Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Morning Quickie: “I Have No Boundaries With My In-Laws”

woman at door
To say that my in-laws are difficult is an understatement. Two years ago we moved fifteen minutes away and, to them, a fifteen-minute drive is like driving out of the state, so it helped quite a bit to limit the weekend stop-overs. One of the issues I am currently having is that, when they do come over, they stay for five to six hours and take up our entire day with us doing nothing but hosting them. Lately, they will come over with our niece. I have two little ones (ages four and two) and a third baby on the way. The last time they came over with my niece they stayed for five and a half hours and I had an additional kid to watch and clean up after. I think my MIL brought the niece over to “help” watch my other kids, but my niece is seven and in need of a babysitter herself and my MIL will come over and want me to entertain her while my niece “babysits” my kids. My niece is too young to be left unattended with my kiddos all over the house or backyard. The other issue is that my husband’s siblings use and abuse their mother when it comes to babysitting and other stuff, so they are constantly leaving their kids with her for long days or overnights and the chance that my in-laws will be watching one of their kids on any given day — and potentially bringing them to our place — is high. The funny thing is that, when my MIL and FIL are at our house, they don’t help with anything, but then you hear my MIL talking about how she went grocery shopping for her daughter or cooks for her daughter or son’s family multiple times a week while they don’t offer to even help make a sandwich at our house.

Help! What can I do about their coming over with my niece? I’m afraid this will become a thing every time they come over and that it will escalate to their coming with more nieces and nephews in the future while my BIL and SIL can go about their day while I watch their kids. — Desperate for less in-law stress

Tell them they MUST call before coming over. When they call, tell them you’d love to see them, but you are only free from 10-11 am or whatever one-hour time-frame works for you (you can handle an hour of their company, right?). If the time isn’t convenient for them, oh well. You have two small children and a third on the way — you’re busy. You have a right to say you’re busy and can’t sit at home hosting all day long. Then end. If they drop by without calling, tell them that, if they’d called, you could have saved them a trip because you’re actually heading out the door in half an hour. (You don’t need to say what you’re doing, but, if they ask, tell them you have errands, plans with friends, a kid’s birthday party, etc.–and that, no, they are not invited.) Even if you weren’t actually planning on going anywhere, you must leave your house in thirty minutes and then do not go home until you’re reasonably sure they’re no longer in the neighborhood. Once you’ve done this a couple times, they will start calling before dropping by, and, when they do, you tell them what time is good for you, being sure to give an end-time.

As for your MIL cooking or doing grocery shopping for her other kids, I’d say that, if you want her to do that stuff for you, too, why don’t you ask? The next time she calls and says she and your FIL want to come over say, “Hey, we’re out of milk and bread — would it be too much trouble for you to stop at the store for us on your way over?” Maybe she’s helping out at her other kids’ homes because they seem to really need the help or ask for it while you are better at giving the illusion that you have everything under control and don’t need (or even want) her help. Honestly, I’ve found that if there’s something you want or expect, it’s almost always best to explicitly ask for it instead of keeping silent and stewing over not getting it.


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28 comments… add one
  • artsygirl June 20, 2016, 9:50 am

    LW- You have two separate issues with your in-laws, their visits and their helpfulness. Regarding this first issue, I wondered how your husband felt about the day long visits by his parents. Does he also think they spend too much time or is he comfortable with the duration? I would talk to him and try to get him to be an advocate on your behalf – he can speak to his parents and let them know that they need to warn you when they are coming over, not bring any more children, and only stay for a proscribed time frame. It might even be helpful to set up a weekly or biweekly meal that they come over for -say Sunday lunch or Friday dinner. That way you have established a pattern and they are less likely to linger if they know they will be coming back in the near future. For the second, as Wendy said, have you asked for help? It is possible that your MIL might not feel comfortable automatically cooking meals or picking up groceries for you. I don’t mean this to sound negative, but you come across as slightly controlling in the letter. While it is true you cannot leave the house with a 7 year old babysitter, I highly doubt if anything would happen if they were in another room or playing outside together without constant adult supervision. My 7 year old niece loves playing ‘baby-sitter’ with her three younger siblings (5, 3, and 2) when my sister is cooking dinner or doing chores. Best of luck!

