More recently, upon finding out we were buying this home, my MIL offered to rent our basement to “help” with bills. We politely declined her offer because we don’t need help with bills, our mortgage is cheaper than the rent we had been paying, and we make a decent living. I was confused about why my MIL would even want to move into her adult son’s home with his new wife, especially since we don’t have kids nor plan on having kids. Well, now she wants to help with projects around our house. My husband mentioned an idea of putting a garden-type sitting area for me in the back of our property (we have an acre) and now my MIL stops by unannounced all the time with plans for the garden/sitting area, even though I’ve told her multiple times this project will not take place this year, if ever.
Additionally, we don’t have a plan for landscaping yet — we are just cutting grass and concentrating on inside work. Well, she isn’t taking the hint and now is making plans for MORE gardens on my property, all of which I have to pay for, because she’s on a limited budget. She wants to put two gardens in my back yard, one in front and, of course, the sitting area. I don’t want ANY gardens now or maybe ever; I work a lot and don’t have time to keep them maintained. When ready, I would like to research low-maintenance landscaping.
Yesterday morning, I woke up to a text from my MIL asking if I would leave the front door unlocked so she could use my bathroom while working on my front garden. Confused, I called my husband to inquire about the situation. He said that there was no plan for her to come over but that, when she had stopped by unannounced over the weekend, she had asked him our plans for front landscaping and he replied that nothing was taking place until fall but maybe we would weed sooner to clean it up some. Then she said, “Oh, maybe I’ll help weed.” I told my husband he needs to talk to her because this is making me uncomfortable; he immediately became defensive and said, “Talk to her about what?” I said: “About her showing up unannounced all the time and not getting permission for these projects she is running with. We need to set boundaries!” He became even more defensive and said I have a problem with his mother and she just wants to help.
Well, I returned home after work to find the front of my house GUTTED and she even pulled out the one flower I liked. I told her I loved the bleeding hearts in front because they reminded me of my grandmother and now they are gone. I feel she did this out of spite.
My MIL also calls my husband almost daily asking when we are installing rope on the clothesline in the backyard because she wants to dry her clothes on it as she loves sun-dried clothes. I find it strange this woman thinks it’s okay to bring her clothes to my house to dry in my backyard, and I’m also not cool with it. I was going to keep the clothesline, but now I want to rip it out of the ground because I don’t want to see her granny panties swaying in the wind from my kitchen window.
I think my MIL is jealous of my mom because my big-mouth husband told her my mom gave us the down payment for our house, plus she paid for our 25k wedding. I believe she is trying to somehow make up for not being able to help financially by “helping out” in other ways. I honestly did want her help with the front of the house because she knows a lot more about plants than I do, but now that this has happened I’m starting to feel resentment and don’t want her help at all.
When moving, I also made my mother-in-law cry by telling her I didn’t need or want help packing my house for the move. She told my husband that I make her feel worthless because I don’t accept her help. I stood my ground by saying it’s nothing personal against her, but I don’t want ANYONE’s help, not even his because I want to pack my way. I had help with a previous move and it was more work to give directions than it was just to do the work myself, plus I couldn’t find anything for MONTHS.
What do I do?? How do I get my husband to understand my feelings? How do I set boundaries with my MIL to make it known it’s not cool she stops by unannounced and is running with these projects? My fear is that if I don’t pay for the material she wants for the projects, she will then say I’ll have to pay her rent or pay her back. I just don’t know what to do. Any help you can offer would be great. — Needing Boundaries
Your MIL reminds me of my 4 1/2-year-old son, Jackson, who likes to “help” in a way that often makes more work for me. But I give him special jobs and tasks and request his “help” sometimes in the kitchen, even though it makes meal preparation messier and more tedious, because it empowers him, encourages independence, makes him feel helpful and like he’s contributing to the family, and keeps him from nagging me throughout the day about why I never let him help with anything. I choose projects and chores that take minimal supervision or can’t easily be messed up (like making his bed, putting his clean PJs in his dresser drawer, cracking the eggs into a bowl, and carrying his dirty dishes to the sink) and let him go crazy. I suggest you start taking a similar approach with your MIL.
It’s true, she is certainly overstepping boundaries, she shows an extraordinary lack of respect for your privacy, and she was cruel and way-out-of-line to rip out the very plant you said reminded you of your late grandmother. But, she also sounds really lonely, and like she’s lacking purpose in her life. Giving her a specific project that would be hard for her to mess up but would make her feel helpful and needed could go a long way in bolstering her confidence and smoothing tensions between you and her. However, you have to be firm about setting boundaries as you ask for “help.” Tell her exactly where and what she is welcome to do, like designing a simple landscape plan for the front of your house and perhaps, when you’re ready, purchasing plants with a budget you give her. But, you must also tell her, with the support of your husband, what she is not welcome to do, including hanging her laundry to dry on your clothesline and hanging out in your home when you aren’t there.
You need to explain to your MIL that you love her very much and want her to feel welcome in your home — when you are there! — and in your life, but that you and your husband need private, personal space and that that needs to be respected. Give her some specific times when you would be happy to have her in your home — maybe setting up a weekly dinner date — and encourage her to find some hobbies (like gardening at her own place) that help fill her time. You might gently suggest she look into meetup groups, take a class, or even try online dating, to help expand her social circle a bit.
Finally, you need a heart-to-heart with your husband, explaining as calmly as you can how you’ve been feeling unheard and misunderstood when it comes to his mother. Tell him how much you care about her and value her but that it’s important to you that your private space remain so. If he continues accusing you of not liking his mother or of being difficult, or if he doesn’t support setting boundaries with his mother, please consider marital counseling to nip this in the bud before it does some long-lasting damage to your marriage.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.