Upstairs, Downstairs
March 19, 2012 9:05 PM   Subscribe

She needs to sleep early without any noise, mom and I need to use the kitchen which inevitably causes noise. Help!

My mother and I live upstairs while my brother, his wife and newborn live downstairs.

Brother's wife, "Stacey" is a very light sleeper and at least 3 times a week, mom and I get a complaint call, on behalf of my brother, saying that we are being too loud in the kitchen which is directly above their bedroom. Mom and I try to be as quiet as mice, but Stacey still hears everything as she is a light sleeper.

I've just realized that the only way she won't hear noise is for Mom and I to not go in the kitchen, full stop. Stacey et al go to bed at 8:30pm. I usually go to bed at midnight, and will want some tea, snacks, etc from the kitchen between 8:30 and midnight. Mom works late and doesn't get home until 2am when she, of course, would like a cup of tea or a bite to eat after a long day of tiring work.

Is it a reasonable request for Stacey to effectively request that we not use the kitchen after 8:30pm? I feel like it really limits my freedom of moving about the house, not to mention my mom's, i.e. the house owner's--freedom. My mom is very passive and kind, and she is not one to put her foot down about something like this. I feel angry that Stacey and brother are more-or-less scolding Mom for using her own kitchen.

We live in a very expensive city and Stacey and brother are underemployed (I'm a student), so it would be difficult for them to pay to rent an apartment. Before she moved in with us, Stacey was living at her father's. He has a fair-sized house, so I don't see it being a problem if they moved there, but i don't know if Stacey is keen on that. As far as I know, she's never lived apart from a parent and doesn't realize that having "roommates" means putting up with noise from others.

Anyone have some solutions or perspective on how to address sis-in-law's noise complaints?
posted by oceanview to Human Relations (35 answers total)
Swap bedrooms?
posted by flabdablet at 9:09 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can someone suggest that she wear earplugs? I wear them pretty much all the time myself (got used to them) from having roommates. I think it's unreasonable to expect you to stay out of your kitchen after 8:30pm. That's pretty early and you shouldn't be expected to mold your life around their habits to the point that you don't feel like you can go in your own kitchen.
posted by fromageball at 9:12 PM on March 19, 2012 [25 favorites]

I don't think it's reasonable to be unable to use the kitchen after 8:30...especially as she is a guest. However, I went through a phase of being a light sleeper and it sucks. I think she needs to figure out a way to deal with that. Earplugs and white noise are my suggestions.

Also maybe specifically figuring out what it is exactly that wakes her up. Is it the opening and closing of the refrigerator or cabinets? Running the kitchen sink? The dish washer? Footsteps? There are solutions to mitigating the noise from these things.

It would be very kind of you, certainly, to do what you can. You are not obligated to do so. But I'm sure if you discuss it (not through your brother) there are some practical solutions to this situation.
posted by DeltaForce at 9:13 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Earplugs. She's being unreasonable.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:17 PM on March 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Your sister-in-law is being completely unreasonable. I say that at someone who is an extremely light sleeper. She really asks your brother to tell everyone to quiet down at least 3 times a week, in a home that does not belong to her, and that she is not paying for? At 8:30pm at night? That is ridiculous.

I agree it's always kind and thoughtful to really try and minimize noise as much as you can or within good reason, if you live in a shared home or building. And it sounds like you and your mom are doing that. But complaining several times a week is really absurd. It's great to have thoughtful people, but they certainly are not obligated to re-arrange their habits because of my personal idiosyncrasy of being a light sleeper.

Seconding earplugs. Or a white noise radio/machine/app. Or possibly a bedroom change. But otherwise, apart from trying to be a little more gentle in the kitchen, this is your sister in law's problem. You should have a talk with your brother -- or if you feel comfortable, talking directly to his wife about her making some changes. She is being very rude.
posted by raztaj at 9:20 PM on March 19, 2012 [11 favorites]

Any chance you could swap apartments? Or Stacey and Bro swap bedrooms in their current apartment?
posted by Snarl Furillo at 9:24 PM on March 19, 2012

Is it a reasonable request for Stacey to effectively request that we not use the kitchen after 8:30pm?

Ye gods, no. This seems awfully rude of her. Stacey can get some earplugs, or a white noise generator. I mean, she has a newborn, and she's complaining about the noise that the other adults in the house are making at 8:30pm? That's crazy talk.

Perhaps you should gently suggest to her that when people live together, compromises have to be made. Doubtless you and your mother are doing so. Also point out that it's your mother's house, and that it would be the polite thing to strive to accomodate her needs, rather than the other way around.