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  • Stillrunning June 20, 2016, 10:13 am

    Talk with your husband about putting boundaries around the frequency and duration of the visits, and the other issues- your in-laws not helping, a niece coming along, might not seem so annoying.

    Have something planned so they (including the niece) can help you serve coffee or weed the garden, some small task where they’re involved and you don’t feel like you’re waiting on them.

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  • Stillrunning June 20, 2016, 10:19 am

    You don’t have to be the perfect hostess and stay in the room with your guests. If your husband enjoys the lengthy visits, let him do most of the entertaining while you get on with your busy life.

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    redessa June 20, 2016, 12:02 pm

    I would have long since stopped playing hostess. Sure, visit with them for an hour or so – assuming you knew they were coming. After whatever amount of time you decided on, go ahead and go about your business. You can say something like, “It’s been great visiting with you but I really need to start dinner/get some laundry done/call the plumber…” Or you can just get up and do whatever needs doing while you continue chatting here and there. If they keep hanging around, put them to work chopping carrots or folding towels or whatever. If they expect food or drinks, have them help themselves. Basically, if they’re going to set up camp at your house, stop treating them like guests.

    If, on the other hand, you weren’t expecting them then absolutely do what Wendy said and be unavailable.

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      Guy Friday June 20, 2016, 1:15 pm

      I’d add to this that nowhere in the letter does the LW say that her in-laws DEMAND to be treated as guests. Sure, they don’t help, but as Wendy pointed out it may be based on a belief that she’d consider them to be in the way if they offered.

      My family, bless their hearts, does this exact same thing, and it drives me up a freaking wall whenever I go visit them for the holidays. Someone will come over, and it’ll just be an all day thing. But after a while I realized that, to them, they were background noise to each other, the way one might turn a TV on while cooking or listen to music at the gym. So I learned to just treat them as such, and they never minded, and they were thrilled that I spent time with them at all.

      I’d be interested to see an update to this down the road to see if the LW asks for their help doing things and see how she feels about them then. They may surprise her with their willingness to do so.

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  • SpaceySteph June 20, 2016, 12:13 pm

    All of these in-law letters are always missing the crucial piece– what does your husband, their child, think about this? If he’s not seeing the same issue and maybe even encouraging the behavior, then what you have is a husband problem. Husband should be the one to take the lead on boundaries with his parents, not you.

    I agree with everyone who says don’t treat them like guests. Live your life as if they aren’t there. If you were going to pair socks today, pair socks. If you were going to run an errand, run an errand. Pack yourself and kids up and get in the car and GO. When they protest “Oh I wish you’d called before stopping by, it’s not a good time because I had X planned” or “As I said, we only could meet for an hour, then I had to do X”

    Also I wonder if you ever do invite them over? Do they have to drop by unexpectedly and stay all day because otherwise they’d never see you or your children? Why not take the lead on the next one and invite them over for dinner before they have a chance to invite themselves. Then you do treat them like guests and give them your attention, to show that coming when invited is better than dropping by at random.

    Man, though, stuff like this makes me glad all our parents live 1000 miles away.

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  • vanderjohnsenberg June 20, 2016, 1:07 pm

    If their visits really bother you then of course take Wendy’s advice but i think you should reconsider how you approach their visits. Personally i would consider their visits an offer to babysit while you run some errands or go out to lunch with your husband or whatever else you want to do while someone is around to watch your kids. I have a feeling his parents act like guests because that is how you treat them. Put them to work! Either they will be helpful or not like it and stop coming around.

