Could you bear Christmas with Britain's most meddlesome mother?
EXCLUSIVE She pours her son-in-law’s gravy down the sink (Waitrose’s is better) and redecorates her daughter’s ‘tacky’ tree. Oh, and tells the family what to wear… Could you bear Christmas with Britain’s most meddlesome mother?
- Emma Parsons-Reid said she is involved in every aspect of her daughter’s life
- READ MORE: Britain’s most meddlesome mum! Her daughter is 33 and married
On Christmas Day everything will run like clockwork, just as it does for me every year.
At 7.30 am, I’ll start chopping the veggies. I have a checklist on which everything is timed to the last minute so that lunch is served at 1pm on the dot for nine of us: me, my husband Kevin, my daughter Hannah, her husband Scott, and their five daughters, aged from six to 16.
There will be tasteful tablescaping, positioned to the last centimetre, as per my detailed instructions. I’ve moved the Christmas tree into a better position, and binned any decorations I don’t approve of. At my direction, everyone will dress up in sequins, dresses and smart trousers. And it goes without saying that yours truly will be sitting at the head of the table, carving the turkey.
I’ve even insisted on new furniture being bought for the occasion. Yes, every tiny detail has been covered — so you’d be forgiven for assuming I’m hosting Christmas in my own home.
In fact, for the first time, it will be taking place at Hannah and Scott’s this year. But that doesn’t mean I’ll let them run things.
EMMA PARSONS-REID (pictured with her daughter and son in law Scott): I have a checklist on which everything is timed to the last minute so that lunch is served at 1pm on the dot for nine of us: me, my husband Kevin, my daughter Hannah, her husband Scott, and their five daughters, aged from six to 16
While most grandmothers would happily reach for the Prosecco and mince pies and put their feet up, leaving the organisation to their adult child, well, that’s not me.
For, as I shared in Femail Magazine earlier this year, sparking hundreds of horrified comments, I’m involved in every aspect of my daughter’s life — even though she’s 33, married, and a mother herself.
I track her whereabouts 24 hours a day, I redecorated her kitchen as a surprise while she was on holiday, and I continue to offer my advice on everything from her children’s teachers to her sex life with her husband.
And Christmas is the time of year when I really come into my own.
Perhaps that’s why, after always visiting me for Christmas, Hannah suggested we finally celebrate at hers this year.
I understand her daughters were behind the plan. I wasn’t happy with the idea. My daughter has many good qualities, but she doesn’t understand that cooking a turkey needs a ‘low and slow’ approach.
READ MORE: Britain’s most meddlesome mum! Her daughter is 33 and a married mum – but Emma redecorated her kitchen while she was away, tracks her online and even tells her when to have sex!
I’m fairly certain that, in her hands, the bird would either be as dry as a desert or dangerously undercooked.
As for decorations, hers aren’t a patch on mine, so I always have to re-do them for her. And I don’t trust anyone but myself to ensure everything runs to my exacting schedule.
So, over the past month, we’ve had several meetings about how the day will work. I’ve insisted on lots of conditions, from signing off on the Christmas china to commandeering the kitchen.
Fortunately, Hannah and Scott have agreed to my provisos. It might not go the way they and their daughters had in mind, but I’m confident that on the day they’ll appreciate that my way is best.
I can’t countenance doing the cooking at Hannah’s because her kitchen is far too small, so I’ll be making the entire Christmas dinner at mine and ferrying it over in the car, a three-minute drive away.
My husband, Kevin, is already white with stress at the thought of foil-covered turkey, lamb and two trifles jostling on the back seat of his car, not to mention the vegetables, potatoes, bread sauce and gravy.
Ah yes, the gravy. Every year since Scott and Hannah first got together, Scott’s one red line was that he would make the gravy using a traditional gravy recipe that had been passed down through generations of his family.
I respect him for wanting to contribute, but I prefer Waitrose gravy. I think it tastes better. So, every year I let him make his great-great-grandmother’s recipe, then discreetly dribble it down the drain and tip my own into the gravy boat. He’s never noticed, so I think he’ll be very surprised reading this confession…
He won’t be carving the turkey either — I will be doing it.
