Stepdad + holiday visit = disaster
April 23, 2008 3:25 PM   Subscribe

My stepdad is a tornadic houseguest whose behavior has inspired me to ban him from my abode forever and ever. How do I have this talk with my Mom?

First off, I just can't have this talk with my stepdad. It has to go through Mom.

Where to begin? This dissertation makes my blood pressure rise. Last Thanksgiving, my Mom and stepdad came to visit from another state. What ensued were five long days involving my stepdad's apparent inability to stop fucking talking even for one minute (already a problem, but even more so after a glass of red wine), his lack of respect for my property (messiness, drink-coaster-free living, breakin' stuff), his impressive oblivousness to, uh (sorry), how his bathroom habits affect others, his tendency to stream audio and talk whilst blasting the TV rendering the airwaves pretty much incapable of supporting anyone else's conversation, and just general grossness like putting his stinky bare feet on my tables, bed pillow, etc. Even gentle pointers to him such as, "Uh, please watch out for X" yielded dismissive responses such as, "Oh, that's ok, don't worry about it!"

Fast forward to Christmas: I thought maybe I was just being a beyotch, so I did some eagle eye observing when we were all staying at my aunt's house to see if my experience was just a one-off situation (e.g., Mom's sister's house). But I saw the same disprespectful behavior exhibited at my aunt's house over Christmas. The difference is that, unlike my IKEA meets Craig's List decor, my aunt actually possesses very beautiful furniture and rugs that on more than one occasion were the recipients of my stepdad's muddy shoeprints, spilled wine, uncoastered drinks, and leaking coolers.

So I took Auntie aside and gently asked if my parents were difficult houseguests. It took her so long to respond that I thought she hadn't heard me. Indeed, she acknowledged, these people are unfathomably rude in her home. Now, my aunt's a pretty tough cookie, so for her to say that is a pretty big deal (she works for the US Postal Service, for God's sake, so she can handle any kind of rudeness). She admitted she even had to reupholster some furniture due to my stepdad's messiness and essentially chases him around when he visits, mopping up spills and footprints so as to protect her hardwood floors and carpeting.

It's just grozz. I love him but he is never allowed in my home again. My Mom is mildly hysterical in general and any type of even non-confrontational discussion would render her in tears, whining, and overly dramatic statements along the lines of her promising never to visit again.

My aunt won't address this with her because, as said, my Mom will respond by being overly dramatic and never staying with my aunt again. From my POV, though, this behavior has to stop. I don't want to drag my aunt into this, but I do want to point out the behavior impacts not only me, but also my aunt and at some point, something valuable and/or sentimental is going to be broken beyond repair. I'm leaning toward a gentle suggestion that the parentals stay in a hotel when they visit me or my aunt. I have no idea how to broach this with my Mom without igniting her fountain of tears and my own guilt.

How do I have this conversation?
posted by December to Human Relations (35 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't want to drag my aunt into this, but I do want to point out the behavior impacts not only me, but also my aunt and at some point, something valuable and/or sentimental is going to be broken beyond repair.

You can't do both. If your aunt doesn't want to be involved, then you have to build this conversation about you and your house, only. Good luck to you- the situation does not sound easy.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:30 PM on April 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

How is your relationship with your stepdad? I would probably tell him myself. You're an adult, and this is between you and him. If you're flat out banning him from your house, it shouldn't be something you have your mom tell him.
posted by QuarterlyProphet at 3:30 PM on April 23, 2008

[1] My Mom is mildly hysterical in general and any type of even non-confrontational discussion would render her in tears, whining, and overly dramatic statements along the lines of her promising never to visit again....

[2] How do I have this conversation?

My $.02: In light of [2], I say [1] obviates having the discussion NOW. Do they only visit at holidays? If so, wait until the next holiday approacheth. When talk comes up of them visiting, say "You know, we think it'd be a little less hectic and easier on everyone if you stayed somewhere else. I've heard great things about [insert local hotel here]."

That way, you don't rock the boat. You mom likely knows that your stepdad is a slob, but hopes no one else notices. She probably won't object. If she does, you can outline your objections in a way that isn't accusatory. ("We've got a lot going on right now and really just can't handle the extra housecleaning," or something like that.)