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    • Annie June 20, 2016, 3:02 pm

      Just to add a little bit more information so that people can continue to give me advise or positive criticism…my husband does not mind the long visits with the ILS and the niece as much as I do ( mostly because he just socializes with his dad while i deal with MIL and guest) but I spoke to him and he does see where I am coming from in that the visits can be too long and that we do end up supervising an additional kid and he realizes his parents can be difficult to be around however he is also at a loss on how to set some of these boundaries without hurting his parents feelings or making them feel like we don’t like to have them over or that we don’t like our nieces and nephews. And i should add that while my niece is over my SIL is just at home or somewhere she could have taken our niece to. For the most part, the visits since we moved are planned and not just stop overs…so the issue really is the length and the additional possible guests. I wish I could consider their visits as an offer to babysit or be helpful but both my ils have mobility/health issues that do not make them very suitable as babysitters themselves and they think every rule we have in our house is ridiculous (ie, they do not believe in nap time…if they are there then the kids do not have to nap, three kids running up and down the stairs with a 2 year old is not dangerous etc.) so I would be apprehensive to leave them at my house while they let my niece just watch our kids and do whatever they want while they sit in a different room and watch tv. Also, certain chores would be difficult for them to do based on mobility issues. Too be honest, shame on my SIL and BIL for asking their parents to be doing stuff that they really should not be doing based on their mobility issues. I wish I could say that they only let me host them because they do not want to get in the way but i have tried to give them stuff to do and they do not seem interested…they have no problem trying to undermined me in front of my kids (which of course I do not let slide and have fought really hard to stop that kind of behavior but it was a struggle and every once in a while they still try to do) or asking me to get them this and that while they sit and watch tv so i think they like getting the nice treatment we give them versus their other kids and my husband feels bad that his other two siblings use his parents so much so he likes to let them relax when they come over. My MIL is constantly complaining about everything she does for her other two kids so it seems like she does it out of obligation but she totally enables their behavior and also seems to get gratification from telling people how much she does and how wonderful she is. FIL seems to want to come over just so that he can spend time with my husband because neither my MIL or FIL have friends or hobbies.

      If MIL/FIL came over by themselves for a couple of hours every other weekend I wouldn’t mind but they come over for long periods of time and give me more work to do than when they are not there…maybe I am just SOL here 🙁

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      • snoopy128 June 20, 2016, 5:17 pm

        I think if you have the attitude that you don’t want to do anything that might hurt their feelings, then yeah, you are SOL. But if you realize that setting boundaries is uncomfortable, but can lead to a much healthier and happier relationship, then you have a lot of options (which people have outlined). Wouldn’t you rather enjoy your inlaws company and enjoy the time with your nieces? Setting boundaries allows that to happen.

        Your husband also needs to realize that feeling bad for the way his parents allow his siblings use his parents, or feeling bad that they have no hobbies….and then continuing behaviour that enables this (allowing them to dump the nieces on you for extended visits and changing your plans to be their only social life) doesn’t help to solve the problem. Feeling bad for them and enabling the status quo doesn’t change things!

        Boundaries are you friend. Boundaries help everyone to have healthier and happier relationships with each other.

      • SpaceySteph June 21, 2016, 8:23 am

        Yeah so this is definitely a husband problem, not an in-laws problem. Your husband needs to stand up to his parents. Its not really his job to compensate for the other siblings taking advantage of them and it’s definitely not YOUR job to do so.

        I would at least agree that if you don’t feel safe letting your in-laws watch your children unattended then you shouldn’t, but again, this is your husband’s problem. Where is he? From your posts downthread, it sounds like he’s there, too so let him hang out in the house and entertain his parents (yes, both of his parents, not just Dad) and you go run errands, clean a part of the house they aren’t in, etc. I say when they come over spend exactly 1 hour as hostess (so they can’t turn around and say you ignore them) and then make your excuses and GTFO.

      • for_cutie June 21, 2016, 9:07 am

        Why don’t you offer to meet them out? There has to be a local park or museum or play place. This way you are not hosting, you can limit how long you stay, and your house stays clean. This skirts the ‘extra kids’ problem and under-mining problems too – you get to parent your kids and when it is nap time, you leave.