So, the food is in hand, but I worry, really worry, that there will be kitchen roll for napkins and non-matching tableware. Hannah’s head is turned by sparkly things and she showed me a glittery red table runner and another one which had a ghastly mirror effect. It was no to both of them.
EMMA: I can’t countenance doing the cooking at Hannah’s because her kitchen is far too small, so I’ll be making the entire Christmas dinner at mine and ferrying it over in the car, a three-minute drive away
I almost suggested bringing over my Spode holly Christmas china, but then we really would need a Winnebago to ferry everything around to hers.
So, I have grudgingly allowed her to do the actual decorating and laying of the table, though I’ve asked her to photograph everything and send it to me so I can get her to adjust the positioning as needs be.
The decorations are another story. Hannah’s went up on November 25, which I saw as a two fingers up to me. I think it’s tacky to put them up any earlier than December 1.
The lights outside their house are always so chaotic it looks like a National Lampoon film. Inside, things go from bad to worse, as Scott insists on putting up his Christmas village ornaments in the living room. There’s a London one with Big Ben and the wheel that is an absolute horror.
So, every year, I’ll pop into her house throughout December (I have my own key, naturally). I like to do a bit of what I call ‘titivating’ and rearrange the seasonal ornaments in a better order. There’s no point in having a snow globe next to a garish candy cane, is there?
One year, I completely rearranged their tree. They had clearly put it in the wrong place — you had to walk around it in the living room — and there was too much tinsel on it, so all that needed to be replaced with bell garlands.
I found that once I got started, I couldn’t stop. By the time I’d finished, every single bauble was in a different place. I relocated her loveseat to another room, too.
I seem to recall Scott’s explanation to Hannah when she got home and asked why the tree had moved was: ‘Your mother has been here again.’
Hannah was pursed-lipped about it when I saw her and gave me the silent treatment for a few days. I reminded her I hadn’t brought her up to celebrate Christmas with tinsel. It’s unbelievably naff.
In the past, I’ve even changed the wrapping paper on the presents under the tree. Foil wrapping is so cheap and tacky. I prefer M&S recycled paper, so I’m doing my bit for the planet. Unfortunately, Hannah and Scott don’t tend to leave the presents out any more, so I can’t get my hands on them. Their décor has improved a bit this year, as they’ve stuck more closely to my recommendations, so I haven’t done that much … though the tree is a bit too big and garish for my liking, so I’ve pushed it back a bit in the living room.
I did spot that they’d got baubles with all the children’s names on, as well as one each for Hannah and Scott. I was a bit put out when I noticed there wasn’t one for me, so I bought one at a craft fair that had ‘Nanna Emma’ inscribed on it and popped it on the tree while they were out.
Why do I go to all this effort? Well, Christmas for me as a little girl wasn’t good. It wasn’t anything like The Little Match Girl, but in some ways it was worse because I felt that Mum and Dad never bothered to push the boat out even though they could afford to.
My friends had lovely presents, but my Mum simply had no interest and my father was hopeless when it came to buying gifts. His Christmas shop would consist of going into the local discount store and buying a lot of tat, then leaving a plastic bag under the tree, one each for my elder sister and me.
As for decorations, there was a tatty tree and zero excitement in the build-up to the day. This probably explains why I like to go over the top, especially as I split from Hannah’s father when she was a baby, so it was just the two of us for a long time.
EMMA: In the past, I’ve even changed the wrapping paper on the presents under the tree. Foil wrapping is so cheap and tacky. I prefer M&S recycled paper, so I’m doing my bit for the planet
Throughout the year I was strict, only getting her what she needed, but it meant I could justify going all out for Christmas. I’d start buying her gifts in January and keep her presents at work, only bringing a carload home on Christmas Eve.
I loved to see her joy and excitement. So, when she was 12 and told me she hadn’t been keen on a few of her presents, it was devastating and I cried after she left to go and spend Christmas night with her father.
