “You're too sensitive,” or, “You can't take a joke.” Har bleeping har. If that's how he responds to you, then don't let that stand unchallenged, either: “So if you're just kidding, then what is your serious opinion?” Invite him into the open.

The truth is your power. Remaining calm is your superpower.

Your gentle refusal to be anyone's doormat will be your most effective warning to your daughter about her boyfriend's taste for cruelty, when she's ready to hear it — and your civility throughout will undercut an effort by either of them to blame any friction on you. Be kind, don't flinch, and don't quit. When she figures out who she's with, I suspect she'll need your support.

Dear Carolyn: Mom lightly criticizes me whenever her friends compliment me. Maddening. How to handle?

— Anonymous

Anonymous: Naming something may not fix it, but it does take its power away.

First, name it in a direct conversation: “Mom, have you noticed you do this? Any thoughts about why?” She may have a reason you find somewhat sympathetic. Praise may make her uncomfortable, for example, or superstitious. There’s an almost defensible logic to that, given how Americans rush to glorify people, then rush to tear them down.

Next, if it’s still bothering you, name it in the moment, wryly: “Mom’s here to keep me humble. Thanks, Mom! Nailed it!”