        I agree that there is also a husband problem here. Maybe you should encourage your husband to set bi-weekly weeknight evenings with that FIL. That way those two get their bonding time, but it does not disrupt your weekends or bring extra people to your home. I am sure your husband and FIL would love a tradition of grabbing a drink out, going bowling, whatever together twice a month. Who knows maybe their trips out could help build a friends network for the FIL and take some pressure off of you.

        Good luck to you! I would be feeling the pressure for a solution too with baby #3 on the way. I’m sure you cannot deal with the ILS, your 2 kids and a newborn!

  • Annie June 20, 2016, 3:13 pm

    Also, I should add that whereas one 7 year old might be a bit more mature than another. My 7 year old niece acts like she is 4 so she is quite immature for her age. And the other niece they bring over is 3 so she is definitely a handful.

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  • zombeyonce June 20, 2016, 4:13 pm

    To me, this sounds like the perfect opportunity for you to have a few hours off. The in-laws come over, you visit with them for an hour, then it’s “Like I said before when we planned for you to come over, I have some errands to run.” Then leave and do something.
    I don’t mean pack up all the kids and your pregnant self, I mean leave the kids with their father and grandparents and take the afternoon for yourself. Of course, tell your husband beforehand that you expect him to handle all the childcare and his parents (like you have!) while you’re out, but goodness, take this time before you have a third child and it’s harder to leave the house.
    If he needs help from his parents, he’ll likely be more comfortable asking than you are, and if he can’t handle having them over plus taking care of the kids, it’s easier for him to tell them the visit needs to end. Let him handle the problems of this situation and take some time for yourself. If you can make this a habit now, it’ll be easier to do it when you have your third child (even if you go out just you and the baby).

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    • zombeyonce June 20, 2016, 4:21 pm

      Oh, and by “errands” I mean “see a movie by yourself” because going to the movies alone in the afternoon when you’re pregnant is freaking heaven. You can lounge in seat without trying to be cordial to someone with you and you can eat ALL THE SNACKS without anyone saying a word. And if they catch you sneaking in candy, they’ll still let you eat it because you’re pregnant and no one wants to piss off a pregnant woman craving a family size bag of M&Ms. And the air conditioning! So wonderful when you’re way hotter than you should be.
      Now I want to be pregnant again and go see a movie. Alas, no one likes infants in theaters (including me, that shit is hard).

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      • for_cutie June 21, 2016, 9:09 am

        This sounds like an amazing plan! I’ll have to remember this if I have another baby. Or, even better, start giving a single movie ticket voucher in Baby Shower cards. Love it!

  • dinoceros June 20, 2016, 4:49 pm

    I agree with Wendy. If you make them call first, then you have to have an actual conversation about whether you are free. Then you can say, “Sure, we’re free from 11-1. You can come by then. After that, we’ll be doing xyz” Then if they don’t make moves to leave, you can say, “We’re planning to get started on the yard now.” or “I have a phone date with a friend now.” Stuff like this isn’t solved without some sort of communication. If you don’t tell them you don’t like something, they probably assume that you don’t mind. I can kind of see my dad’s side of the family doing stuff like this. All of them go to each other’s houses with little notice and it’s just what they do, so they don’t realize that neither my mom nor my stepmom have liked it, because they don’t mind when someone does it to them (I could call my aunt up right now and tell her I wanted to come over in 15 minutes, and she’d be like, OK, come on!)

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  • snoopy128 June 20, 2016, 5:11 pm

    It’s funny how fast people shape up when you set boundaries (for the most part).
    Everybody has good suggestions. And it will feel really awkward to just up and carry on with what you had planned if they drop by unexpectedly or stay too long, but the point IS to make them feel awkward and inconvenienced by inconveniencing you !

