Maintaining boundaries with family members in your house

Anon writes:

“Hi! I am a first time mom of a crazy 2 year old boy. Next week we are expecting family to stay with us to celebrate my son’s birthday and I am worried about how to enforce house rules with 2 people in particular: my brother in law and his son.

We have rules about not eating or drinking outside of the kitchen (except maybe dry cereal once in awhile) and we like it if visitors can abide by these rules as well. Before we had our son, we had a ridiculous number of people (mostly men) claiming that this was a “stupid rule” since once we had kids, we couldn’t have nice things. We have one white armchair in our living room and it has survived 2 years so far, except for the time brother in law fed his then 2 year old son oreos while we were otherwise preoccupied. His son is now 4 years old and is a typical 4 year old, listens well, etc. Just wondering if it would be acceptable to circumvent his father on giving out instructions (don’t jump on couch, please, we eat over here, etc.)

I should add I am also having a really hard time making brother in law understand how upset it makes me when he directly does the opposite of my requests with my son. He once gave him sprite when he wasn’t even a year old yet after I had told him not to. Help!”

Oh, ugh. This just sounds really icky for you.

I don’t understand how a person could just blatantly ignore the rules of the house they’re staying at. It’s unbelievably rude and ignorant.

Yes, you do get to enforce the rules in your house by telling anyone in your house (even/especially kids) what they can do and can’t do. This isn’t a public playground. This is your house. You don’t need to be mean about it (as I’m sure you weren’t going to be) but just stating “no jumping” or “no eating outside the kitchen” or whatever the rule is is totally acceptable and expected.

(I think most parents assume that the house rules will be at least slightly different when they go someplace else and are waiting for the hosts to tell the kids what’s acceptable there and what isn’t. I know I always expect people to tell my kids what’s ok and what’s not, when we’re someplace else.)

So yes, tell your brother-in-law’s son.

Now, your brother-in-law and his attitude (who tells someone something is a “stupid rule” in their own house??) should not be your problem. Is he your partner’s brother? Or your sibling’s partner? Whichever it is, the person who’s either related to him or partnered with him needs to be the one to keep him in line. So your partner or sibling needs to step up and make sure this man understands that if he wants to be allowed in your house he needs to respect you and your rules. If he’s not prepared to do that, then the visits should take place at neutral territory so he can’t play his control game anymore.

Has anyone else had to deal with a family member who blatantly disregarded your rules or standards? How did it play out?

9 thoughts on “Maintaining boundaries with family members in your house”

  1. Ugh absolutely! With us it’s my FIL. He does not believe in "conditioning" children and wants to let my son whatever he wants whenever he wants it and often times goes blatantly against the house rules. I used to feel like if I said something it would be disrespectful to him and I didn’t want my son to see me undermining his grandfather either but that’s exactly what we needed to do. My husband stepped in and said, "No grandpa doesn’t live here so he doesn’t know our rules. Hence we will / will not do something right now". Eventually my son started to get the picture and now he will point out the rules himself. But still a struggle and frustration day to day when in laws visit.

  2. I cemented my place as the bitchy daughter-in-law when I told my MIL she couldn’t eat standing up in my kitchen (with no plate). Dropping crumbs everywhere. (She has a housecleaner. I clean my own house. And work full-time. And have 2 messy children.) I tried to be semi-nice about it, but seriously. Also, I was trying to clean up after the meal (that I cooked) and she was standing (while eating) in the middle of my not-very-big kitchen! This was not a casual picnic type dinner or a Superbowl party or something, this was a regular evening dinner.

  3. Anyone who fed my infant Sprite (and even moreso over my explicit instructions) would no longer be welcome in my home.

  4. Smoking in my house. I was LIVID when I found out my MIL (who had come for our wedding) smoked in MY house after expressly being told not to. I told my husband never again, and he agreed. We were both madder than snakes. I’m allergic and he has asthma. It’s simply not tolerated. Fortunately it never was an issue again because she passed away without ever visiting again.

  5. Hi! Original poster here. I should clarify that "BIL" is my husband’s sister’s husband. Really appreciating the support, as they come in tonight and I am feeling a little stressed… Thank you all!

  6. Ugh I hate it when people pull this kind of bs. Yes, you not only have the right, but you should enforce the rules in your own home. Of course, do it nicely (but don’t be passive). If BIL blatantly does the opposite, your H should have a word with him and or his sister.

  7. I think this is great advice generally, but the bit about ‘the person who’s partnered to him needs to keep him in line’ bugged me. If it was a ‘partner’s brother’ situation then yes – after all, presumably it’s your partner’s house as well, so perfectly reasonable for him to set rules, and having the household member who’s connected to the person being the one who deals with them is generally a good idea. However, if it’s a ‘sibling’s husband’ situation then that’s different, because your sibling is not part of the household, is not the one setting the rules, and should therefore not need to be the one to enforce them over an adult.

    I’ve been on the receiving end of an expectation that I’d be the one to communicate a family member’s issues with my husband to my husband because the family member didn’t feel able to deal with my husband directly, and it’s an icky uncomfortable no-win dynamic that would have left me feeling like a nag if I actually had passed the messages on (I ignored them. With hindsight, what I should have done was called the family member on it and told her to deal directly.) Sorry, but I think the house owners should take this directly to the person they’re having a problem with and not bring in this "it’s his wife’s job to keep him in line" belief.

    1. I think Magda meant that if the BIL is the wife’s sister’s husband the WIFE should deal with it, if he’s the husband’s brother the HUSBAND should deal with it—yes the house owners should deal, but which one needs to handle it depends on whose side of the family it is. Please ignore me this if I misunderstood.
      And I do agree with that. My husband has to deal with my MIL when she does the million and one inappropriate things she does with my kids. I have to deal with my sister or parents when they…well this hasn’t happened yet. but when it does, I’ll deal with it.

  8. OMG yes! This is me at EVERY one of our joint family functions. My husband’s family has all boys (not that boys are bad) it’s just these boys are … very unruly and don’t have any boundaries at all. The last birthday party we threw at our house, my cousin-in-law’s son was running around my house holding a cupcake with blue frosting and smearing it on the walls in my hall while his grandmother (my husband’s aunt) followed him around saying "oh well, you know kids". By the time I discovered what was happening it was too late. My nephews (on my husband’s side) took our play kitchen and were beating the toys against the wall and breaking things. I had imposed a rule after the last family party that all the kids were to be kept outside until cake time, and even though I tried to remind gently, no one cared! None of my sister and brothers in law watched their children or enforced any of the rules of our house. My husband was mortified! He has said that from now on, birthday parties happen at a gymnastics or "outside of our house" play place. And if we want something at home it has to be for friends only, no family. At least he agrees with me, but it’s so frustrating to have to have 2 or 3 different family events because one side of the family doesn’t behave.

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