Reality check, please!
December 14, 2010 8:21 AM   Subscribe

Mother in law invited herself on vacation, I'm not happy. Am I being unreasonable?

Over Thanksgiving I was chatting with my mother in law about an upcoming trip we (my husband and I) have planned with a few of my girlfriends. Mother in law proceeds to say, "Oh how fun! Maybe we'll come meet you there!" I was caught off guard at her self-invitation at the time and don't really respond, and sort of assumed it would go away on it's own and wasn't worth fussing over.

Fast forward a few weeks and she's calling and emailing and trying to make plans to come on our vacation. I'm appalled that she's inserting herself in to our plans and I don't want her to come. My husband would rather not rock the boat and doesn't want me to tell her and my father in law not to come (and obviously will not speak with her on my behalf because of his preference for non-confrontation).

I'm angry that she's put me in this position, and sad that my husband won't stand up for what I want in this situation. He's also tried to explain away or justify her behavior, and has argued that in the reverse situation my parents would do the same (they would not, and if they did, I would tell them I thought they were being rude and not involve him). His other argument was that if I did not want her to come with, I should have never mentioned the trip--I think this is absurd.

It may or may not be important to note that my in-laws live a half a day's drive away from us (and a half day's drive from our trip destination, we will essentially pass them on our way down, but will not have time to stop and visit due to some of the planned trip activities/short nature of the trip), husband and I grew up in the same town where we still live and most of our extended family lives here. My in-laws moved to their current town about 8 years ago and we see them 4-8 times a year. My parents live 2 miles away and we see them once or more a week most of the time. My mother in law has a history of crowding me (I'm an introvert, she could not be more extroverted), my own parents work hard to give me space.

The trip was originally planned for me and a girlfriend to attend an event that we have as a common interest, and expanded to include my husband and another friend of mine.

Am I being unreasonable in:

1. Thinking that it was rude for her to invite herself on a planned vacation.
2. Wanting my husband, though he may not agree with my feeling that it was rude, to respect that I'm upset and go to bat for me?

My in-laws will be visiting this weekend and it is likely that my mother in law will want to talk about the trip plans. I don't know how to handle this when it comes up. Should I just bite the bullet and let it happen? I feel a bit steamrolled and I hate that, and I also don't want to put my friends who are coming on the trip with us in the position of having to entertain/spend their entire vacation with my in-laws. I don't want to hurt her feelings, but I feel as though she's put me in a position where I either resent her and sacrifice the vacation I planned for myself and my friends or hurt her feelings to get what I want.

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
As for (2)... It's perfectly fine to want your husband to go to bat for you, but he's been living with his quite possibly overbearing parents for decades. Are you really asking him to pick between your feelings and his family's feelings? Do you want to put that on him?
posted by muddgirl at 8:27 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Suggest a separate trip for the two/four of you. Tell her, "You know, we've already worked out the kinks on this trip and a lot of the stuff wouldn't interest you- and also I'm afraid that with all the other people involved we won't get to spend any quality time together. I'd rather the four of us do a daughter son mother father trip in a couple of months that we can plan together and customize together to truly enjoy!"

Despite her protests, always say, "No, no, I just don't want you to be disappointed. You are an awesome MIL and I wanna have fun with you on my own!"

That way, no information is ever shared about the trip, she knows she isn't going, and if she's miffed, fine, but at least she's not miffed because you have said you don't want her there.

And chances are she may not even cash in the foursome opp!
posted by 2003girl at 8:27 AM on December 14, 2010 [24 favorites]

I don't think you're being unreasonable on either count.

I would absolutely not bite the bullet and include her in the trip if she wasn't invited.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:31 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mother in law proceeds to say, "Oh how fun! Maybe we'll come meet you there!" I was caught off guard at her self-invitation at the time

I'm angry that she's put me in this position

Sounds like it might be an Ask vs Guess thing.

Maybe just say "to be honest we're going to be really busy over the vacation with all the [event] stuff - if you came along we literally wouldn't have time to spend any time with you guys and I'm worried you'd find it a waste of time or get bored [maybe play up how dull they'd find the event if relevant]. Can't wait to see you at [other planned future event] though!"
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:36 AM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

I guess this really depends on your destination and what you are planning to do there, but perhaps you can just mention that you and your friends had planned private activities for the majority of the vacation and therefore, if she comes, you'll be unable to spend much time with her. And if she does decide to come... well, perhaps her son can entertain her while you are elsewhere.

