Dealing with parental guidance as an adult child
May 16, 2015 5:15 PM   Subscribe

My parents are kind, generous people, but they are starting to interfere with my life in a way I'm not sure how to handle.

The one thing my parents and I have constantly fought about since as far back as I can remember is about how messy I am. I'm the first to admit it: I'm not a neatnik. I am scatterbrained and forgetful, and I am really very bad about picking up after myself. My parents are both very neat and very orderly, as are my two younger siblings. My room was always a mess and we were always, ALWAYS fighting about it.

But now, I am in my mid-30s, with my own house. I'm married with two small children and both me and the mister work full-time jobs. And my parents still give me constant shit about not having a house that is up to their standards (they live close by, so we see them often).

The thing that I struggle with is that they are NOT wrong. My house is pretty messy. Not all the time, but definitely some of the time. It's really stressful, and I hate how it gets away from me. My husband is OK but not great about doing housework, so most of it falls to me, and after working all day I am tired and wrung out and don't feel like doing any serious cleaning. (Cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, sure, but not doing any kind of serious deep cleaning). I am always behind on laundry. I have ADHD and I do take medication for it, but the medication has often worn off by the time I get home, or it just gets me through dinner/cleaning the kitchen/kids bedtime. I get up at 5 a.m. every day and I have to be in bed by 9 or otherwise I'm a wreck during the day and completely unproductive at work.

My parents get upset because they gave us money to help us buy this house. (Unasked for by us - they offered). They have been very generous with money over the years and usually their solution to problems is to throw money at it. They have offered to pay for a cleaning service, but so far I have not taken them up on that because I'm still smarting from the last discussion we had about this.* I feel SO resentful that my parents are getting up in my business like this, even though I know they are right. Every time they bring this up, I feel like I'm 12 again and they're yelling at me for being a slob. And I react accordingly - I usually start sobbing and apologizing and promising to do better.

Lately I have been freaking out if I know they're coming over because I'm afraid that no matter what I do my house is not going to be "clean enough" for them. I dread it when they come over and I'm all yelly and tense with my kids and my husband. I have considered quitting my job - which I love! - because then I'd have the time to keep my house up in a good condition, and do all the yard work and that kind of thing. I also fantasize about moving across the country so they can only visit when I say it's OK.

What do I do in this situation? Do I tell my parents to buzz off? Do I have to establish better boundaries with them - and if so, how? Other than this issue, they are really wonderful and loving parents. They are great grandparents to my kids and they constantly tell me that we're doing a great job with them. They never criticize my parenting or any other aspect of my life.

*technically we could afford a cleaning service on our own. However, my husband also has trouble sticking to a budget so we are frequently low on cash. This is a separate thing I'm struggling to deal with.
posted by cuppycake gumdrops to Human Relations (35 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yes, please tell them to buzz off. My mother was constantly on my case about the cleanliness of my house. Even her compliments came in the back door, as it were (once she said, "This is the cleanest I've ever seen your house, ever!!!!" I replied, "Yeah, it sure makes a difference when you're not teaching 7 classes a semester, huh," in the driest voice possible).

This is going to be hard, but: I also fantasize about moving across the country so they can only visit when I say it's OK. You can already do this! Tell your mother how busy your days are and regulate the heck out of those visits. It is your house; you get to say who comes in when.
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:23 PM on May 16, 2015 [8 favorites]

Yes to boundaries... someone who criticizes the cleanliness of your home gets a time out from invitations for awhile. Even if its your parents. Tell them that and stick to it.
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:24 PM on May 16, 2015 [11 favorites]

Best answer: One time only, be very straightforward about it. Mom, Dad, I want to talk to you about something that is important to me. When you complain about the condition of the house, when you chastise me, I feel hurt, angry and resentful. It makes me not want to spend time with you. II get anxious when you're coming over. I am aware of the condition of the house, and I want to stop discussing it. Period.

After that, any time the condition of the house is brought up, stop talking, leave the room if you can, do not discuss it. At all. Have a mental shortlist of alternate topics because it's all well and good to not talk about something, but it's better to have something else to talk about. They may put a fair amount of effort into trying to talk about. Be strong and don't engage.

My house is still quite messy following a spell of illness, including depression, and then I lived elsewhere for a while. Now I'm organizing a bunch of stuff and it's chaotic. You know what? I'm still a nice person, and lovable, but my floors need a serious vacuuming. I'm okay with that.
posted by theora55 at 5:31 PM on May 16, 2015 [32 favorites]

I see two potential handle it, and one of the ways is a hybrid of the various solutions above.

I would find a way to tell your parents that this is stressing you out and is a limit. Use whatever script you feel comfortable with, and deliver in the way you feel comfortable with, too (ie, mom and dad, telling me to clean is stressful for me, the kids see the stress, etc etc...I have a lot going on in my life right now with work, stress, kids, family, and this adds to it, so I would like to ask that whenever we meet, it is not in the house for the next 6 months). Now do still invite them to things (call them and meet at the movies, or go out to eat, meet at the park, etc.). But just don't go to your house. Do extend lots of invites and make it clear that you want them in your lives, but this action is a bit too much for you for the moment. Try this for six months and then you can try to reintroduce them to the house, and re-evaluate from there.