If the conversation is going to hurt your mom and make her pouty, just wait until it comes up. No sense in making it confrontational. Set your boundaries next time and stick to them. If she pushes, though, be honest and specific ("He spilled coffee on the rug, we had to refinish the coffee table," etc.) without being specific about dollar amounts. (Because then you just sound petty.)
posted by mudpuppie at 3:31 PM on April 23, 2008 [3 favorites]

"I love him but he is never allowed in my home again."
posted by mpls2 at 3:37 PM on April 23, 2008 [7 favorites]

Seconding that you leave your aunt out of this unless she specifically asks you to bring it up. She wouldn't have even told you about her feelings if you had not asked. You approached her about it, she agreed even though doing so wasn't quite comfortable for her, and she shouldn't have to suffer your mother's wrath just so you can further your point.

She seems to have decided that she values getting along with your mother more than she values her belongings.
posted by Ms. Saint at 3:39 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think that you must have this conversation with your stepdad, even though you say you cannot. And simply say "stepdad, I love you, but you are careless around my stuff, and I cannot allow you into my house ever again. I look forward to seeing you next time you're in town, but you'll have to stay in a hotel."

It's not fair to put your aunt in the middle, and it sounds like putting your mom in the middle would be counterproductive. Address the source of the problem directly.
posted by adamrice at 3:45 PM on April 23, 2008

What mudpuppie said. There's no need to make a dramatic lifelong ban. Just be "unable" to put them up every time they come to visit.

At holiday time, politely but firmly say that you're not able to put them up and that you've found this great hotel nearby. If your mom demands an explanation, you could be gentle with something like, "It's great to see that stepdad is comfortable enough with me to make himself at home when he visits. Of course, his lifestyle is quite different from mine. I think we'd both be more comfortable if you stayed in the hotel. That way, stepdad can kick back without worries." The aunt should be left out of it entirely.
posted by PatoPata at 3:53 PM on April 23, 2008 [3 favorites]

At some point, something valuable and/or sentimental is going to be broken beyond repair.

How valuable and/or sentimental is your relationship with your mom and stepdad? I don't mean to be flip - I realize you're not posting this question on a whim - but from what I read it sounds like you're going from giving your stepdad "gentle pointers" to now banning him from your home. Have there been any steps you've taken in between?

If not, perhaps you could start by trying something a bit less extreme? Give him one more chance with perhaps a weekend visit, but be very clear that a) you're not happy with the way things have gone in the past, and b) X, Y, and Z have got to change. Some people just don't pick up on gentle hints, and if nobody in the family has ever done more than that maybe it's just a matter of being much more clear that you need him to be more careful, to keep his bare feet to himself, etc etc etc in your home.

If that isn't something you want to do (or don't think will work), then I absolutely agree with everyone else who's said it would be unfair to drag your aunt into this - don't even say that you've talked to her about it, as it's absolutely her business to bring it up on her own if she wants to and apparently thus far she doesn't want to. You'll need to make this a matter between -you- and your mom/stepdad, and nobody else. I like mudpuppie's suggestion that you wait until the matter actually arises so as not to drag things out unnecessarily - bring it up close to when they're next going to arrive, pick out a nice hotel nearby that you can recommend (dunno what your situation is like but maybe the first time you might offer to pay? Set the whole thing up like you're "treating" them?), grit your teeth when your stepdad talks on and on when you guys are together, and carry on from there ...
posted by zeph at 4:03 PM on April 23, 2008

Just tell your Mom to stay in a hotel, and explain that it's too stressful for you. Use lots of "I" statements (I find it stressful, I can't handle too much noise, I can't handle muddy footprints). Do not use "you" statements: (When you two come over, he makes a big mess; You cause me too much stress).

And you could point out that a five-day stay is just too goddamn long.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:06 PM on April 23, 2008

seconding (thirding, fourthing) all of the above. just suggest you'd all be more comfortable if they stayed in a hotel.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:26 PM on April 23, 2008

Nthing the above. Your stepfather sounds like Dr Zoidberg, and you don't need that.
posted by rokusan at 4:35 PM on April 23, 2008 [3 favorites]

I like mpls2's phrasing, which is essentially what you just wrote here. Look, do you want to face one bout of crying/hysteria or do you want to endure it for the rest of your parents' natural lives? Ever read Machiavelli? Strike once, strike hard, don't strike again? Works great on relatives too.

