Is there a polite way to specify how long relatives can stay with us?
November 9, 2017 10:20 AM   Subscribe

I have family who like to visit (great!) but sometimes will stay for over a week. They never say specifically how long they'd like to stay. This may be a cultural thing, so maybe there is no correct answer to this, but if I would prefer someone not stay for longer than 3-4 days, how does one navigate this conversation?

Reasons are that I'm renting (not comfortable with having people there too long) and my spouse isn't cool with having people stay for days on end. As for myself, I find myself usually starting to feel edgy about being a hostess after day 4.

How do you navigate this convo? Are there any specific phrases/ways I can address this without saying flat out "we'd love to have you but only for this specific time period?" I want people to feel welcome but also be specific about my own desires.
posted by neeta to Human Relations (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can you set up a day trip or long weekend somewhere a couple hours away so there's a logistical reason for them leaving after X number of days?
posted by onecircleaday at 10:27 AM on November 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you are renting you can blame your mean landlord.

"Yes we'd love to have you stay with us for a few days! I do have to tell you that we just found out that because we're renters, we can only host overnight guests for 3 nights. It's such a bummer but you know how it is. So if you can come on Friday we can host you all the way till Monday!"
posted by muddgirl at 10:29 AM on November 9, 2017 [33 favorites]

I'd probably phrase it as 'we're available from _ to _, we'd love to have you then!' rather than 'we only want you from _ to _.' Then maybe if they ask what's going on, I'd just reference some vague personal or family business. If they're pushy, do what onecircle or mud suggests.
posted by Huck500 at 10:30 AM on November 9, 2017 [16 favorites]

One way is to create a fictitious (but plausible) event occurring 3-4 days from when they want to come and make it very clear that you won't need able to accommodate them beyond that.

"You're visiting on the 10th? Of course we'd love you to come and stay but I must warn you that we have someone else coming to stay from the 14th. If that's going to be a problem then I'm sure we can work out a different time for you to visit"

If they try to push to stay then you'll just have to tell them that it won't be possible.
posted by mr_silver at 10:30 AM on November 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

It really depends. If this was one of my siblings or parents, I would be totally upfront and say that we get worn out or crabby after 4 days. I would be a little more vague and/or just make up an excuse for a more distant relative or if I thought the person would ignore me when I told them the truth.
posted by soelo at 10:43 AM on November 9, 2017 [7 favorites]

I would opt for a more direct statement of limits (“You’re totally welcome to come, but just for four days”) and would caution against making up a fictitious excuse why they’d need to leave--IME lies like that tend to need more lies to prop them up. ("You need us to leave by the 9th? OK, we'll just come next month, then we can stay the whole week!" "Uhh...")

Note: A related question (previous AskMe) was the setup for tangerine’s famous Ask Culture vs. Guess Culture formulation. That entire thread has a lot of possible responses, of both types.
posted by miles per flower at 10:46 AM on November 9, 2017 [13 favorites]

My brother did this with the family members he invited over for an upcoming event, in a really great way that I plan to use in similar situations. "You guys are welcome to arrive any time after 1:00 on Thursday, and we'd love to do X and Y activities with you on Friday before the dinner. $wife, $baby, and I will heading out for Z activity with the baby at 11:00 on Saturday, but we'd love to have an early breakfast with you before you head home." He made his boundaries clear, made the group activities sound fun and like he was really excited to do them with us, and put definite start and stop points on the weekend.
posted by okayokayigive at 10:49 AM on November 9, 2017 [14 favorites]

"You're welcome to stay overnight Tues and Wed. Starting Thursday noon, we need to focus on our work at home -- we have some work deadlines that need our full attention. if you need to stay longer in our city, we'll be glad to help you find a nice airbnb. Do you plan to go home on Thursday, or do you need my help finding an airbnb? If you do need an airbnb, I recommend reserving it now."
posted by valannc at 11:02 AM on November 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

Is there a polite way to specify how long relatives can stay with us
Well, pleasantly saying "Hey, we love when you come to visit! We can put you up for [x] days." ought to be plenty polite enough for any reasonable relative.