The other extreme option is to find a way to repay them. I would still deliver the speech, but make it clear that you do not feel comfortable hearing them talk about how you need to X and clean X, etc. But as an observation, I've seen this dynamic play out more than a few times (ie, some relative pays for a house/part of a house/to live, and the adults parents then feel free to treat the adult child as a child - or so it seems). But just something to consider as a possibility.
posted by Wolfster at 5:33 PM on May 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I suggest looking at it another way: A cleaning service sounds like exactly what you need! Imagine if your house was just magically clean -- no nagging the husband or kids about it, no feeling guilty that you had so much housework left undone, no messy house screaming "CLEAN ME!" greeting you at the end of a long workday. You'd walk in and everything would be in its place -- floors clean, dishes done, bathrooms sparkling, carpets vacuumed, shelves dusted... Doesn't that sound nice? I think it sounds amazing. God, I would LOVE that.

You've got people offering to give you a small simple gift that will make your so much life easier and better. Those people just happen to be your parents. They recognize you're busy -- a full time job? ADHD? Two small children? That's a lot to handle in a day, especially when you have to get up so early. Add housework on top of that, and of COURSE you're stressed and struggling! Who wouldn't be? I know I struggle with a messy house, and I've only got one kid and no ADHD to deal with!

Part of being an adult is learning to react to your parents as a fellow adult, instead of letting yourself slip back into feeling like you're a resentful 12-year-old again. Take the cleaning service and try to look at it as a wonderful gift from people who just want to make your life easier, instead of looking at it as a judgment. That's the adult thing to do.
posted by erst at 5:33 PM on May 16, 2015 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: erst - I am afraid that if I do take them up on the offer, then if the house is not absolutely perfect at all times they will bring that up as leverage. How could your house be a mess when we pay for a cleaning service, yadda yadda yadda

And, for anyone else, most of the time they only come over if invited, but every so often I get stuck at work and one of them will get my daughter off the bus, or they need to drop something off/pick something up and I only get an hour's warning about it. So they've seen the house when I'm unprepared for guests.
posted by cuppycake gumdrops at 5:38 PM on May 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

First, realize that you don't have to discuss your housekeeping with your parents. You are an independent adult. You and your husband are really busy. If things are sanitary, that's good enough right now. And please stop running yourself down. You have a full time job, a spouse, and you are raising kids. You haven't burned the house down or declared bankruptcy or given your kids a staph infection - you are successfully doing adulthood! Hurrah! And really stop comparing yourself to your parents and your siblings. It is really not important how someone else keeps house. Really truly.

Second, find a way to get past the implied guilt about the money they gave you to buy the house. Did they say "we'll give you this money if you promise to keep it clean"? Probably not and even if they did, too bad. They gave you money to buy a house. You bought a house. The end. (And personally, I wouldn't take more money from them for a cleaning service. Too many strings attached. But YMMV.)

Third, don't discuss this any more with your parents. This will take some work to enforce but people can be retrained successfully. It will take work and repetition but it can be done. The more you take yourself out of the child mindset, they more they will see you as their adult child.

Mom: Did you clean the house?
You: It's clean enough. Did I tell you little Suzie got an A on her science test?
Mom: Good for her. But what about house? It's a mess.
You: I'm not going to discuss that anymore. I'm so proud of Little Bobby when he won the spelling bee!
Mom: Good for him. But you need to go clean the kitchen. I'll bet it's a disaster.
You: Mom, I love you but I am not going to discuss my housekeeping any more. If you insist on trying to discuss it, I will hang up. My job is going great. I'm so glad we finished up that big project.
Mom: You never kept your room clean. Do you need to borrow the vacuum? I'll bring it over!
You: Have a good day. Bye, Mom.

And then repeat. Good luck!
posted by Beti at 5:38 PM on May 16, 2015 [12 favorites]

Best answer: I feel SO resentful that my parents are getting up in my business like this, even though I know they are right. Every time they bring this up, I feel like I'm 12 again and they're yelling at me for being a slob. And I react accordingly - I usually start sobbing and apologizing and promising to do better.

Yoinks! So not cool. There are two things going on there; and it's both of you acting like you're twelve.

This is none of their business. Literally none. Peruse questions on this topic via AskMe. You can be tidy as a pin or sloppy as a bear in winter and it is no one's business but your own. You and your partner are the only people who set the guidelines for this.

Do you care about any of this? It's difficult to tell how you'd feel if they ceased to bug you about it but let's assume you care about some some subset?

You do a Google doc spreadsheet with a monthly appearance of 'make this place look forgiveable' and you throw on ten, twenty things that matter and make you feel good and look presentable and you do them once a month. May I recommend 'stove top cleaning' and 'shine the shiny things' [faucets, a few light fixtures] folllowed by ' do all the sheets' if you're not exhausted.