    I also think it’s up to your husband to talk with his parents and let them know that your nieces are too young to watch the children, so having them over is added stress and work, not the wondering ‘free babysitting” by the nieces that your in-laws might think it it is.

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  • Ron June 20, 2016, 5:22 pm

    Annie —

    I think you are making way too much of your in-laws mobility issues and not being able to leave the house. First, your husband is there and should be able to handle the situation and second you say that they frequently take care of your husband’s sibs’ kids by themselves. Are you certain that this isn’t just a case of your not being able to let your kids out of your sight, even when your husband is left in charge? Being uneasy with your kids in the house or your own yard under the ‘supervision’ of the niece, while you and your husband are in the house socializing with your in-laws seems like extreme anxiety to me.

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    • Annie June 20, 2016, 7:50 pm

      Their mobility issues are of concern. One of them cannot walk from one side of the room to the other without being out of breath and if the kids want to sit on their lap we have to place them on their lap because one of my ils cannot lift them up. I feel more comfortable them watching my older child because of her higher level of independence compared to my 2 year old and the baby that is on the way. I feel totally comfortable with friends and other of my family members watching the kids. At some point years back they were more capable but not anymore.

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  • saneinca June 20, 2016, 6:48 pm

    Ron No! A two year old and 4 year old, cannot be left under the supervision of a 7 year old. That is an accident waiting to happen.

    I would rather let the parents entertain themselves while the LW looks after her kids.

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    • saneinca June 20, 2016, 6:53 pm

      That was meant as a reply to Ron.

      Also, I suggest to revert the work to the inlaws.
      Say you call them and tell them, if they are coming that day or the next, they could bring your favorite casserole or pie. Or pick up groceries on the way to your home.
      After a while, they will dread coming over with the number of errands they have to run, trust me.

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      • Ron June 20, 2016, 7:57 pm

        SaneInca —

        The 7-year old by herself, no. But in the present case both parents and the in-laws are present and if the LW goes out to do errands or whatever, then the father and in-laws are still presenty-s in the house to supervise the baby-sitting 7-year old. That should be plenty safe. Likely the LW is not always hovering over the 2-year old when she is alone in the house with them.

  • Annie June 20, 2016, 7:54 pm

    A lot of the advice is very good and I can’t wait to read more suggestions. Thank you guys for taking the time to help 🙂

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    • Ron June 20, 2016, 8:29 pm


      I read your responses and SaneInca’s comments and my question remains the same: why can’t you go out to do errands and/or simply enjoy a pleasant break and leave your husband in charge of the kids, guests, and house. That should be well within his capabilities. If it isn’t then your problem is not with your in-laws, it is with your husband or your own anxiety. Your husband then gets to be the one to decide when his parents presence and the niece’s presence have become too stressful and it is time to end the visit. You stay for the first couple hours and then your husband is in charge.

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      • Annie June 20, 2016, 9:02 pm

        My husband is definitely more than capable. When they come over I feel it would be rude to disappear on guests (ha funny I’m trying not to be rude when I feel that they are) but it is definitely something to start thinking about doing. I would rather they come for shorter period so I can enjoy more time with my husband and my kids instead of feeling like I have to leave my own house every time they come. Also sometimes his dad and him take that as time to catch up on guy time or sometimes for him to talk him through how to do certain projects around the house (i.e. the other day his dad was talking him through how to fix our washing machine for a couple of hours) and so again if I leave it ends up being my mil in one room while the kids are outside or in another room. However I do agree if I wanted to I could leave and tell my husband to make sure he is the one supervising the kids…but should I really be the one fleeing? Them coming over by themselves for 2-3 hour visit wouldn’t be as bad versus 5-6 hours with additional guests. But point taken and like I said it is an option to think about. Maybe if my husband is the one stuck by himself with them for hours he will be more apt to really get serious about the boundaries. Haha I can also see the next problem being my ils starting complain to others about how they come over to visit and I just leave them and my husband with the kids every time and run off to do whatever I want…no perfect answer I suppose lol.