Though she has her own family now, and Scott’s parents would also like to see them on Christmas Day, I still uphold our old traditions, and everyone else has to fit around those.
Besides, Hannah wouldn’t dare do Christmas Day without her mum. She knows her day would fall apart without the structure I bring to the celebrations. Instead, she visits Scott’s parents on Christmas Eve and her father on Boxing Day.
I always buy Scott clothes for Christmas, things I like to see him in, such as smart trousers and shirts. Scott has got an odd rugby build, with short legs, bless him. If left to dress himself he wears hoodies (I’m hoping he’ll outgrow them) with those jeans that hang down from your bum. Just awful.
I prefer him in fitted chinos and a smart shirt. I do advise on his outfit choices for Christmas Day lunch, too — I like to see him in a tasteful Christmas jumper. It’s not much to ask when I’m spending hours over their lunch is it?
I know I am a figure of fun to some of my loved ones, but Christmas means everything to me, and I really do count my blessings. There’s nothing nicer than the nine of us being together — and that’s all this meddlesome mum really wishes for.
SO WHAT DOES HANNAH THINK?
I did momentarily wonder whether, after some of the scorching comments following Mum’s previous account of her meddling ways, she might loosen the reins this Christmas.
What was I thinking? Nothing will ever change my mum. But, regardless, this year I was determined I’d get to host.
Since I became a mother myself, I have only spent one Christmas in my own home, after encouraging Mum to accept an invitation to celebrate with friends. It was an utterly blissful day. Scott, the children and I got to spend it in our onesies and pyjamas, singing along to Slade instead of being forced to listen to Classic FM.
At Mum’s, it’s wine only at the dining table; that year I had a gin and tonic. It was a lovely, laid-back Christmas.
Mum popped in on the way to her Christmas lunch and was absolutely horrified at how ‘slovenly’ we were.
She and I approach Christmas very differently. Mum religiously waits until it’s December to put her tree up.
But the girls are normally desperate for things to be Christmassy from early November, so of course I relent.
Mum had always drummed it into me that only working-class people with time on their hands put their tree up before it’s December, but it takes us hours and I work in the week. My tree is tasteful, yet she complains it’s a big tree in a little room.
She moans on and on about Scott’s Christmas village; she likens it to being a trainspotter or a twitcher. Mum’s so picky, not to mention a bit of a snob.
She’s rearranged the tree ornaments for so many years now that while, yes, it annoys me, we just let her get on with it. We’re a busy family and it means more to her than us.
As for the time she changed the entire tree? It’s typical Mum behaviour. Husbands might ‘man-splain’ to their wives, well, my mother ‘mum-splains’ to me.
I’ve made peace with the fact that however I decorate my Christmas tree, Mum will always find fault with it and find a way to do it better.
My theory is she struggles with the fact we’re making our own traditions and it hurts if they don’t come from her. Scott and I just roll our eyes at one another.
So why is it that this year I’ve made a stand? Well, I’ve got five children and they put their foot down with me. They really wanted to celebrate Christmas at home this year; they want to play with their presents and do the things they enjoy doing on the day. And while I was always grateful to go to hers, it seemed silly for the seven of us to troop over, when the two of them can come to us.
I had to gird my loins to talk to her about it; I put it to her that it meant she wouldn’t have to clean up afterwards, which I think she appreciated.
She’s made me order two new dining chairs, and of course she’ll still be sitting at the head of the table. However, I’ll confess that I’m delighted not to be cooking Christmas dinner, as it frees up time for me to spend with my daughters.
Nothing escapes her gimlet eye and I do put up with a lot; Scott thinks I deserve sainthood. But it was just the two of us for so long. I’m an only child and Mum would only have Kevin on the day if it wasn’t for me and my family. I’d miss her too, not least because Scott’s family don’t celebrate it with the same amount of pizzazz and effort that Mum does.
And besides, you’ve only got one mother, haven’t you?
It’s why, despite everything, I wouldn’t want to spend Christmas with anyone else.
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