But that is it and it is only for you.

I'm married with two small children and both me and the mister work full-time jobs.

There is an extremely good chance they have literally no idea of what this means in terms of practicalities.

If you want to make sure your husband is on board draw this up on Google docs and leave a space for initials. You leave yours, he leaves his. If there are any concerns about fairness, you should be easily able to clear those up.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:52 PM on May 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Can you have a talk with them about how it makes you feel when they bring it up? Perhaps they had similar experiences with their own parents or in-laws that you can appeal to? If you haven't before calmly told them that you understand that your messy house bothers them, but that you'd really like them to just get past it as an act of basic kindness and respect to you, maybe try that?
posted by vunder at 5:55 PM on May 16, 2015

The correct sarcastic response to comments is "If you don't like it feel free to clean it".

More practically, if they bring it up again, tell them as calmly as you can. "I do not wish to talk about it, when you repeatedly bring it up it makes me feel bad". If they keep bringing it up, repeat "I do not wish to talk about it." I would also stop having them over, seriously go to their place, meet at restaurants, avoid the issue if it's easier. It's none of their business and if they can't mind their business mind it for them.
posted by wwax at 6:04 PM on May 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think you should try the cleaning service for awhile. Just see how it goes. We do have a woman come in every two weeks and she resets our lives. It forces us to pick up all our things and tidy up. It has reduced marital discord by 150%. Maybe not that much but, wow, it really makes a difference. And in that in-between time, things can really get hairy. Make sure you get it on the calendar and alert the whole family about 3 days before the cleaner comes: "Hey, cleaner comes on Monday, start tidying up and putting things away – they can't clean what they can't get to."

If one of your parents makes a comment and you're feeling generous, just look around the house with a bemused smile and say, "Yep, it gets crazy" and then let it go. If you're feeling less than generous you can say, "Hey, if it bothers you, feel free to grab a mop or go."

Our cleaner will (hopefully) be forever a part of our budget. There are so many things I would pare back on before that. Whoever you engage, tell them you're just trying it out for 3 months to see how it goes because you're in a very busy time at work. Then you won't feel bad if it's not working out. But, if you're open to it, just try it out. They often start with a "deep clean" which is a little more expensive but can really transform your home.

Don't let your parents bully you on this. Sheesh, don't they have anything else to talk to you about?
posted by amanda at 6:06 PM on May 16, 2015 [12 favorites]

Get the cleaning service, and work on setting boundaries. You can always cancel the cleaning service if it doesn't work out. A cleaning service is GOLD. In fact I'd say you should pay for it yourself, even if your parents don't.
posted by yarly at 6:07 PM on May 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You sound pretty convinced that they are right and that you are a failure.
They are not right.
They prioritize a different standard than you do and they are able to maintain that standard.
That standard is not as important to you and you do not prioritize it so highly that you maintain it.

So what? You do not need to beat yourself up over this. (You may aspire to that standard and be kicking yourself because you cannot attain it, but it is really their standard. You have internalized it and are feeling badly about it, but it is NOT your standard.)

Figure out what matters to you and internalize that. Then you will be more able to set boundaries with them.

(My son did this with me, over car insurance of all things. I had a rough couple of days and then realized that he is perfectly capable of living his own life; he is not living my life. I am happier because of it.)
posted by SLC Mom at 6:08 PM on May 16, 2015 [19 favorites]

Also, don't get a cleaning service unless you want a cleaning service. You don't need to please your mother by getting a maid.

I would have one if I could find one I like. It's marvelous. But that's because I want it.
posted by SLC Mom at 6:12 PM on May 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

most of the time they only come over if invited, but every so often I get stuck at work and one of them will get my daughter off the bus, or they need to drop something off/pick something up and I only get an hour's warning about it. So they've seen the house when I'm unprepared for guests.

The answer to this is, "Whoops, you caught me when I was busy. Sorry about the clutter!" No one, but no one, expects you to have an immaculate house 24/7 when you are not expecting guests. Trust me, it took me years to realize that my mother's standards were out of control. Anyone who would come over at a time they were not specifically invited and then comment on the mess is being nosy and wrong.

Your parents are wrong.

Your parents are wrong.

It's freeing to know, isn't it?
posted by chainsofreedom at 6:17 PM on May 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: "Every time they bring this up, I feel like I'm 12 again and they're yelling at me for being a slob. "

I think this is the crux of your question; cleaning-type tasks are often a challenge for people with ADHD, and they are VERY frequently a flashpoint of conflict between parents and children with ADHD. So I'm guessing you fought about this issue frequently growing up, and that your parents channeled some of their frustration and anxiety about other aspects of parenting into the relatively "safe" fight over "your room isn't clean" and even as a child you sensed that "your room isn't clean" was a proxy for other frustrations. (When my mom was struggling with parenting me, she tended to pick fights with me about my clothes. It wasn't until I was in my 20s that I understood these fights were not actually about my fashion sense but were a safe place for her to channel parenting stress instead of being like, OH MY GOD WHY ARE YOU MAKING TERRIBLE LIFE DECISIONS ABOUT SCHOOL THAT WILL END WITH YOU LIVING ON THE STREET? or whatever, so she could be more sensible about serious things.)