But, I know from experience that not all visiting relatives are reasonable, so if conflict avoidance is the name of the game then you need to come up with a plausible, authoritative enough, and re-usable excuse to put a non-negotiable limit on their visits. Landlord/lease is a good one. However, if your relatives are pushy, be prepared to hold your ground when they say "Oh, nobody will notice us for just a couple more nights!" Be prepared to politely but firmly repeat "I'm sorry but that won't be possible," as many times as necessary if they push for a longer or open-ended stay.

Coming up with vague fake obligations as a way to limit their visit isn't a great plan, because if they start trying to come up with solutions/workarounds suddenly you're going to have to invest yourself in whatever fiction you've told them. Coming up with real obligations (planning a trip of your own, etc) just to avoid the issue isn't healthy either... I mean, maybe this is a cultural thing but I'd never dream of assuming an open-ended stay with a relative, friend, or anybody. It strikes me as incredibly presumptuous and rude.

(On preview, miles per flower beat me to both the 'careful about making up excuses lest they backfire' and link to the Ask vs Guess culture comment.)
posted by Funeral march of an old jawbone at 11:06 AM on November 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

As someone that often made excuses with artificial time-lines, etc. to get out of things, I can't recommend this approach.

Can you be honest? "The Holidays are very exhausting for me and spouse, can you please limit your stay to 4 nights?"
posted by teabag at 11:13 AM on November 9, 2017 [6 favorites]

Many useful and thoughtful suggestions up thread. But I could only laugh. I haven't thought of this in years, but my mother had a hand-stitched proverb from Benjamin Franklin that she framed and hung in the guest room: "Fish and guests stink after three days."

Evidently it's a problem with a long history.
posted by kestralwing at 11:28 AM on November 9, 2017 [14 favorites]

I'd just act like it's in your lease and that your landlord is a busybody who will notice. For maximum politeness, you could come up with a backup plan for where they could stay after that (a neighbor who has a place on VRBO, e.g.).
posted by salvia at 12:21 PM on November 9, 2017

This is an age old problem. Ben Franklin wrote "Fish and visitors stink in three
days. " in his Poor Richard Almanack (21).

It's been one of my family's rules for when we visit family. If we need to stay longer, we either move to a different family house or get a hotel for the additional time, before or after the family stay.

That means you should make some concrete boundaries, and perhaps also follow the rule of thumb when you go a visitin'
posted by dreamling at 12:47 PM on November 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

It sounds to me like you will need to be explicitly honest and only use statements. If you make it a question they can just say no. If you make up a trip they can offer to house sit. If they push back tell them to find a hotel or airbnb. If they push back again offer to find them one. Then send links. If they still push after that I would refuse the visit. It probably won't get that far, but if it does and you back down the option to set boundaries may no longer be available. If they're rude, you aren't really being impolite by keeping to a reasonable boundary. And your health is more important than enabling them. Good luck - I hope this works out well for everyone!
posted by Verba Volant at 3:07 PM on November 9, 2017

I forgot to add: I like Miss Manners' advice. Say "that won't be possible" and repeat as necessary.
posted by Verba Volant at 3:08 PM on November 9, 2017

Some of this sounds kind of cold. I can't imagine saying "that won't be possible" to people you plan to spend any time with after in your home! Asserting your boundaries in this way (we'll have breakfast together before you go home) doesn't come off as polite I think - it's very obvious in a kind of passive-aggressive way, and not very warm to people I presume you are friendly with! Having said that, if someone was coming to stay with me I would be asking them for how long no matter who they were - nothing wrong with that. It's a valid question! Just be direct.

Why not just be kind of honest and say you are really busy with whatever, and you'd prefer to have 3 or 4 good days where you can spend time with them a lot and really enjoy it etc, and that this way just works better than a whole week where you end up feeling guilty about missing work or something? Just be honest, say it nicely, and stick with it and say you hope they understand and that's just the way you are.
posted by cornflakegirl at 3:56 PM on November 9, 2017 [5 favorites]

I have this issue as well. I had some guests who said they were coming to town for five nights. I told them "wonderful! I can't wait to have you here for three of those nights! Do you want recommendations for hotels in the area for they other two?"
posted by masquesoporfavor at 6:19 PM on November 13, 2017

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