Throughout my whole relationship with my husband, my in-laws’ house has always been always disgusting. My mother-in-law is a hoarder and addicted to shopping. In addition, there are three dogs and two cats in the house, and one dog goes to the bathroom in the front living room and the feces will not be picked up for days to almost a week. The very second you walk in the house you smell the dog feces as well as cat urine. The bathroom is indescribable, the kitchen is a disaster, and now my in-laws are talking about my child visiting once she’s born. We have talked to her for months about cleaning and de-cluttering the house and that we would help, but she refuses to see or hear what we have to say — she always have excuses or she will say, “You’re not having the baby tomorrow.” Then she will try to shift the conversation. She gets so defensive and feels like we are attacking her, but we are not. Unfortunately, I am at a point where we have to give her an ultimatum to clean the house or the baby will not come over and visit. I don’t ever want to get to that point, but I don’t know what else to do. Please help me. I am desperate. — Hoarder’s Daughter-in-Law
First, congratulations on your marriage and your pregnancy. This is an exciting time for you and I know how easy it is to get caught up in the desire for everything to be perfect as you begin this new life. But the fact is, life is messy (literally and figuratively), and navigating your in-laws’ house and lifestyle is but one challenge you’re going to face as a wife and mother (and adult, in general, regardless of your family status). The fact is that you can issue an ultimatum to your hoarder in-laws, but it’s not going to do any good, especially BEFORE your baby is even born and the incentive to clean up is still just an idea and not something that can be held and seen just yet. And you can offer to help clean up, but, if the situation is so bad that there’re animal feces and urine regularly on the floor and furniture, it’s going to take more than some well-meaning family members to turn things around.
Your in-laws (or, at least your MIL) likely needs professional help, and not just in the way of professional cleaners. The lifestyle you describe is often a symptom of some mental issues that don’t just go away when there’s an incentive, like a grandbaby, to clean up for. And getting your in-laws that kind of help really isn’t your job. They have to WANT the help in the first place. They have to accept and admit there’s a problem and they can’t face it alone. They have to want to get better. If they aren’t sharing those kinds of revelations or having those kinds of discussions with you, there’s not much you can do at this point.
Obviously, you can’t bring your child into their home (and I’m surprised you would even want to go over yourself). Rather than issue an ultimatum, it would make more sense to just tell your in-laws that you don’t feel comfortable bringing a baby into a home where there are so many germs and, if they want to see her/him, they’ll have to come to your place or meet in a neutral space. And this will just have to be the way you conduct your relationship(s) with them from now on. If you frame it as “I’m not comfortable,” or “I’m worried about germs,” rather than “You’re so dirty” or “Your place is too filthy” or “You need to clean,” (i.e. use “I” statements that reflect your feelings, rather than making “you” statements that convey judgment or demand action) this will minimize your mother-in-law’s feelings of being attacked. That doesn’t mean she won’t be defensive and hurt — she probably will be — but you aren’t responsible for her reaction; you can only control your own behavior and words.
Finally, these are your husband’s parents, so whatever communication you have with them regarding their living environment and how it affects you and your family should be communicated by your husband (after you both agree what should be said and expressed). Let HIM be the one to navigate this relationship. That will also go a long way in minimizing your MIL’s feelings of being attacked and will help protect you from the more direct reaction from her, whatever that reaction might be.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at [email protected].