All of this said, you should not treat her as an enemy. It sounds like you see your parents much more frequently than your husband sees his, so it seems natural that they would want another opportunity to spend some time with him. Perhaps you can compromise by planning a separate visit to your in-laws instead of sharing this vacation with them?
posted by Behemoth at 8:36 AM on December 14, 2010

Answers to your specific questions:

1. See the famous Ask/Guess analysis
2. No, not unreasonable.

You could say "We'll be there from Thursday evening until Monday morning. How about we meet for brunch Sunday? Peter and I made arrangements with friends for some of the other days, and want to have some time on our own, but Sunday brunch would be fun with you and Dad."
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 8:37 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

How about: "I've talked it over with the girls, and they really would like it to just be us. It's been something we've all been planning together for a long time now, and I really don't want to upset them."
posted by HeyAllie at 8:37 AM on December 14, 2010 [13 favorites]

I would tell her when she brings it up. It's possible that she just thinks it will be fun, and didn't realize she was intruding. I am a person who might do this, and I would be totally fine if someone said "hey, this was a special trip for me, my husband, and our friends." Absolutely offer to do another trip if that's something you can afford/would like, but don't feel obligated.

And your husband should deal with this for you, but if you've been married a long time, you probably knew that he wasn't going to. Whether or not you're being reasonable on that count depends a lot on the dynamics of your marriage. I suspect this is a big deal, and think you guys should really talk about it, and both agree to work on it - he agrees to try to be more assertive with his parents when required, you agree to offer him support in that role, but also to assert yourself when absolutely necessary (like in this case).
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:42 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you have a serious, serious problem in your marriage. Sorry.

This is not normal behavior. The fact that your husband not only thinks it's normal, but thinks it is so normal that he expects your parents would do it too, suggests that he's got an extremely flawed understanding of boundaries with his parents.

If he seriously thinks that mentioning a vacation to his parents is a de facto invitation, then he's got an extremely flawed understanding of boundaries with his parents.

He married you; he should be standing up for your marriage.

Your mother-in-law is a problem, but the worse problem is that your husband thinks this is okay.

posted by endless_forms at 8:43 AM on December 14, 2010 [26 favorites]

Are you really asking him to pick between your feelings and his family's feelings? Do you want to put that on him?

She didn't do that. MIL did. And frankly, that choice a no-brainer. You go with the wife.
posted by milarepa at 8:45 AM on December 14, 2010 [18 favorites]

choice is a...
posted by milarepa at 8:46 AM on December 14, 2010

You are not unreasonable.

I have been in the place of your husband some times already and I totally understand his conflict avoiding behavior as I have that as well.

But realize this: You are the one and only part of his family that he consciously chose to be with. You are adults and you are your own little family (even if you don't have children). By choosing you he should respect you and be there for you. Especially when it's a matter of extended family (everyone but you and your children) where feelings are easily hurt and old roles are assumed again so easily.

I know how hard this can be and yes, I would answer muddgirls question above with "yes, make him stand up for you and risk a clash with his mother." He chose to be with you and not his mother.
posted by Glow Bucket at 8:46 AM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

I think you need to learn to stand up for yourself.

It's not unreasonable to want to go on vacation without your in-laws inviting themselves along. It's not unreasonable to be annoyed when they do invite themselves along. You husband IS being unreasonable (and probably a bit defensive) when he says you should hide all future plans from your in-laws to avoid them coming along...that's just silly.

You can solve this problem quickly and you should do so. Becoming increasingly annoyed but being unwilling to speak up isn't helpful. Your MIL isn't a mind reader and obviously has different boundaries than you do. It's not like you just figured this out. Stop being passive-aggressive and just let you MIL know that you'd prefer that this trip be as you originally planned it and you'll do another trip with just them later on.
posted by victoriab at 8:54 AM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Bait and switch, delivered by your husband. 'We really planned to spend as much time as we could as a couple' hint romantic hint followed by a specific plan to do something together at another time -- 'Let's all get together and go snowshoeing at X in January'. The specific replacement trip will help.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:55 AM on December 14, 2010

Is it possible that your husband is secretly not looking forward to a vacation with you and bunch of your girlfriends and is happy at the thought that his parents will be there to spend time with him while you're off girling-out with them?
posted by decathecting at 9:01 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

She didn't do that. MIL did. And frankly, that choice a no-brainer. You go with the wife.

I'm not disputing any of this (well, I think the whole "you go with the wife" thing is entirely a cultural construct, and many people WOULD disagree), but it's beside the point. He's clearly hesitant to step in here (it's possible he even wants his parents to come).

