Last year Christmas was a disaster. We went round to my husband's mother and stepfather and his stepfather was so rude and critical of the children that I never wanted to see him again. This year we're going to have Christmas at home, and my husband wants to ask them, too. I'd love to see my mother-in-law, who adores the children, but the idea of having her husband in the house makes me feel ill. I don't see why I should have to put up with having my Christmas ruined again. How can I somehow make it all right? Yours sincerely, Dottie


Virginia says... You can first get the idea that it is "your" Christmas out of your head. It is not your Christmas. It is everyone's Christmas and in order for Christmas to be remotely tolerable, nearly everyone has to put up with some hardship. Your husband has to put up with you wincing every time his stepfather opens his mouth. Your mother-in-law has to put up with the presence of her husband – I'm sure his comments make her squirm – and your stepfather has to put up with the behaviour of what he considers your appalling children. So get out of your head that Christmas is perfect for any of us. It's not. If you can get through it without a major row, a tense atmosphere, or one of those tiny remarks that rankle through to New Year's Day, and with the children reasonably happy, then in my books you've been successful.

You've got to have the man round. You can't not invite him. However you could perhaps ask your husband to have a word with either his mother or his stepfather and say that you do get terribly upset if the kids are criticised and if he can keep the comments down, Christmas would be a lot nicer for everyone. That seems reasonable.

It might be that he won't be quite as rude because this year Christmas is at your house, not his. Or, if he does make sarcastic remarks, tease him unmercifully. "Ah yes, the old moaner! Wouldn't be Christmas without a bit of moaning, would it? Calm down, dear. It's Christmas, remember. Goodwill to all men. Come on. Get out the milk of human kindness or you won't get any turkey!" It'll infuriate him, but at least it'll get your gripes out in the open.

But best of all, of course, would be to keep your mouth shut and not rise to the bait. Say to yourself that this uncivilised prat is certain to says things that are totally unacceptable, and rather than be surprised and shocked when he says them, just expect them. That's how he is. There's nothing you can do about it. Hey ho. It's only for a day. You don't have to see him for the rest of the year. Let's face it, he's a sad, grumpy old thing. And why not get the brownie points by being a complete saint by putting up with it.

That way, even if you find steam rising from your head along with the pudding, when you're having a quick fag in the garden to calm down, at least you'll ensure that everyone else's Christmas isn't ruined as well as yours.

Readers say...

Do it for others


Christmas brings painful problems for those of us in second marriages and I feel for your mother-in-law as much as for you.

Try to lower your expectations for your own Christmas. Concentrate on those you love and reward yourself later.

Invite them over. Everyone but you will be happy about it and the children may not notice a bit of tension. They will have their lovely grandmother and she will have them. This is not about being a martyr. My own experience of many years suggests that, where children and other people I love are involved, I cannot live with a Christmas that makes any of them sad.

Julie Harrison By email


Don't invite them

If your children were upset by your stepfather-in-law last year, then don't invite them, as Christmas is, after all, really for children. Tell them you are having Christmas lunch out this year and that you will pop round to see them on Christmas Eve. Hopefully, this will limit the damage.

Anita Ashford By email


Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I'm 15 and my parents have just told me they want to separate. In one way I knew this was coming because they've been rowing so much, but I still feel terribly upset. I so love them both and I've tried to talk to each of them to persuade them to go to counselling, but they refuse and Dad gets angry with me for suggesting it. Dad's moving out after Christmas, and until then, the atmosphere is terrible. I can't bear being at home. But if I say I'll move out and stay with a friend until they've sorted things out, they both tell me I'm being childish. What can I do?

Yours sincerely, Michelle

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