But there might be a couple of things you can do to quiet the kitchen noise, short of not using it. Perhaps a rug will soften footsteps. You could put stick bits of felt in the corner of the cupboard doors to dull the sound of them closing. Run the dishwasher in mornings, rather than the evenings...etc.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:26 PM on March 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

Brother's wife, "Stacey" is a very light sleeper and at least 3 times a week, mom and I get a complaint call

We live in a very expensive city and Stacey and brother are underemployed (I'm a student), so it would be difficult for them to pay to rent an apartment.

In my world, guests don't get to make "complaint calls." She can find her own place to live or deal with your chosen use of your home.
posted by jayder at 9:28 PM on March 19, 2012 [14 favorites]

I would definitely say she's being unreasonable, but she probably doesn't realize this since she's dealing with a newborn's schedule and probably running on very low sleep, feeling worn out all the time, etc., and 8:30 is probably a necessity rather than a choice so they are sleeping on the baby's schedule.

Is she usually a light sleeper, or is it just because she's now getting up to feed the baby and is more alert for sounds? I am usually a very heavy sleeper but when I'm stressed about not waking up on time, I wake at the slightest provocation. I don't think earplugs is a good solution because she does need to hear the baby in the middle of the night. And since you're not complaining about being woken by the baby's crying, she's probably doing a good job of dealing with the baby's needs.

However, I think you guys are being awfully accommodating. I know I wouldn't be. You definitely need to talk with her directly to get on the same page. I would ask her to be the one to come up with solutions since you guys are not making undue noise. It's not like you're having house parties or something.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:28 PM on March 19, 2012 [20 favorites]

Yeah, not reasonable. Your mother is working until 2AM to put a roof over their heads, and they think she shouldn't be able to eat something when she gets home, at two in the morning, from the job that is paying for the house in which they live? That's reprehensible.

I think maybe you should get a tea kettle for your room and stay out of the kitchen after 8:30. But your mom? No. Stacey can get earplugs if she feels that she needs to, but she doesn't need to tell your mom about it. Because your mom is working until two in the morning to put a roof over Stacey's ungrateful head, and your mom really doesn't owe Stacey anything more than that.
posted by craichead at 9:29 PM on March 19, 2012 [30 favorites]

No, not reasonable. Definitely buy her some earplugs, especially since there are three other people in the house who can help with baby when she's trying to sleep.

Though, and I don't want to diagnose anyone, but how new is the newborn? It's a long shot, but she could be having trouble sleeping for other reasons and is feeling especially irritated. If you see no other problem symptoms, great. But if she's a few weeks/months out and there are other problem symptoms, keep an eye out for Postpartum Depression.
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:33 PM on March 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

Thirding that the newborn probably has a lot to do with this. When my daughter was first born my normally-light-sleeping became insanely light sleeping, I would wake up if she so much as twitched in her sleep on the other side of the room; and I can imagine that if I were living with roommates I might have overreacted to minor disturbances out of sheer desperation.

I mean, did she live with you guys before the baby was born? Was this as much of a problem then? If not... I dunno, I would do your best to be compassionate and wait it out a few months (while trying some of the negotiations/solutions suggested above, like white noise, etc). If, however, this is just her normal personality, then yeah - something's going to have to give, and it should probably be on her end. Definitely not reasonable to expect complete silence from hosts after 8:30 as a permanent arrangement.
posted by celtalitha at 9:40 PM on March 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

1. It doesn't sound like she's a guest -- she sounds like she's a family member (your brother's partner) and is taking care of one of your other family members (your nephew). I feel like you're putting out a lot of resentment -- what does "more or less scolding" even mean in this case? That they called to ask her to stop?

2. It's not, in my experience, an unreasonable roommate request, particularly with a roommate who's family who's got a newborn. I've had roommates ask me to not be in the kitchen if it's over their space after a particular time, much in the same way I've asked roommates to not, say, vacuum before a particular time of day.

3. One work around, if your annoyance is genuinely about food, is to keep a stash of tea and snacks elsewhere in the house. When my sister was living with us with her one and two year olds, we set up a mini-fridge/microwave in the room that wasn't over theirs so that if someone wanted food they could get it. You can probably find both used on Craigslist or at Goodwill. It was actually super useful since when the baby and her were sleeping through the night, we could then use it to store extra milk/formula, or whatever.