Again, I don't think the OP is being unreasonable - personally, I rarely find any feelings to be unreasonable - but I DO think it's unreasonable to expect her husband to wake up and start standing up to his mom without significant emotional impacts on either side, and quite possibly in favor of the parents over the wife.
posted by muddgirl at 9:03 AM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

It sounds like to me, as an outside observer, if your husband thinks your parents would do the same thing, that he feels the same way about your parents that you feel about his (you need your space); however, you respond to this situation, you should consider the otehr in the future.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:11 AM on December 14, 2010

Start referring to your trip as a "second honeymoon" when you talk to her.
posted by hermitosis at 9:20 AM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, I forgot about the part with the other friends. I would just stress that you are planning on spending as much time as possible alone with husband, and say that you'd feel bad leaving her stuck hanging out with your obnoxious friends for most of the time.

It would really, really make it easier to scoop her out of the plans if you could manage even a brief visit as you pass through their town either on the way there or back.
posted by hermitosis at 9:24 AM on December 14, 2010

If this is a trip that other friends of yours are also going on, why not just phrase it to her in that context? Let her know that this is really a bit of a "girls' trip", and it's mostly going to be you and your friends. Husband just happens to be tagging along. It would be sort of odd in my book if your in laws really wanted to take a vacation with a bunch of much younger people they don't know well.

Then make plans to see them separately sometime soonish, so they don't feel neglected.

If the real thorn in your side is that your husband wants his parents to go and you don't, in my opinion the best way to handle it is the path of least resistance. Let the in-laws come. It's not going to kill you.
posted by Sara C. at 9:40 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hubby shouldn't deflect all of this onto you, he should be running interference between Mom and his very introverted wife.

But you'd do well to learn to handle this woman better on your own, for your future benefit - won't be the last time she does stuff like this, I'm sure. If she's a mega extrovert and tends to barge in like this, I'm positive she's been told NO before. And she survived. So tell her NO as sweetly as you can, and let the husband deal with the fallout :P She'll get over it.
posted by lizbunny at 9:42 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Why not invite his parents and then tell your MIL that they are coming? that may change her mind or if not, make the mess even messier. Then all will know what such invites can lead to.
posted by Postroad at 10:17 AM on December 14, 2010

>His other argument was that if I did not want her to come with, I should have never mentioned the trip--I think this is absurd

You're right that it's absurd, but he's right (even if he was unable to articulate it logically), that you are essentially asking him to do what you failed to do when your MOL first invited herself. That is, speak up and smack down this unwanted intrusion. I'm guessing the reasoning is prettymuch the same, too: Because Unpleasantness will ensue.

I'm thinking the best you can hope for, unless one of you is willing to step up to the plate and come clean about wanting this to be a 'kids only' trip, is to try and set boundaries on what she can intrude on. Something like, "MOL, I Looooove that you're coming, but we did have some set plans that we made with our friends, and we really don't feel that it's appropriate to intrude on that group time with an extra person we didn't all agree on. So, we are booked for [specific dates and times and durations]. That leaves [specific dates times & durations] that we would be happy to spend doing X,Y,&Z with you."
posted by Ys at 10:28 AM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Is your Father in Law more reasonable? If so, you (and/or your husband) should talk to him about your wishes and let him convince your MIL not to go.
posted by rocket88 at 10:42 AM on December 14, 2010

You're not being unreasonable on either of the matters you ask about. But maybe no one else is being entirely unreasonable either. I don't support the woman's inviting herself along, but it's not unreasonable for her to want to, and maybe even to misread your sharing the news as something of an invitation. And it's not unreasonable to want your husband to intervene, but it's not unreasonable for him not to want to, for any of several possible reasons. You seem to be the one who doesn't want this to happen; why isn't it your responsibility to arrange the outcome the way you want it?

I apologize if you weren't looking for a postmortem, but you seem to have some strong opinions ("appalled," "absurd") on a matter that, like most interpersonal ones, has room for ambiguity. I don't agree with your husband that you shouldn't have mentioned the trip if you didn't want everyone you told about it inviting themselves along, but you did have opportunities to nip this in the bud. It was apparently difficult to do at the time. So it shouldn't be hard to imagine your mother-in-law having difficulties reading the situation correctly, or your husband having difficulties correcting her.

