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Dear Carolyn: My mother is very loving and very intense. Every time she comes over, she always has some criticism of how we are running the house. There's a dirty dish or two in the sink, there's a pair of dirty socks next to, but not in, the hamper.

She's right, we are not perfect, but the house is generally clean and orderly. We have a toddler so we are doing our best, but I can't guarantee my coat will be hung up every single night. I deal with her by letting her point out every little thing that is wrong, nodding and then going about my life. "Water off a duck's back" is my motto. I find that when I confront my mother, it turns into a whole big thing, so it's easier for me to just do my thing.

My husband wants me to counter her criticisms of him because they deeply upset him. He sees it as her calling him a failure. He sees my not challenging my mother as me not defending him, and I see it as me absorbing her criticisms for him so he doesn't have to deal with it. And I agree she goes overboard with her pointing to things that are wrong, but I'm not sure how to proceed.

— Duck

Duck: “Intense,” okay, I can see that — but what is “loving” about someone who turns every visit to a young family (or anyone!) into a faultfinding mission? And who makes a “whole big thing” of it when you ask her, reasonably, to back off?

She may well love you, but the behaviors you describe are of someone who places herself and her own needs — and anxieties and misplaced priorities and hooboy those controlling impulses — above all else.

That you’ve developed a least-resistance coping tactic isn’t surprising. If indeed you’re able to brush her off without internalizing her criticisms, then it could even be healthy; there isn’t one right way to deal with dysfunctional people. What matters most is that you remain functional and grounded instead of getting overwhelmed by them.

But she’s criticizing your husband! And your inability or unwillingness to stand up for him — or to think of ways to deal with her beyond “let’s just shut up and take it” — suggests you’re not as immune to her as you think.

Either way, maintaining the peace of least resistance isn’t possible with your husband in the mix. He won’t or can’t just shrug off the 1,000-paper-cut experience of having your mother in the house. And who can blame him, but that’s beside the point:

You can’t claim your methods are helpful to him if he doesn’t feel helped.

And maybe dirty socks don’t reasonably equate to failure, but you can’t just keep opening your door to someone who antagonizes your family just because you’ve found ways to cope.

Plus, this is as much his home as it is yours, and he’s as entitled to his boundaries as you are, so he gets his say in the way you both deal with your mom.

You have some alternative approaches to choose from: You can ask your husband what would help, weigh that against your understanding of how your mom would respond, and then figure out a realistic strategy from there; you can counter her criticisms as he requests, and just absorb a “whole big thing” instead of the criticisms themselves; you can give him your blessing to stand up for himself, with a promise to back him through the inevitable fallout; you can (please!) make her access to your home and family contingent on her keeping her white-glove miseries to herself.

It’s your and your husband’s home, and you two run it your way, not your mother’s — which includes deciding how, when or even whether her presence is welcome therein.

Dear Carolyn: Every year my family hosts a holiday champagne party for close friends. Most people bring champagne. and we don't always go through all the bottles. For the last two years, a couple has brought a bottle I've been told is very nice (I'm not an oenophile). And for the last two years, their son has stuck it under his coat and taken it home. He's mid-30s and not homeless. My kids saw him do it the first year and had me not serve it last year so they could see if he did it again.

I think it's funny and pathetic; my kids think they should call him out if he does it this year. I say, if it's so good, we should open it right away. He's done some dodgy things in the past.

— Hostess With the Leastest

Hostess With the Leastest: Serve it first, absolutely.

But no sting operations, please. Whatever his reasons, they’re sad, so just be grateful this is as bad as he gets in your home — and keep an eye or two out for worse.

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