Prev Next
In-Law Drama

The Cross-Country Pop-In Visit

By Amalah

First off: Your blog, the smackdown, everything, I love all of it. My question is of a similar theme to what I’ve seen you deal with before, but you’ve always got such great advice, I’m hoping maybe you can come up with something we’re just not getting ourselves here.

It’s the mother-in-law, who, long story short, has always had all the issues with all the boundaries. We’ve always managed to deal with her fairly well, setting very firm, consistent boundaries and explaining them to her as need be. For the most part, this worked okay- she still was who she was, and still managed to occasionally find a loophole somewhere, but the extent to which she was able to disrupt our lives was mostly under our control. Have to give credit to my husband here, who was handling this situation well long before I was around, which has been very helpful.

Three years ago we moved half way across the country from her, which changed her behavior (sometimes for the worse, sometimes just for the different), so new plans, new boundaries, but the extra physical space between us made her & our relationship with her easier to handle. Originally, she visited about twice a year, and this seemed to work. With enough absence to make everyone’s hearts grow fonder, these first visits were actually the most enjoyable time we’ve ever spent with her.

But now! The visits have dramatically increased, to every other month. She came for a week long visit this month when we expressly told her it was not a good time. At the best of times, having her here is no longer much fun for anyone, she needs almost constant attention and will attempt to create drama to get it, undermine us with the kids, and can be very narcissistic in her behavior towards us and the kids, who don’t seem to enjoy having her around much anymore, either. But there are better/worse times, as far as scheduling goes, due to both our jobs, the kids schedules, etc… And telling her which dates don’t work pretty much guarantees that that’s when she’ll show up. And then will proceed to be offended when we don’t clear our schedules for her.

And now she is planning another such visit next month. And the month after. She also intends to come when my husband and I are both off work this summer & next winter. The plan for this summer is, we were going to go camping anyhow, so we won’t even be here when she plans to come (she assumed we’d cancel. We won’t.), but how do we regain some control over these too frequent, unwanted (and unenjoyable) visits? We are literally telling her, for reasons X, Y, and Z, you are picking the worst possible time to come, please pick any other time, but short of being away, or moving and not giving her the new address, how do we set boundaries and force her to respect them?

Before SHE’LL respect your boundaries, you need to demonstrate (and continue to demonstrate) that the boundaries are there, and they are not going anywhere. Good on you for not canceling your camping trip or clearing your schedules for her, but it sounds like it’s time to take things further: Put your foot DOWN, and HARD, and JUST SAY NO.

Not “that’s not really a good time for us.” Just NO. To…all of it. No visits every month. No visits every other month. No visits when you have plans.

And I mean like, “Mom, there will literally be NO ONE to pick you up from the airport if you come that week. There will be NO ONE in the house. You simply CANNOT visit that week. END OF STORY.”

I wouldn’t even offer the “pick any other time” to soften the blow. You don’t want her visiting that often! That’s okay! You can say no! It’s your house! And she sounds like a nightmare of a houseguest! Hospitality invite rescinded, you emotional vampire.

She’s basically doing a cross-country pop-in, when a local MIL with boundary issues just shows up uninvited all the time, or asks for a key to your house so she can like, do her baby boy’s laundry the way he likes it. Except when she pops over she stays put for a week.

Look, I’m sure there are all kinds of mitigating factors that make you and your husband feel guilty — she sounds lonely, with not much going on if she can drop everything for week-long trips across the country every month — but boundaries are good. Boundaries are healthy and necessary. These frequent visits are straining relationships and stressing everybody out. Not to mention she’s just being flat-out rude and intrusive by refusing to take your schedules into account. That just needs to…stop. Someone has to say no to her and say it like he means it. (Guess who I’m talking about.)

You mention your husband recognizes his mother’s behavior and patterns and knows how to deal with her, more or less. So he just needs to…deal with this. I’m not really sure what other advice I can give, other than the benefit of hearing from a third party that you guys aren’t Grandma Hating Monsters of Selfishosity. She’s being unreasonable and rude. She needs to chill with the visits and impositions on your life, and also needs to respect your schedules and plan visits accordingly.

If she still refuses, be blunt: You guys are going away. You will not be at home. You will not pick her up at the airport/train station/whatever. The best you can offer is to leave a key in a lockbox and she’s welcome to sit in your house all week. If she gets offended, someone (cough husband cough) should call her out on it: Mom, we TOLD YOU this week would not work for a visit. We recommend you listen to us next time. If there is even going to be a next time, because your lack of respect for our time and schedule has worn completely thin.

I know, I know: It’s easy for me to hide behind a computer screen and demand that someone else get confrontational. But I really think that’s the only way out here. She’s already getting offended — let her get offended in her own house next time. It sounds like both the frequency and unpleasantness of her visits are escalating, and it’s not going to stop until someone (HUSSSSSSBANNNNND) steps up, speaks out, and puts an end to it.


Published May 18, 2015. Last updated March 12, 2018.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon
chat bubble icon