I support your feelings of having been steamrolled, your wishes that your husband would step in, your desire to have the vacation you wanted ... everything you wrote about. Not to get all cognitive behaviory about it, but you might feel calmer about the situation if you reframe it without using the word 'should.' And when you're calmer, maybe it'll be clearer to you what to do about it.
posted by troywestfield at 10:47 AM on December 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

Your husband needs to stand up for you. He sounds scared to act like an independent adult with his parents. His idea you shouldn't talk about trips around them is absurd, unless they are actually that bad (experience speaking, it's possible they are and you haven't known them long enough?). Anyway, he really should tell MIL that it's a girls trip, and he's just tagging along. If he won't, the next time she brings it up with you just say, "you know, MIL, it's really just a girl's trip, I'm not sure how much fun you'd have with all of us young 'uns...". If she still really wants to come after you've been (at least somewhat) clear, well, make husband hang out with her and go do your girly stuff. It's not the end of the world, although I feel your pain.

In the future, it would be best to sort of casually let her know she's not invited as soon as she invites herself. As in, after she says she wants to come tell her "oh, it's really just a girls trip" and laugh a little like she's pulling your leg or something.
posted by annie o at 11:01 AM on December 14, 2010

It's not entirely clear from your post what kind of event this is, or how exclusive the invitation list was. It's easy to deflect outside interested parties from accompanying you on a romantic getaway with your husband. It's less easy to deflect interest if you're attending some kind of conference or concert with a whole group of friends.

If the event falls in the latter camp, regardless of whether it's your MIL or just a random friend that you don't want attending, the easiest and most polite course is not to mention the event to them at all. Now that you have, unless there is some at least moderately legitimate reason she can't attend, such as all the tickets are gone, no more room in the hotel, etc., I don't see any non-rude way for you to keep her from coming. If your reason she can't come is simply that you don't like her, there's really no non-rude way to say that.
posted by festivus at 11:04 AM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh I feel for you. My husband's cousin's parents (ok the mom) did this to her own daughter. When she tried to put it any which way including nice, the mother threw a childish fit. Some parents think that life is one big happy family, instead of you creating a new family with new experiences. It's rude, presumptive, and childish. She needs to get some tact and a clue.

So help her with that clue. Do you ever want to go on a trip with her? If so have an alternantive trip idea. But stick to your guns and say you know this trip was planned and we're all set. But if you want to have a just us vacation, lets talk about it.

No matter what you say/do she's going to throw a fit. She has to deal. Not you. Stand firm.
posted by stormpooper at 11:17 AM on December 14, 2010

I understand the impulse of previous posters to suggest that you offer her something more appropriate (a couples weekend with your husband and in-laws, or some kind of compromise, etc.), however, also understand that this actually reinforces the behavior you don't like from your MIL--whether it is boundary issues or Ask/Guess or cultural norms. You are communicating that she can still have something, whether or not you want to give it to her, without asking for it or communicating with you on some of your terms about it.

I actually don't think there is enough information in your post to really know if this is a marriage thing, in-law thing, or boundaries thing that needs addressing. You sound stressed and annoyed, and you wouldn't have posted if you felt you were being supported from any corner.

However, I do think that if your MIL's behavior is unwelcome, and you don't want her to come, than she must be told in those terms. I also think that since your husband is coming, this is his job. It doesn't sound like that it matters to him if his parents come along, or perhaps he actually never has been good at telling them 'no.' He can be a good husband, by the way, even if he doesn't know how to talk to his parents--it's a long process for ALL OF US to figure out how to be adult children. So, start your open communication with him. Express to him your desire to keep the vacation as is, and why it's important to you. Stick to what is actually important to you about a vacation with your husband and friends without talking about the part where you want to win a power struggle with your MIL. Ask him if he's comfortable helping you take this vacation how you would like to. If he is not, ask if him if he's OK with talking about why.

Then, you have to decide if this issue is going to be tabled, for now, and your MIL is coming (knowing that you will have to deal with the larger issue, still, at some other point), or if you are willing to be honest with your MIL. If you are willing to talk to her, understand that you may need to talk to your husband again about precedent (whether you are willing to talk to her again in the future when something like this comes up, or if you and your husband need to talk about resolving his communication with them). Then, you just have to be 100% honest and kind with her: "When I mentioned the trip, perhaps it would have helped you if I had said it was planned for my girlfriends and my husband only. I am sorry I wasn't clear, and I would have been more clear if I had known you were interested. In the future, I'll be sure to let you know if plans are closed or open, because it's good to know, now, that you're interested in traveling with us in the future. I work better if I am asked directly about plans right away--so if you are interested in something in the future, be sure to ask straight out and I'll let you know. Right now, the trip is a road trip for friends."