I expect that probably your parents can see that the state of the house is stressful and overwhelming to you, and it makes you unhappy. When you were little, they could create an orderly living environment for you by physically cleaning FOR you; now they can't, but the same impulse is there. "Cuppycake would be much happier and more relaxed and be able to enjoy time with her children more if she wasn't always stressing out about the house, and that's always been difficult for her," they're probably thinking. They might also be thinking, "When our kids were little, mom was home full-time and could devote a lot of attention to the house. It's so hard to be a full-time working parent AND a parent of two little kids AND trying to keep up a house."

Honestly if it were me -- as I have two little kids myself -- I would take them up on the offer, or else pay for a cleaning service myself. I'm a reasonably neat person, but the hurricane of parenting small children completely overwhelmed my ability to keep house, and when I finally broke down and hired a cleaning lady, it CHANGED MY LIFE. I can't tell you how much happier it makes me, and how much easier it is to keep up with the mess, when I have someone coming in every other week to do the "deep" cleaning. I still frequently have to apologize to visitors for the toys strewn everywhere and the laundry on the stairs, but at least not the squalor in the kitchen or the state of the floors.

cuppycake gumdrops: " I am afraid that if I do take them up on the offer, then if the house is not absolutely perfect at all times they will bring that up as leverage. "

"Mom, Dad, I want to take you up on the offer of a cleaning service, because we're overwhelmed with full-time work and full-time parenting and keeping up the house, and it will reduce my stress significantly to have someone take some of that off my hands. But I have one condition -- I don't ever want you to cast it up to me if the house isn't in perfect order. You're being incredibly generous and I appreciate that. But when you nag me about cleaning, I feel like a frustrated, incompetent 12-year-old again, instead of a successful professional woman and mother of two. I don't want to be having that fight anymore; it makes me so tense and unhappy that it's hard for me to enjoy my time with you."

Actually that script pretty much works even if you turn down the cleaning service. Sometimes you have to point out to your parents when they're repeating parts of an old habitual script that makes you unhappy.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:21 PM on May 16, 2015 [20 favorites]

My parents get upset because they gave us money to help us buy this house. (Unasked for by us - they offered).

This is what jumps out at me the most because it's the thing that made my mom feel entitled to criticize every single aspect of my adult life from the day I left home to the day she died. Or rather, it's the excuse she gave for her relentless criticism. It's possible that if you can repay this monetary debt to them, whether or not they ask for it, they may be more willing to treat you as an adult who can take care of your own life. I also think that accepting any further monetary assistance from them, such as housekeeping services paid for, it will only serve to make them more critical.

and to be perfectly clear, i think they're treating you awfully and you shouldn't have to deal with this shit AT ALL, much less on a regular basis. the fact that you would consider leaving your fulltime job to stay home and keep the house clean for their regular visits is horrible and depressing, and i hope you'll be able to resist the shitty little critical parental-sounding internal voice that's telling you this is a reasonable idea.

otherwise i suggest moving to another continent and leading a wonderful pleasant life free from the endless misery of critical interference. this was my solution and it was one of the best choices i ever made.
posted by poffin boffin at 6:21 PM on May 16, 2015 [10 favorites]

If you want a clean house, and can afford a cleaning service, it's a great solution. There's a lot of emotional stuff and distraction that can come up in cleaning your space (for some people), which makes the task feel like more of a burden, whereas a professional housecleaner has no emotional baggage around your house or your stuff.

Also, having a housecleaner is not the same as having a professional organizer help you create a system for keeping your house organized. Depending on what stresses you out, some work with an organizer might be more helpful than having a cleaning service. Is it dirt/grime/dust that stresses you out? Then perhaps a cleaning service would help. Is it having clutter and not knowing where to put it all? Then perhaps an organizer. Maybe both would be a help to you.

However, I think whatever you choose to do about your house, you should start to see your parents only on neutral turf or at their house. This may mean seeing them less frequently, but I think it would be best for your emotional wellbeing. At this point, even if you set and enforce a boundary of not discussing the cleanliness of your house, you'll probably still have a sense that they're judging your home whenever they're in it. To keep the positive aspects of this relationship, I suggest avoiding that entirely.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:27 PM on May 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

The problem here is not how messy your house is.

Your parents nag you until you cry.

