Fish and Houseguests
May 20, 2004 1:03 PM   Subscribe

Dealing with parents: How to say 'no'? They want to make an extended visit beyond anything we find reasonable. More behind the door...

My partner's parents are wonderful people. But they have this desire to spend 3 weeks in the UK, where we live (they're in Belgium). If we are away, they want to stay here without us, if we're home, its 3 weeks of company. We find this a majorly unwanted intrusion. We usually limit our visits there to 3 nights maximum. I am the more strongly put-out (that is, these are my in-laws), but even the other half is not happy about it. Lame excuses are not going to work. How to convey a polite 'no'?
posted by Goofyy to Human Relations (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How big is your house/apartment? Can you use space as an excuse? "Sorry, we only have the one bathroom and you'd have to sleep on the couch."

My strategy in times like this is to make the stay seem so unappealing that they decide themselves to stay elsewhere. It can backfire if they don't take the bait, however.

There's always brutal honesty. Three weeks is more time than anyone should expect to stay.

Drastic measures: Sew a few raw shrimp into the curtain hems and act like you don't smell anything. The 'rents will be gone in two days.
posted by bondcliff at 1:25 PM on May 20, 2004

According to my many years of reading Ann Landers and Dear Abby, you politely say "no". Tell them that you'd love for them to visit for a few nights, but you don't think three weeks is a good idea. Explain that you enjoy your privacy (with your partner) and would not feel comfortable with them staying over for that long.

Is it a problem of them being in the house for 3 weeks? Or being "around" for 3 weeks? If it's just the former, then offer to help pay for a hotel room nearby. If it's the latter, then you MUST be firm with your refusal.

If that doesn't work then, starting on day 4, have crazy sex with your partner on the kitchen table, living room, their bed, everywhere. All the time. When they are in the house. That should send them scurrying home.
posted by grum@work at 1:27 PM on May 20, 2004

First off, it is your partner (their child) that should be having this discussion with them. Period.

Second, there's a saying of Benjamin Franklin's that is a propos: "House guests are like fish: both begin to stink after three days" ... perhaps they've heard of it?

Third, give them options: If they want to have an extended stay in the UK, suggest they schedule it such that you can be gone for most of it; if they want to spend a lot of time with you all, suggest a different venue — perhaps a short cruise through the Norwegian fjords would sate their need for time together — the benefit being that time spent on neutral ground is less onerous than time spent under your roof; perhaps, if it's timely, you could swap homes... they come up, stay for three days before you head to their place... and they return in time to have three days together again; or do as grum@work suggests and put them up nearby.

Fourth (and finally), be frank and considerate... but firm. Let them know you love them, but that you think that such a lengthy stay would just be a little hard on the nerves because no matter how much you love them and how much they protest that they're "just family", you and your partner would feel hard-pressed to be entertainers for three weeks — which would just be exhausting. Remind the mother of how she feels when guests come and how the house has to be perfect, and how every meal has to be just-so.

Good luck!
posted by silusGROK at 1:55 PM on May 20, 2004

Or you could give them a list of nice hotels near by and suggest that they might enjoy their stay/see more sights/be less of an imposition if they spent some time in one.
posted by Grod at 1:56 PM on May 20, 2004

Addendum: on the first point: not only should your partner be having the discussion, but you shouldn't really even be part of the dialog.

Your partner: "Hi mom. _I_ have been thinking about your idea, and _I_ need to just say..."

At no time should it be "Goofyy just isn't comfortable" or "I don't think that Goofyy would...". In a difficult situation, it's often much easier to use a scape goat... but you shouldn't be a part of the dialog unless it's as an implicit member of "we".
posted by silusGROK at 2:02 PM on May 20, 2004

Or, even if you don't want to/can't pay for their hotel, something like, "We'd love to have you stay for three days, and after that we've made reservations for you at XYZ hotel." Or just "Sure, please come, and let me know what your price range or other requirements are for a hotel and I'll try to find a room for you."
posted by occhiblu at 2:06 PM on May 20, 2004

ditto on saying your partner should be dealing with this. it may be that they've not yet gone through the "look, you're my parents, but, well, fuck you" cathartic moment, in which case it's that time of their lives and they will need support...