After 15 years negotiating these kinds of things with Guess culture, boundary issues, etc., from both of our sets of parents, and after lots of incidents of mistakes and passive aggression and making unwilling compromises, we've learned it's best to be simple and forthright. We do, also, believe that the spokesperson/diplomat role belongs to the person related to the family we're dealing with, as there isn't cultural/"translation" issues in addition to sometimes having to say the hard thing.

But I also recommend being gentle with everyone. Your MIL AND your husband. I usually like to assume goodwill until proven otherwise, as well (e.g. assume that my MIL is taking over because she wants to spend time with us, not that she just wants a pre-planned trip. etc.). In this case, as well, check in with your girlfriends' preferences (it's their trip too). If they don't care, then do what YOU want, since you care. If they do care, take their preferences into genuine consideration. However, do not force the preferences onto them without actually knowing them and talking to them--in my experience this can backfire incredibly easily in multiple ways and make things worse.

Finally, if your husband does decide to talk to them, refrain from giving him a "script". I speak, chastised and humble, from experience here. It's so hard to trust, I know, that he's going to make everything right, and make it right they way you prefer, but they are his parents, after all, and this is his journey with them. He probably won't do it how you would, he may do it imperfectly or somehow, to you, incompletely, but it really was what he and his relationship with his parents was capable of, at that time. It's OK to express disappointment if everything didn't work out well, because that's honest, but giving him the love that he did something hard with his parents, at all, is better. Because it's hard.

Good luck. I think that every time you choose an open and honest and kind approach over a passive aggressive, or "handled" one, or deeply negotiated one when it comes to extended family then you are creating a history that can actually be built on. Otherwise, smaller issues will become harder and harder later (instead of bigger deals getting a bit easier).
posted by rumposinc at 11:27 AM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

I think you have a serious, serious problem in your marriage. Sorry.
This is not normal behavior.

Good grief. I have a husband who (IMO) has a hard time drawing lines with his parents. Sometimes I ask that he take care of these issues; sometimes I do it myself. I don't consider it a serious problem in our marriage; it's just how some people are. My own parents are like yours, OP; they give us lots of space. That doesn't mean I can expect that everybody will be the same way.

Here's a question: does your husband mind if you handle this yourself, and disinvite the ILs from the trip they weren't invited to in the first place? If he does mind, then yeah you have a bit of a problem. If he's okay with your handling this (tactfully), then go for it! Absolutely do what HeyAllie suggested: put it off on the girlfriends. "MIL, I'd love to spend the time with you if it were just the husband and me, but it's not. I think it would change the dynamics of the trip too much for our friends, if parents are there too, and it's not really okay for me to do that without their permission... I don't want it to be awkward for them or you!"

There is NO problem with saying this, and if your MIL has any empathy at all, she'll understand. Good luck!
posted by torticat at 11:31 AM on December 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

On non-preview--rumposinc is insightful. I mostly agree with this:

After 15 years negotiating these kinds of things with Guess culture, boundary issues, etc., from both of our sets of parents, and after lots of incidents of mistakes and passive aggression and making unwilling compromises, we've learned it's best to be simple and forthright. We do, also, believe that the spokesperson/diplomat role belongs to the person related to the family we're dealing with, as there isn't cultural/"translation" issues in addition to sometimes having to say the hard thing.

BUT I also think that if your husband is in general agreement with you, but doesn't know how to handle the particular situation, you can handle it yourself. I do generally expect my husband to deal with his own parents, but don't mind occasionally handling communication myself. It can be a way of getting his back, you know? Like you don't have all the baggage that he has with his parents, but you do in fact have an independent relationship with them, and it might be easier for you to deal with this situation instead of him.
posted by torticat at 11:42 AM on December 14, 2010

You say "I'm angry that she's put me in this position, and sad that my husband won't stand up for what I want in this situation."

Perhaps it should be "I'm sad that she's put me in this position, and angry that my husband won't stand up for what I want in this situation."

It's his mom. He needs to man-up here.
posted by 4ster at 12:28 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

You're both being lame. Your husband needs to be able to stand up for you, but you have to realize that he sees your family eight times more often than you see his. This is a two-way imbalance, and your claims of introversion may not hold water in this context. That said, one of you needs to say that you were just planning it to be a kids weekend, but they know when you're going to be there, so if they go down then you can plan to have lunch or posse up for whatever event this is, or whatever. There are more people involved in these plans (your friends), and it's perfectly reasonable to set boundaries based on that. "Hey guys, I brought my parents-in-law! Can I get anybody a drink?"
posted by rhizome at 1:59 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

This might be an ask vs. guess culture clash.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:16 PM on December 14, 2010

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