That's just not right. No amount of chore charts or cleaning crews is going to fix the underlying problem. You don't have to live like this. Assert your boundaries. If they criticize the cleanliness of the house, show them the door. No one should be making you cry in your own house. No one.
posted by stowaway at 6:37 PM on May 16, 2015 [13 favorites]

It's tough to put your foot down without sounding ungrateful or without hurting their feelings. If you could let it slide and just tell yourself that they mean well, maybe that can work, but I do understand that not all well-meaning parents stop at that. I try to diffuse anger with sarcasm and humor, but that doesn't always go well unless the parents are the same way. Something needs to happen because dancing through life dealing with that can't happen in your domain. No matter what, I would bet you'd still be standing if you set them strait, but it sucks. Good luck.
posted by Shylo at 7:26 PM on May 16, 2015

Best answer: Why not have an honest conversation with them and tell them what you've told us:
* My ADHD meds wear off by the time I get home and I have a hard time getting anything "extra" done.
* Working full-time wears me out and adds to the ADHD effect.
* Right now I need to work.
* I know you're uncomfortable with how messy my house is. I wish I had the energy and control over the ADHD to keep it clean, but I don't.
* Your bringing up your discomfort about my messiness is hurting our relationship. You're great parents otherwise, but I'm getting so stressed about this that I've actually fantasized about moving away so you aren't able to see my house regularly. I don't want that - I love you and I want to have a close relationship with you.
* Please, please, can you just not bug me about my messiness? I'd rather have you not come over as often if the messiness seriously stresses you.

If they're great parents otherwise, this should get their attention without alienating them.

PS. - You STILL have to pick up a house to get any benefit from a house cleaner. Right now, having someone else clean won't help the problem, it will add to your stress. And if your parents pay for it, it will create a situation where they will be MORE insistent about the messiness, not less. Talk to them instead.
posted by summerstorm at 7:29 PM on May 16, 2015 [16 favorites]

I'm guessing that on top of all the things that other commenters have noted with regards to parental money=control, relic arguments from your adolescence, residual shame and frustration related to your ADD, etc., that having them offer to pay for a cleaning service also brings up the issues you mention in your last paragraph---that technically, you should be able to pay for one but that your husband has trouble with budgeting. That's a crappy feeling, that feeling of "We are adults making a good living and we should be able to do this."

If it's all too much and you feel like there's no really good solution right now, it's OK to just walk away from the issue for a while and leave the house as-is. From the answers you've highlighted, it seems like you probably have a good relationship with your folks and that they might be amenable to just saying "I know you are trying to be helpful, but conversations about the cleanliness of my house are making me unbelievably stressed and anxious, and could we please just table it and not discuss it for a while." My guess is that because they're the kind of people who find messiness very stressful, they're assuming the same must be true for you and offering to pay for a service is their way of trying to reduce your stress, without realizing that they're actually increasing it. The cleanliness of your house or lack thereof isn't the problem here; it's how upset the issue makes you. No one will die or get scurvy from a pile of laundry, but your stress levels are important.

That said, when you eventually get your budget sorted out or your parents back off and you feel more comfortable letting them pay for it, I would STRONGLY recommend the cleaning service. I am messy, and my spouse is too. We both have very busy jobs and small kids. For a long time I tried to keep up with the cleaning with the idea that it was my responsibility as an adult to do it, because adults should be able to keep their homes habitable. And we mostly kept up with stuff like dishes and laundry, but not deeper cleaning. But what ended up happening is that every time I went in to certain rooms there would be a little voice in the back of my head criticizing me for my poor housekeeping and implying that I was a bad person, and it got to the point where I was always feeling guilty in a low-grade way when I was home.

When we had a second child I threw in the towel and hired a service to come in and do a deep clean. Two women came and cleaned our place for 8 hours, doing things like dusting the blinds and washing the baseboards, and I realized 2 things: 1) There was no way I could ever have scraped together 16 woman-hours to clean my own place and 2) I felt physically lighter and so much happier in the space. I now have cleaners come twice a month and do the actual cleaning and it means that more or less keeping up with stuff like dishes and laundry and the crayons on the floor is all we have to do. Twice a month I come home to an immaculate house, which is always delightful, and the rest of the time it can be made into a reasonable facsimile of "tidy" with about an hour of picking stuff up. So I think that, with everything else going on in your life, being able to purchase a certain amount of peace of mind is not a bad thing. BUT if it's not feasible right now, there is nothing that's actually harmful about living in a messy house.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 7:58 PM on May 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Folks upthread have given you some good advice about ways to talk to your folks, one thing I'd like to add/propose:

The state of your house has little to nothing to do with your ADHD.

The reason your house is messy is:
...with two small children and both me and the mister work full-time jobs.

We are in the same boat and shit, it's just CONSTANT.

So I think Summerstorm's script is awesome but I think your ADHD is a red herring and sort of pathologizes something which is the natural result of having young children.

So this internet strangers advise:
- work on letting go of the self blame, this really isn't your fault, it's small children (I think someone on metafilter called them tiny entropy machines)
- set the boundaries with your folks WITHOUT apologizing or framing it as a failure on your part (again Summerstorm's or eyebrow McGee had good scripts for the boundaries but personally I'd leave out mentioning your ADHD)
- get a cleaner (seriously, it's life changing) figure out how to pay for it yourself OR when you feel comfortable that your folks have heard you and are really respecting what you asked them to do/not do, then maybe take them up on their offer

I really understand man, we've got two very little ones, two full time jobs and in-laws that are generous but not completely string free. It's tough bc not only are kids messy and time consuming but they're are expensive. It's hard to balance independence with what can genuinely improve our life and gracious gratitude.

