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.


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


  • MR

    May 18, 2015 at 11:55 am

    Yikes. I suspect the language is going to need to be even firmer than “There will be no one to pick you up at the airport”. It sounds like it needs to be, “We won’t be able to host you. That means we won’t be able to pick you up at the airport, we can’t have you stay with us, we won’t be there. We would be happy to help you find a hotel, but if you are planning this visit to come see us, it isn’t going to work. We have plans.”

  • Amy Renee

    May 18, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    Rather than telling her what dates don’t work, can you tell her which dates DO work, and schedule out some visits 3-9 months from now? It sounds like you have told her that the days she was picking are bad because of your work schedules, so she picked some times when you were going to be off, and that isn’t going to work for you either. So when exactly do you want her to visit (since it sounds like she is going to whether you really want it or not)? Can you invite her for specific dates (or offer up 2-3 weeks and suggest she pick ONE)? You could spin it as “when you visit us more frequently, we can’t take time off to really spend with you. But instead if you visited 2x a year, we could plan some fun outings on those trips”

    Also, any chance your job requires you to travel and she could come “help out” while you are gone? Or would that just be too cruel to your husband?

    I’m dealing with this right now somewhat, as someone recently told me “suprise, I’m going to be in town next week, lets get together”. My first though was “it’s a really busy week, ugh, this is difficult” but then I realized looking at my calendar that pretty much ALL of my weeks are pretty busy weeks, so there isn’t a good time for this visit and I may as well just make the most of it when I can.

  • Jess

    May 18, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    i have an old friend that does this – “hey, I’m in town!”  I’ve eventually just had to say, “sounds great, have fun! Between our work, baby and other plans, you gave me no notice, and I am unable to accommodate any part of your trip!”  Some weekends I even fib a little, even if I am free…..give me notice because it’s just plain rude!  I love her to death, but her time is no more important than mine. 

  • K

    May 18, 2015 at 11:57 pm

    I like Amy Renee’s point about giving her times that do work, spaced in a way that makes your comfortable. Is it possible that you visit her instead? Then the conversation can sound like “hey – your visits seem to have increased, and so has our family’s commitments to XYZ. We want to spend quality time with you, so we checked our calendars and these times – ONLY these times – work for a visit. Come any other time and we will not host you, nor will we be able to spend time together during any unplanned visits. We simply can’t crash the kids’ routine or take time off from work, so this is the best we can do. If you ignore this request, you will not be welcome to visit again. We’ll come to you instead, during dates that work well for you and us.” Clear, gives her some control (she can pick from dates you give her), and lays out the consequence for not respecting the boundary. What happens next is up to her. Good luck, and you guys aren’t being unreasonable, just normal.

  • Robin

    May 19, 2015 at 11:12 am

    I agree with YOU suggesting a date that works. My mother-in-law acts very similarly; asking to come visit every weekend. We found ourselves saying “no” over and over again, and the resentment and annoyance was mounting. My husband suggested us scheduling a time a month in advance. That way she has something to look forward to, and we aren’t constantly hounded by requests for visits. I’ve let it be known to my husband that a visit once a month is all I can truly stand (my MIL only lives an hour away), so the day after she visits he calls her to schedule the next one a month out.

    Good luck, nothing boils one’s blood like a MIL! (Did I say that out loud? Oops….)

  • Kathleen

    May 19, 2015 at 11:24 am

    Been there! My MIL once announced she was coming to visit, and bringing along random family members we’d never met, two days before her arrival. We said no, we had plans that weekend, and she still drove 800 miles to our city. So we closed the curtains and hid from her all weekend. Desperate MILs call for desperate measures.

    I found that the key is to start planning her next visit before the current one ends. That allows us to discuss the schedule with her present and exert more control over the calendar. And it settles her “I’ll never see them again” anxiety. 

    It also helps to remember that she’s probably not overstepping boundaries to be a jerk, she’s just lonely, and she loves her son and grandkids more than anything in the world. OR she’s a narcissistic a-hole, but hey, with family, you have to play the hand you’re dealt.

  • Brittany

    May 19, 2015 at 11:32 am

    You might already be awesome at doing this, but no one has mentioned it.  In addition to the firm boundary-setting, I would make an effort to really foster the long-distance relationship with her in ways where she feels included without making monthly visits.  I’m thinking frequent Face Time or Skype dates, sending a card for every little holiday/ just because, anything that shows you love and think about her regularly.  If she feels that connection from home, she might not feel the need to visit so often. 

  • Feisty Harriet

    May 19, 2015 at 7:04 pm

    Yep. This. My MIL will routinely drive 1500 miles to see her grandbabies (who we only have every other weekend, btw) so she’ll stay for 2+ weeks to see them twice….and it just….no. She often times calls from the road, so we have maybe 1 day notice. She does this with her daughter and will stay for weeks at a time and, it seems, the daughter is totally on board with it and happy to have her. I am…less so. Lady, stay away from my house, do not buy Costco-sized vats or *your* favorite foods to keep in the fridge. And for the love, do not institute a rule that in MY house there will be no shoes on the carpet. Lady, it’s MY HOUSE! NOT YOUR HOUSE! GO AWAY FOR THE LOVE OF BABY JESUS!

    So…clearly, I have some unresolved issues on this topic. Ahem. I’ll just be over here….


  • Karen

    June 4, 2015 at 12:27 pm

    Just don’t accept visits. If she says she’s coming at ANY time when she hasn’t been invited, say “We will not be able to accommodate you. If you show up, you will not be allowed inside the house.” She continues to do this because you continue to LET her. By not giving her consequences, she has zero reason to respect you when you tell her no.

    Amalah is right that your husband is the one who should be communicating with her, though. His mother, his problem.

  • Lydia

    June 10, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    Stop telling her the reasons the visits don’t work.  Then she can always argue.  Just say NO.  Not “No, because”.  If you say “no because we’re camping” she hears “yes bc we’ll cancel”.  Just say “No that doesn’t work for us”.  Repeat over and over.

  • Maggie

    June 11, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    Don’t leave a key somewhere for her to stay in your empty house. If she’s like my MIL she’ll make a copy and start letting herself in.