DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have been having trouble setting boundaries with my mother-in-law.
Our county is currently under a stay-at-home order. This weekend, she invited her two sisters and two nieces over to my house for a socially distanced al fresco dinner — one to which I had originally only invited her, her son and her son’s girlfriend (a single household). I found out about the extra guests only a half-hour before they arrived.
I ended up locking myself in my bedroom and refusing to participate. My husband is mad that I did not even come out to say goodbye.
I sent everyone this email:
Hi Family — I am glad you enjoyed yourselves on Saturday. I stayed in my room. I was given 30 minutes to come to terms with the idea that the number of the people on my property was going to quintuple. I am an introverted rule-follower, and that is not enough time for me to become comfortable with this idea, especially during the stay-at-home order.
What I was originally told, and I was given over a week to consider and become comfortable with, is that two to three people would be picnicking in my front yard — a small, socially distanced group, from one household. This is something I was willing to try as a test run for my mother’s birthday. What I got was more than double the number of guests with only a 30-minute warning.
(Mother-in-law) is impulsive and unable to consider the consequences of her actions. I do not expect and am not asking that anything change there. The rest of you, however, know this. You also know that (Husband) and I rarely have guests over during normal times, much less during a pandemic.
So here is what I propose: Next time you are invited to my house and the invitation comes from someone other than me or (Husband) directly, please confirm with us. It could be a simple ‘Hey, what time should I be over on Saturday?’ or ‘Do you want me to bring anything for the party?’ or ‘Can I bring my new boyfriend with me?’
You all have my email address now. You should have my cell, because I’ve been on a number of text strings, but here it is again. Thank you for your respectful consideration.
Did I overstep? How can I set boundaries without being rude?
GENTLE READER: Well, you probably won’t be troubled with family visits again soon. While your exasperation is understandable, no good is likely to come from the way you expressed it.
Miss Manners agrees with your husband that locking yourself in was inhospitable, when a wave and apologetic smile, even from behind a glass door, would have softened the edge. And your email could have explained your reaction by saying you were discombobulated by the radically altered plans, and would have welcomed them with advance agreement about guests and precautions. (c) MISS MANNERS
I couldn’t disagree more. Way to write that letter and send it, letter-writing letter writer! YES!
To anyone who says she was passive-aggressive by hiding in her room, I’d say she was trying to cope and didn’t have many coping skills within her. NOT that I see that as a weakness. No one should have to put on a happy face and cope with this. And doing so sends the wrong message of, your bad behavior will be tolerated, because I’m too polite to shove you out the front door.
Doing the class act that Miss Manners is suggesting would be appropriate if someone showed up at the party with their kid in tow and apologies about how the kid’s other parent is sick and can’t babysit as planned (coronavirus issues aside). That’s when you “play the good hostess.” But what happened here was a full-on assault of the gathering. The hostess was completely and viciously disrespected in her own home by the sort of in-law machinations that no one should ever tolerate.
I’m upset with Miss Manners’ advice because, among other reasons, we need more outspokenness like this. It’s easier to be a pushover and let people just take and take and take while having fun at your expense. I’d say this letter writer got the last laugh here. Her “guests” got told, and quite rightly, as did the mother-in-law from hell. That’s how you do it! This letter writer should be an example and an inspiration to all of us.
The only sad thing is that the letter writer has just set herself up for gossip and ridicule. If I were she, I’d carefully consider dropping these people from her life to the fullest extend that she can, given that they’re related to her husband. I’m also concerned and saddened that her husband got mad at her for not coming out to say goodbye. Personally, if I were in her shoes, it would play out thusly:
My husband: Meg, they’re leaving. Can’t you even come out our room to say goodbye to them?
Me: No, I don’t see that happening.
My husband: [Scoffs] Well, that’s just really immature.
Me: Fine. [I shove past him and join the gathering.] Hey, everyone, listen up. Go to hell, you selfish bastards, and get the hell out of my house!
No one kills a party quite like Meg. It’s an acquired skill, but it can be mastered.
Quite honestly, if the husband wants to be the host, then his wife should be entirely off the hook to even attend the gatherings in her home.