(And seriously, our cleaner is so wonderful for our stress levels - this morning we spent one hour tidying, and four at the zoo with our kids while she made our house lovely and clean. Hell yeah.)
posted by pennypiper at 8:27 PM on May 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

It doesn't matter if they are technically right about your house being messy. It's none of their business and way out of line for them to mention much less criticize you constantly. You're not that child anymore. Tell them the state of your house is not up for discussion anymore and shut them down everytime they try to bring it up.
posted by JenMarie at 8:53 PM on May 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

One thing that jumped out to me is that your husband isn't good at cleaning so you feel the need to do most of it. No! Just no. You aren't good at cleaning either. It's ok to be messy as long as it's not unsafe (and I doubt from your post that it is unsafe) and it's ok to be overwhelmed with work and raising two small children and a husband who is also making a mess and not cleaning it up.

Please tell your parents to stop making you feel miserable over something extremely minor. You deserve to not feel like a twelve year old for having an extremely common adult problem. Imagine if they still yelled at how you dress or hitting snooze too much? Jeez.
posted by shownomercy at 11:02 PM on May 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would be tempted to tell her you didn't realise that the money for the house came on the condition that it was kept to her standard of cleanliness and as you are not in a position to do that, maybe she would like the house back? Here, have the keys. When she tells you not to be ridiculous, she just wishes that it wasn't so messy, ask her which one of your many responsibilities you should stop doing so you have time to clean;
A) let your child go without dinner because you have to do laundry
B) let your child find their own way home from school so you can mop floors
C) just don't turn up to work one day so you can clean the whole house to your mother's standard, and repeat the cleaning as necessary, you know, until fired.

Because when you're a working mum, time is the most valuable resource and something has to give and you've wisely chosen to spend your limited time on the things that matter.

Now, if you want to (and I would seriously consider it) take her up on the cleaning service, but I think the problem goes deeper than that, because with the offer of money comes control and you're still being treated like a child becuase you took her money. You need to nip it in the bud and make it clear that the cleanliness of your house is none of her concern, thank you very much. Politely put your foot down.
posted by Jubey at 11:44 PM on May 16, 2015

I am annoyed on your behalf. You and your husband both have two full time jobs each - your work and then looking after the children - and they still complain about the mess? What do they think you're doing all day? How entitled.

I get the impression that your parents see the money they gave you as some kind of investment, in that they partly/fully paid for the house, so now it's theirs to manage. I wonder if making a big fuss about offering to pay the money back so they have no grounds for complaint about what you do in your own home might work. It's a bit of a nuclear option, but I'm sometimes a fan of them - the nut is well and truly cracked if you hit it with a sledgehammer.

Another thing you might try is saying "Yes, and?" when they start in on you about the level of tidiness. It draws them out into more complaining, but it also validates their belief that the house is untidy and forces them to think on the hoof about it. You might get more of an idea as to why it bothers them if you do this. It can also help break the habit of their criticism upsetting you, because you're not having to defend yourself. You're making them defend themselves. Doing it for long enough will take the wind out of their sails. You could also try asking questions like "Why do you care so much?" or "Why is it so important to you that I've put some shake'n'vac down every day?". You'll get a feel for their thought processes by doing this, and can use that thought process against them.

Setting boundaries is always a good thing. Just make sure that you're clear with yourself about what they are (I will not tolerate being nagged about cleaning), what the consequences will be (I will hang up the phone/ask parents to leave) and then communicate those boundaries to your parents. Make sure you choose consequences that you can follow through on. Be prepared for them to see what they can get away with the first time they start nagging you. Stick to your guns and get support from your husband too.

I would recommend against accepting the cleaner. That just proves to your parents that they have to nag you for X amount of time before you give in and comply with their demands. Also, beware the camel's nose. This could be the start of something bigger. Perhaps it isn't, but there's a parallel to be seen between your parents behaviour and that of someone harassing someone, a lá The Gift Of Fear. In both situations, the person with all of the power is attempting to grind down the person without, through persistence and sketchy emotional tricks. I'm not trying to say that your parents mean you anything but good, but they are ignoring the fact that you're an adult who gets to make choices that they don't agree with. In both cases, the aggressor is extremely persistent.

There's nothing wrong with getting angry abut this, either. Anger gives you much more power than fear. I'm not suggesting having a go at your parents because you've finally run out of patience, but maybe go on the offensive a little more. Anger can put a little steel in your spine, and bullies hate that. It makes their job that much harder. Perhaps get a little yelly and tense with your parents. Sometimes, you just have to go for it and lance the boil. Shocking another person is a pretty effective way to shut them down.