...but having had parents visit for similar lengths of time, here are some other things that might help:
- don't be on holiday yourselves. go to work, let them entertain themselves.
- organise trips for them alone (long trips!).
- make it clear that it's the child's responsibility to sort things out. obviously the partner is going to have to step in from time to time when parent/child relations become too tricky, but generally it's the child that should be worrying about how things are.
- get them to do the cooking. :o)
posted by andrew cooke at 2:39 PM on May 20, 2004

Response by poster: They have suggested we take 2 of the 3 weeks on our own holiday--As if we could plan as far in advance, that big a block of time. I can't stand people in my house in my absence, regardless of whom.

Space is no excuse, unfortunately. We have more than our share. I work at home, so the intrusion is in my work space. I can barely deal with friends who visit a week at a time.

Funny, we did give them a bed-and-breakfast guide to the UK, for Christmas. Apparently, they are not inclined to use it. It is unusual for us to travel more than a 10-day in any case.

Family! It is difficult precisely because they really are wonderful. I told my partner about Franklin's saying, glad someone else quoted it too :-)
posted by Goofyy at 2:43 PM on May 20, 2004

Why can't you just say what you want?

What are you scared of: that you'll hurt their feelings? That they'll end up hating you? It won't happen if they're as nice as you suggest.

It's easy. Decide exactly how long you're prepared to put them up. Exactly as long or as short as you truly want. And then say to them, when it's brought up, something like "We'd love to have you stay for a while, how about [the time period you're happy with]?"

If they push for longer, DO NOT BACK DOWN NO MATTER WHAT. Suggest hotels, B&Bs, any alternative for the extra duration of their stay and re-assert your kind and generous offer. If they keep pushing say, something like "3 weeks is too long fo me, but we'd love to have you for [your chosen time period]."

DO NOT get into reasons. You don't have to justify your wants. It's your home, they will be guests. Your limits apply. Period. DO NOT make excuses. Be honest, straight, polite, but ASSERTIVE, and if they're anything like decent reasonable human beings, THEY WILL accept your limits on your hospitality, and you can ENJOY their visits, not have to put on a fake smile, grin and bear it or end up hating them and yourself because you couldn't simply suggest something that was acceptable to you.

And if they're a bit dense, just spell it out again and again: "We'd love to have you for [a few days, say three|a week|etc.]

It's called being assertive, though you probably know that. Find out what you want and then let the other people involved know: tell them!

It's as easy as that. Practice it on your partner, or have him practice on you. People respect people who respect themselves. Letting people impose upon you is not respecting yourself.
posted by Blue Stone at 4:25 PM on May 20, 2004

Simple. Have someone send them a link to this thread.
posted by konolia at 8:57 PM on May 20, 2004

Space is no excuse, unfortunately. We have more than our share. I work at home, so the intrusion is in my work space. I can barely deal with friends who visit a week at a time.

This is your best reason, right here. Your work would suffer, because you'd want to be with them rather than working. It's flattering, at least half true and a darn good excuse.

Miss Manners, however, would recommend providing no excuse at all, but rather, simply maintaining the impossibility of the whole thing. They can't come because it is simply impossible. It's impossible because they really can't come. And round and round. This is actually quite an effective technique, I've found, and fun, too, but unfortunately, tends not to work as well on family.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:06 PM on May 20, 2004

Ask them if they would like to go without significant intimate time with each other for three weeks. Because that's what they're asking of you two.
posted by geekhorde at 10:04 PM on May 20, 2004

After giving into my in-laws in the past and harboring major resentments, I just avoid avoid avoid and say that I have to work late or something.
posted by adampsyche at 4:00 AM on May 21, 2004

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