The thing is, I'm not sure if you're only annoyed about the asking for quiet; what I'm suggesting in number three is like... a solution that took me like five seconds to think of.

TLDR: I don't think she's being unreasonable to ask for quiet after 8:30.
posted by spunweb at 9:58 PM on March 19, 2012 [10 favorites]

Earplugs. Unreasonable.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:00 PM on March 19, 2012

Oy vey. I am queen of the light sleepers and even I wouldn't ask people to not use their kitchen just so I can sleep. However -- my roommate often uses our kitchen at 2-3 in the morning -- to make full course meals!!!! -- and it frequently wakes me up even if I'm wearing earplugs. I feel your pain, I feel your SIL's pain.

Since SIL has made requests via her husband, now's your turn to make some requests via your brother. Calmly let your brother know how important it is to you that your SIL sleep well, but be firm in saying that living in an apartment comes with different noise disturbances that can only be avoided in three ways: you get earplugs, you learn to live it, or you move out. She could also get a white noise machine. With equal gentleness encourage your brother to remember that when they get their own apartment or home someday, noise will be easier to regulate, but not at this time.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:04 PM on March 19, 2012

How about you ask her to not use her bedroom before midnight? Obviously, thats not an option -- but it seems to me that's about as reasonable as her asking you not to use your kitchen after 8. Earplugs, white noise or another more practical arrangement is the answer here.
posted by cgg at 10:08 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just out of curiosity, is she complaining about your mother or about you? I think it's pretty reasonable to ask you to be quiet. It doesn't sound like you have any compelling reason to be making noise at night, and it's not your house any more than it's theirs. You mom, it seems to me, is a totally different issue: it's her house, and she works nights. But if this is really about your behavior and you're kind of dragging your mom into it, then yeah, I think you should be quiet, because the "you can move out if you don't like it" principle applies to you as much as it does to them.
posted by craichead at 10:10 PM on March 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

Unreasonable. She is company. What is it that she doesn't understand about this?

"I'm sorry you've just had a kid, in fact I'm so glad to help you in this time that I'm giving you and yours a place to live, rent-free. Now if you'll plz excuse me, I'm going to go make some tea -- you want a sammich?"

This is a great time for her, same as when she was learning some wacky kind of math or stats, and she hated it, but from that experience she learned that she's tough, and can adapt. Same thing here, she can adapt, and will have to.

I don't know how much white noise generators cost but it's worth a shot. A fan in my bedroom serves as a great white noise generator if/when I need one, plus I'm sure that it cuts down my cooling bills considerably in the hot months, moving the air around.

And earplugs, for sure.

You're in line, she's being unreasonable. Go make tea.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:17 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wonder if there are a few accommodations that might make a small difference:

- Rugs on the floor or soft soled slippers/socks on your feet
- A mat on the counter so you are not hitting dishes/mugs/glasses on tile when prepping
- One of those sink mats to muffle dishes going in the sink
- Foam/felt pads on the cabinet doors so they don't smack shut

She can compromise by:

- Wearing earplugs
- Using a white noise machine or fan in the room

In your SIL's defense, I once had an upstairs neighbor we called SeƱorita Elefante. When she moved around in her space it sounded like a herd of pachyderms line dancing. She was a petite thing that I swore wore lead shoes in her apartment. No doubt she had no idea how much noise she made!
posted by cecic at 10:18 PM on March 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

If she worries that earplugs won't let her wake up if the baby does, I can assure her they just take the edge off environmental noise - I wake up to my alarm clock. And I used to think I couldn't sleep in earplugs, but night shift proved me wrong. You just have to be exhausted and desperate enough. (And as far as I can tell, all mothers of newborns are at least somewhat exhausted. Desperation varies, but being willing to nag your swing-shift MIL-landlady about being quiet when she gets home is probably pretty desperate.)
posted by gingerest at 10:26 PM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

It is entirely unreasonable to expect that the owner of the house -- who is providing shelter for free -- will be forbidden from using her own kitchen upon getting home from work in order to accommodate a guest. Yes, even a guest with a newborn baby.

That said: in addition to having Stacey use earplugs and/or a white noise machine, as others have said perhaps there are some practical things to help dampen the noise. For example, does it help if mom only wears socks or slippers in the kitchen at night (assuming she doesn't already)? Would throw rugs or rubber mats on the floor help muffle some of the walking/creaking? Can the downstairs ceilings be insulated with egg-crate foam to absorb some sound further?
posted by scody at 11:31 PM on March 19, 2012

Seriously, a fan works wonders. It levels out noise coming in from another source (within reason) and makes things much easier on a light sleeper. That and earplugs, seriously.
posted by disillusioned at 11:32 PM on March 19, 2012

It is really unfortunate that her bedroom is below your kitchen. Is there any other bedroom that she could sleep in?