I think your parents mean you well, but they mean you their version of well. They should be told that their version is not your version, and that if they want to do you right, it's got to be in your way. Living in this situation sounds horrible for you. I hope you can come to a better place with them.
posted by Solomon at 1:48 AM on May 17, 2015 [7 favorites]

Something I've learned the hard way is that setting boundaries with people is not something you can do once and then it's fixed. Usually the people who are trampling all over your boundaries get something from that, so of course they don't want to change, and they will keep doing whatever-it-is any time you let up and give them an opening. It is even harder with parents and family members, because the patterns are so deeply ingrained. So you just have to keep reinforcing your boundaries until they adjust to the new rule.

Next time they bring it up again, say something like, "Mom and Dad, I don't want to talk about the state of my house. Husband and I are doing the best we can, and it is really upsetting to me to be criticized about it over and over again. So I would like you to stop." Then every time it gets brought up again, just say, "Mom and Dad, I don't want to talk about the state of my house," and change the subject. You will have to do this for a while, and you will have to do it consistently. It will probably feel unfair sometimes, because you have to do more work on top of everything else just so you can clear out a little space to breathe, but it is really totally worth it.
posted by colfax at 2:44 AM on May 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I used to feel quite guilty about my messy house. Then I got a job that took me into other people's houses. Listen, families with young children usually have messy houses. Unless you have lots of cupboards to tidy things away there will be a pile of shoes by the door. The things you and the children need when you leave the house regularly will also be by the door. If you have a cupboard for these things you'll be keeping it closed because a hurricane has gone off inside it. There will be books, crayons, paper, string, randomly over the house. There will be unexpected items hiding under sofa cushions. There will be so many times you have to leave the house with beds unmade and dishes unwashed. I mean there are different parenting styles that affect this but on the whole just living creates a lot of mess and people have different priorities as to how urgent it is to clean up; bearing in mind all the other things that need to be done all at the same time with a young family.

You sound dreadfully anxious about it though - giving up your job! In order to do housework!!! - I don't think that is going to make you any less anxious or less resentful. I think you need to find the language to tell your parents to back off (like summerstorm says) and tell your partner to do his share. And there's nothing wrong with getting small children involved with chores. Basically you need more consideration from the people around you at the moment. Their actions are having an effect on you that is harmful and not constructive, and is making you lose your sense of proportion. It's a dynamic: you can't just change one bit, ie your bit, to improve things. Everybody has to contribute to what the change will be.

Just to stress again that young children and mess go together like... like... chickens and eggs. But teenagers and mess go together like Cthulhu and unutterable cosmic evil. Do you want it to be your job in life to be cleaning up after everyone all the time? Of course not. It really isn't something you ought to feel wholly responsible for.
posted by glasseyes at 4:38 AM on May 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

Ha, I could have written this question 10 years ago. In fact, the only reason I don't need to write it now is because I've repeated the same script over and over to my mom and she doesn't bug me anymore.

I've been a single mom for a LONG time, raised three kids alone, worked full time, went to grad school. So I completely understand being too damned tired (or honestly, having other priorities like watching TV) to tidy or clean the house.

My mom would come to visit me every few months and walk into my house, sigh, and say, "I wish I could afford to hire a cleaner for you." That used to really infuriate me. Like, shut up mom, I'm pretty busy/tired/don't have the same crazy 1950's wash-the-kitchen-floor-nightly standards as you. I got pretty grar about it over the years. My mom could be counted on to find the ONE thing I didn't catch: sometimes a sock under a couch, the living room vents, a spider web at the top of the stairs, the kitchen baseboards, and then carry on about how she raised me wrong and how she couldn't understand how I lived in such filth.

Then two things happened. The first is, I began responding to my mom that I knew she meant well, that I was doing the best that I could, that we had different standards of comfort and cleanliness, and that she really hurt my feelings every time she mentioned how dirty my house was.

That helped a little.

Then I told her if my house bothered her so much, she had a choice to either shut up about it or she was no longer allowed to enter.

That helped a lot.

The other thing is I hired a cleaning service to come in. It does make a HUGE difference to leave the house and return and everything is shining and smells good and you didn't have to do any of it. It makes you feel swanky and grown up and competent.

I suggest that YOU hire a cleaning service, don't have your parents pay for it because that reinforces that they have input into the cleanliness of your home, and they shouldn't.

Then buy a boatload of bins from Home Goods or Ikea and have dedicated places to throw things for daily tidying frenzies. Bins make things easier.

And feel free to borrow my script and tell your mom to back off or she doesn't need to come into your house any more.
posted by kinetic at 4:47 AM on May 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

So if my parents brought up something that made me weep in front of them, I would consider it borderline abusive of them to continue to nag me about it to the point of tears. Are there any other sore spots that they poke this much at?

