I have a wonderful husband of 14 years - along with wonderful in-laws. But over the last couple of years, a problem has developed: My in-laws show up unannounced on weekends and stay for hours, oblivious to whatever activity we may be in the middle of or have planned. They don't even wait for us to answer the door! Early one Saturday, my mother-in-law came in and almost caught me in the kitchen in my underwear. If we aren't home, they'll often go sit on our patio until we come back. Even better, one weekend my husband and I left to run some errands. When we came home, my sister-in-law was in the kitchen reading a magazine! She has a spare key for emergencies, but I was shocked and extremely irritated! I love that people feel comfortable in our home, but this is getting ridiculous. How should I handle it? - E.S., 40, Wenatchee, WA
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Just because you genuinely like your in-laws doesn't make your house the 24-hour drop-in center. On the other hand, just because this is a problem doesn't necessarily mean it's an enormous one. Sometimes we can improve difficult situations a lot by tweaking them just a little. The question here is one of boundaries - how to set and enforce them in a way that doesn't alienate your family.
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Several things are going on, all of which spell a lack of respect for your time and basic privacy. It's easy enough to solve the problem of your in-laws' walking in: Keep your doors locked. When they arrive, they'll have to knock.
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When it comes to their hanging out for hours, that's going to require your standing by your own plans to underline their importance. The next time your in-laws pop by, let them know within minutes what you've got going on. Say "Hey, Susan. Come in! We have time for a cup of coffee, then I must get to Home Depot" - or paint the bathroom, or finish your book-club book, or whatever the day's plans are. If they're still lingering after coffee, stand up and say, "I'm so sorry I have to scoot now. Why don't we try for dinner on Tuesday?"
You don't have to be stern - you can welcome them in and show them the door with warmth and good cheer - but you do have to be consistent. There might be some days when you don't have anything special going on, yet you also don't want to entertain for hours. Even then you need to say it's not a good time. They might grumble about how "busy" you and your husband are these days, but they'll adjust, and eventually they'll think twice before just showing up.
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Karen Karbo is an award-winning writer and author of The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons from the World's Most Elegant Woman. She's also a mom, a writing teacher, and a horse owner. Check out more advice from Karen.
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