I can't see a young, new mom wearing ear plugs. A white noise machine, maybe, but not earplugs.

If she were a stranger then she would just be out of luck, her living situation would suck. But, as she is FAMILY, and a new mom, you really need to find a way to accommodate her. Can you offer to take the baby for the night at least once a week so that she can catch up on sleep? Can you be a little quieter in the kitchen? Can you offer her compassion and friendship and just ignore her when she comes across as picky and controlling?

Talk to her calmly and try to find a solution that works for everyone. Perhaps merely acknowledging that there is a problem and sympathizing with her will be enough to calm her down until your brother can become a better provider for his family.
posted by myselfasme at 11:44 PM on March 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

I can definitely understand you being angry and if it weren't for the newborn I said to tell her tough, get some earplugs and leave you and your mum alone. However, she has a newborn which can make anyone a little crazy. I'd put a time limit on it (not sure how long, 6 months maybe?) and tell her that for that time you will agree to her request but after that she's going to have to deal.

Before 8:30, get all your snacks together and take them out of the kitchen. Make a thermos of tea and a snack for your mum and leave it out for her. Put the dirty dishes on a tray and take them into the kitchen to wash in the morning.

This situation isn't ideal for you or your mum as individuals, but it does contribute to the collective good of your family, and sometimes people just need to forget about their "rights" for a little while and work around each other. A newborn in the house is one of those times.
posted by hazyjane at 12:46 AM on March 20, 2012 [8 favorites]

Totally not getting how a son is any more a guest in the house than his sibling. So, no, I don't think it's really reasonable to want the kitchen completely quiet after 8 30pm, but I also don't think it's reasonable to say "They are guests; I am not." They are family, living in the same house. Maybe have a conversation with your brother about how the situation could be resolved? Something along spunweb's suggestion, or switching rooms, or combining that with her getting a white noise machine, etc.

Reaching an acceptable resolution will probably not be possible without talking to at least your brother about it.
posted by bardophile at 12:53 AM on March 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Stacey is being unreasonable, newborn or no. I'm guessing that she and your brother are living in the basement? Perhaps they could re-arrange the space, so their bed isn't under the kitchen. Stashing snacks and tea supplies elsewhere in your home so you don't use the kitchen would be going way overboard to accomodate her (good grief, how much noise does boiling water for tea make?!?).

Don't get me wrong, I certainly sympathize with her --- trying to get adequate sleep while caring for a baby is hard --- but as others say, she's chosen to live rent-free in someone else's home, and she does NOT have the right to tell the homeowner how to live in their own home. Even if she was renting an apartment, demanding total silence from the building's other tenants after 8:30pm would be out of line: every lease I've seen only requires 'reasonable' sound levels, not complete silence, and only after 10pm.
posted by easily confused at 5:32 AM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Can you guys maybe investigate some insulation solutions? I've lived in apartments where even light footsteps were loud, walls were thin etc. Maybe there are some things that could be done to muffle the noise from above and below? An electric tea kettle that can be plugged in somewhere else and some snacks prepared ahead of time might also be a good compromise.

I'm not saying that she's being completely reasonable, but I do have some sympathy for her (and for you and your mom as well). Maybe put some onus on her (white noise machine, ear plugs [if she has a baby monitor, ear plugs will not stop her from hearing the baby], some insulation of their ceiling etc.), and make some compromises on your side.
posted by Kimberly at 5:41 AM on March 20, 2012

This is your mom's house. If she's okay with her daughter-in-law, the mother of her newborn grandchild (note: not a guest), asking her to stay out of the kitchen past 8:30, then that's how it is.