Whether or not you take them up on the offer of a house cleaner, or whether you have higher standards of cleanliness than you are achieving, I'd give some thought to talking to them about this behavior and not just the topic. A parent should not be trying to make their child weep and grovel at any age.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:49 AM on May 17, 2015 [6 favorites]

Answering this question from the POV of a parent who loves my daughters and would be distressed to see them as adults not being able to keep an orderly house:

Tell her, one time, when it's you and her alone together: Mom, I know the house isn't clean. I wish it were possible for me to make it neat, but it isn't, and when you pick at me about it it makes me sad and angry and resentful and makes me wish you weren't around. You're trying to motivate me to clean, but what you are doing is driving a wedge between us. It's bringing me to the point where I don't want you here. So I'm asking you now to stop it and not bring it up again.

If your mom is coming at this from a place of concern and love, as I would be, then a script like this will shut her up decidedly. Every loving parent's worst nightmare, other than something bad happening to the kid, is that the kid will grow up and cut them out of their life.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:10 AM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh and, in my experience a cleaning service is not a substitute for picking things up. If you don't have your stuff picked up BEFORE they come, then they'll stick it god knows where and you'll never find it. If picking things up is your issue, then don't get a cleaning service, it will just stress you out.

(But if the issue is just your kids leaving stuff around, then it's not a big deal, the cleaners can dump it in a toybox or something.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:15 AM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

This: "they are really wonderful and loving parents."

Does not agree with this: "Every time they bring this up, I feel like I'm 12 again and they're yelling at me for being a slob. And I react accordingly - I usually start sobbing and apologizing and promising to do better." Holy hell, what you've described is a long-term pattern of emotional abuse. YELLING? They yelled at you as a child over this shit? They are control freaks and they are way, way out of line.

This: "My parents get upset because they gave us money to help us buy this house" and "my parents still give me constant shit about not having a house that is up to their standards"

Does not agree with this: "My parents are ... generous people" No way. They use the so-called unsolicited "gift" of their money to try to control you and to make you feel bad about your perfectly acceptable lifestyle that is working well for you except for the drama they themselves are adding to your life as they judge you and exert control over you over something as inane and meaningless as housework.

This: "My parents are kind... people"

Does not AT ALL agree with this: "Lately I have been freaking out if I know they're coming over because I'm afraid that no matter what I do my house is not going to be "clean enough" for them. I dread it when they come over and I'm all yelly and tense with my kids and my husband. I have considered quitting my job - which I love! - because then I'd have the time to keep my house up in a good condition..."

Their long-term pattern of controlling you is causing you to react by yelling at your children and your husband, and considering quitting a job you love?? Think that through. With such "kind" and "generous" and "wonderful" and "loving" parents like yours, who needs enemies? I don't mean to be harsh, but it sounds like you don't have a very realistic view of how damaging and abusive your parents' behavior really is. It is subtracting from your happiness. It is making you YELL AT YOUR FAMILY. That's not ok. Sorry, but they are not the "great grandparents to your kids" you think they are.

I'll be honest, OP. Something tells me any type of boundary discussion you try to have with them is going to go nowhere-- because you are so sadly convinced of their "rightness" -- you mention it twice in your question, how "not wrong" they are. Ugh. They are so very, very wrong. And their complaints about you are so gendered and awful, and you've internalized all of it. They also have the upper hand of having you right where they want you in terms of the power and control imbalance by having paid for your home, and being able to throw money around to get their way.

You should move further away from them and disentangle yourselves financially by selling your house and moving into one you and your husband can actually afford on your own. And don't invite them over. Hugs to you.
posted by hush at 10:57 AM on May 17, 2015 [8 favorites]

I gave up on trying to keep a clean house a while ago. Two kids, wife, and I'm the only one who does litter, laundry, floors, and garbage? Fuck that, we can all live in a shithole if that's what we want. So I just stopped. I cleaned up what I dirtied, I did the rest of the big stuff, but when it came to cleaning the kitchen every goddamn day when I got home from work? No, fuck that. If nobody else can be arsed to put their dishes in the dishwasher, i guess they can live next to the sink. And I really hate wearing shoes in the house, but if the floors are covered with cat food and dirt and other crap that sticks to my feet then I'm not going to sweep the entire house every single day. I work a full time job and do most of the cooking as well, plus I'm primary caregiver for the kids at night.

So my house is pretty nasty, to the point where I don't want to be there and I fantasize about moving out and getting my own apartment someday. But it's what I've got to deal with for right now. My mom started giving me shit about it a few months ago,told me I needed to step it up and be a man and bring my kids up right so they wouldn't think that it was okay to be muddy and live in a dirty house, and I told her that I was doing the best I could, and she said that it wasn't good enough. So I got up and left right there. Haven't talked to her since. Including no call on mothers day.

She's my mother, not my drill instructor. If she can't interact decently with me,then she doesn't get to interact with me. I'm so angry with her for doing this. This is my mom! She's supposed to help me, not be another goddamn source of stress. But this is how it is, and she hasn't yet learned how to behave. So this is the only way I have of dealing with her.
posted by disconnect at 10:01 PM on May 17, 2015

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