      • Miss Anne Thrope June 21, 2016, 6:23 am

        Annie- one thing that stustood out to me while reading this was not the MIL and FIL, but the siblings IL. Have you thought about the fact that they come to visit because it’s nice for then to see a child of theirs who is leading the type of life they want to see? It sounds like their other children exhaust them, and have no concern for their disabilities. Especially if they don’t have many friends or hobbies. I don’t know the best way to phase this (maybe because I’ve had less than a cup of coffee). How well do your ILs know their own physical limitations? Could they be coming over with the niece because they are worried about watching the child on their own, and your house is the only safe place they feel like they can “watch” the children?

        Some thoughts oh what to do that I hadn’t seen above: start going to then instead, that way you can control the length of the visit. If it’s spending that long with the MIL, would you feel like it was less stressful to take the the kids to a park? I can someone feel trapped in my house, and even doing the same activity outside can help. Or, has your husband’s every said anything to his siblings? It almost sounds like they are Moe of a problem than the parents. It could be as simple as discussing their health, and asking if they’ve noticed anything. If the ILs visits always coincide with them watching a grandchild, that doesn’t seem like a coincidence to me.

      • SpaceySteph June 21, 2016, 8:34 am

        My in-laws live out of town so when they visit they come for a week. My FIL is very handy and so for much of it he and my husband are doing handyman-type stuff around the house.
        This usually leaves me with my MIL and at first I felt a lot of pressure to entertain her. But I have work and grad school homework and a house to clean. I finally realized I just couldn’t be responsible for her entertainment anymore, so I left her to her own devices. And you know what? She was fine. She relaxed, she walked to the grocery store to wander around on her own (I grocery shop in a very no-nonsense way, so I think she thinks I rush her when she accompanies me), she read a book, she brought a chair out to the garage and watched my husband and his dad work. I always set time aside to hang out with her, but I didn’t make it my whole day.
        Point is, I think a lot of this is pressure of your own making. You are putting this pressure on yourself to be the constant hostess and perfect DIL. You imagine what they will complain about if you don’t do it but a) I don’t think you really know that they will react that way and b) it’s seriously time to give less fucks.

      • Clementine June 21, 2016, 11:21 am

        Annie, I put similar pressure on myself. If you don’t live in my house, I’ll treat you as a guest. That means I’ll want you to have a nice time, a nice snack, a nice environment, and some nice conversation. I really like to cook for company and enjoy being a good hostess. Then I met my MIL. She, too, has health/mobility issues that prevent me from using her visits as babysitting time. She, too, sees no problem with arriving for the weekend and expecting to be entertained instead of integrated. She, too, never offers to help, except in the most inconvenient of ways (wanting to clean out my silverware drawer in the middle of Christmas dinner preparation). She also does her level best to passive-aggressively extend visits far past a reasonable departure time.

        It took me a number of years to allow myself to step back from the host/guest mentality, but I’m so glad I rethought it. I don’t block out the whole weekend–it’s simply not realistic. The best thing I ever did was leave the house. I provided for basic needs, explain that I have plans at X time, and then gtfo. The first-hand experience (rather than my complaining about it) of stopping ~his~ life to host helped my husband to see my side of the issue. It gave me some space to go for a run, see a movie, or run some errands. And it showed her that our family simply doesn’t stop functioning because she’s on my couch.

        I encourage you to take that leap and leave the house. I know it feels rude to disappear on guests, but if you approach it like Wendy advised–“We are free until 1:00, then I’m leaving for an appointment,”–you’re not being rude; they are. And I know it feels icky to feel like ~you~ have to leave ~your~ house because these yahoos invaded. But hopefully you won’t have to do it more than a handful of times. Let your husband be the one in charge of looking after the kids + niece + parents. Let him sacrifice guy time or tell his dad it’s not a good time to do repairs. You won’t have to do it many more times to get him on board with boundaries. If it doesn’t work, at least you got to see a movie, right?


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