Sure, ask about other things -- can they move their bedroom, can she try earplugs, what if you put down a rug on the floor at night, etc -- but you can buy an electric kettle and take the snacks out before 8, too. And yeah, as the baby gets older you can figure out what now works, but right now you're not the one who is going to win this fight.
posted by jeather at 5:51 AM on March 20, 2012

If they were living in an apartment building and they asked their upstairs neighbors to not use their kitchen after 8:30 at night, they would be laughed at. It's totally absurd. Can you go down into their bedroom while your mother is moving around in the kitchen to see how it sounds? If your mother is making a reasonable amount of noise (and no, zero noise is not at all a reasonable request), then Stacey has to sort it out on her own. If it does sound like the cast of Stomp is up there, then you can use some of the advice above to avoid using the kitchen after her bedtime until the baby gets a little older. After that, she needs to figure something else out.
posted by crankylex at 6:24 AM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

This isn't a roommate situation, either. This is an extended family living together situation, and you owe more to your extended family than you do to a roommate or a neighbour who lives below you. I am not saying that Stacey is entirely in the right here -- she should be approaching you herself to work out a solution that is good for everyone instead of getting your brother to phone you, she should be more understanding that your mother works until 2am and needs the kitchen then, that you live there, too -- but she's not wrong for expecting some consideration from family members, more consideration than she'd get from roommates or neighbours.
posted by jeather at 7:22 AM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nothing is worth a family fight. Especially in this situation where everybody will be a loser if Stacey flounces off with the baby. So you all need to peacefully find a solution that you can live with.

You and your mom could set up a mini drinks and snacks bar somewhere else. But that shouldn't mean that you can't ever enter the kitchen or use the plumbing in the house (how did she miss that one?) after 8.30. Stacey and your brother need to take their own steps to minimise the disturbance to her, moving where she sleeps and/or using a white noise generator seem indicated. I do think you can expect support from the folks downstairs over what you need to be a successful student, so there should be no question of an 8.30 curfew for you. But I hope you are contributing to the care of the newborn family member -- even maybe taking a turn at the very early morning shift if that is the reason for Stacey's early bedtime. And your brother calling to complain rather than talking to you (or thumping on the ceiling in the traditional brotherly way) seems a bit odd -- have you looked at the amount of strain he is under? Can you help him in any way, even if only moral support in a difficult time?

Good luck with it all. Try to keep your own feelings of hurt in check and work for a solution that meets everyone's needs.
posted by Idcoytco at 9:38 AM on March 20, 2012

Thanks for all of the suggestions, they've been really helpful for me to see this from a few different sides, and more are welcome if you have them. There is definitely some resistance on my end in accommodating Stacey. Partly because, well, she does feel like more of a roommate rather than family as I almost never see her or the baby--she's very private and would never allow my mom or I to take the baby off her hands for a few hours, let alone a night. Plus, yes, my mother is very kind and accommodating and if that's the way she wants to be in her house fine--but I think she is too much so because she easily negates her own needs for others. If you saw your mother looking small and confused after getting one of these phone calls, after she thought she was being quiet as a mouse, you'd be a little unsympathetic towards Stacey too.
posted by oceanview at 12:29 PM on March 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Wait wait wait --- you're saying that
a) Stacey moved out of her father's home and is now in your mom's house rent-free;
b) Stacey is demanding the homeowner/baby's grandmother/your mom make excessive concessions for Stacey's comfort; and
c) Stacey can't even be bothered TO TALK TO YOUR MOM IN PERSON (Stacey makes your brother communicate her demands to your mom, who is right upstairs, by phone!), and she RARELY EVEN LETS YOUR MOM SEE HER GRANDCHILD who is actually living in the same house?!?

I'm afraid Stacey just lost my sympathy. Sure, she's got a newborn baby, but it sounds like she's got a bit of an attitude problem, too. I'm not saying you should stomp around or anything, but go ahead and use your kitchen, when and where and how you wish. Frankly, if Stacey decides to move out in a huff, and take the baby with her? It sounds like, sooner or later, that is exactly what will happen anyway, no matter how much you bend over backwards and kowtow to Stacey and her demands.
posted by easily confused at 3:21 PM on March 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

Nthing the "sister-in-law needs to get earplugs or something" AND the "might be some small things you can change to help" suggestions.

One thing you may wish to consider is that sometimes a noise is exponentially louder on the floor below. You may barely hear it in the kitchen, but it might sound loud enough in their bedroom that it seems like you must be doing it on purpose. Usually this is something coming into contact with the floor (in my experience, bouncing a ball on a (carpeted) floor, and rolling a desk chair across hardwood can both be much louder from beneath). It could also be something like air in the pipes. At any rate, you think you're being quiet and she thinks you're being carelessly loud. Figuring out if there's something like that going on could provide a simple fix, and might explain why she seems to be unreasonably sensitive to noise.
posted by sarahkeebs at 6:56 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Time for a family discussion night! Y'all need to get on the same page with this situation. Take it from the point of view that all requests are valid but not all can be accommodated.
posted by amanda at 7:10 AM on March 21, 2012

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