If it's unavoidable, make your mom (and stepdad too, he probably needs to be involved) cry once, and reinforce the idea that you love them but that kind of behavior is unacceptable, and you are doing this in order to maintain a good relationship with them. By some odd quirk of psychology people alter events to suit their mood, and if you hurt them repeatedly by being gentle, it's going to do much more harm in the long run than forcing them to look at the truth once and cushioning emotions afterwards.
posted by reebear at 4:48 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Good lord most of the advice in here is bad. Telling a family member that he is never allowed in your house again is absolutely unnecessarily hurtful and offensive. How do you think you'd feel if your mother told you that you were never again welcome in her home?

Just make polite excuses on a case-by-case basis. Accept that he may someday be in your house again and be sure that it won't be for more than a day or two at most. Set a few ground rules for cleanliness. I don't know what culture you're from (wolves?), but telling a family member that he is never again allowed in your house sends a pretty unmistakable message. I hope that this question was just you blowing off steam.
posted by 1 at 4:59 PM on April 23, 2008 [4 favorites]

If your furniture is really cheap Ikea crap (as is mine), you shouldn't worry about coasters. If you have objects of sentimental value, put them in a closet when he comes over. If you know he's going to turn the TV up too loud, put it in a closet, too. Think of it as childproofing, but for a really big child.

Relationships are more important than things. Banning your stepfather -- the man your mother chose to marry -- from your house will probably mean your mother will never want to come over, either. How would you feel if your mom banned your husband or wife from her house for being a clumsy oaf?

Let your aunt fight her own battles, if she even has them.

I had to have the "please stay in a hotel" conversation with my mom once, when we were living in a small apartment. Her feelings were hurt (reasonably so), but after she tried it the first time, she realized she preferred it.

Could you treat them to their first stay at the hotel, so it seems like more of a prize?
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:06 PM on April 23, 2008 [6 favorites]

Even gentle pointers to him such as, "Uh, please watch out for X" yielded dismissive responses such as, "Oh, that's ok, don't worry about it!"

So he's a boorish person, and your mom is not confrontational so won't confront him even though she likely knows about it.

Honestly, you're going to have to confront him, not her, and you're going to have to set hard, fast boundaries and stand by them. Basically, let him know that you want him to visit, but you take serious offense at his careless manner and apparent obliviousness to how much it bothers you.

If he responds as noted above, you can say "that type of response is exactly what I'm talking about. Until you start learning to pay more attention to caring for other people's things and feelings, you're not allowed in this house." And mean it.

But yeah, it means you don't get your mom in your house. The thing is, if it's causing you tons of stress, you have every right to say "respect my home and my boundaries or don't come in" -- but they have every right to decide you're not worth the trouble.

And it would be their decision, not yours; you wouldn't be saying "don't come over", you'd be saying "when you come over, behave like an adult." If they decide they'd rather not see you than make the effort to change their behavior (your stepdad) or confront your stepdad (your mom) then at least you know how important you are to them.
posted by davejay at 5:11 PM on April 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

I don't know. It's your mom's husband. If their visits were infrequent I'd let it go. I have a very obese relative. I know she is busting the springs in my furniture. Would I ever mention this or encourage her to sit on the floor? Hell no. It's rude. I love this particular relative. Sometimes you have to bite your tongue and consider people's feelings. Obviously he is oblivious to his stinky feet and slobbish ways. I can bet that he doesn't mean to offend you. He's an annoying houseguest that is married to your mother. You don't even have to think about this until Thanksgiving, right? I'd probably let it go. See how you feel then.
posted by LoriFLA at 5:52 PM on April 23, 2008

You're not going to change his behavior by making pronouncements. In fact, it sounds like changing his behavior is out of your control by any means.

The only effect of banning him would be family drama, of which it sounds like you already have plenty.

Agree with those who suggest that from now on, whenever they come to visit, it's just not convenient for them to stay with you, and could you help them find a nearby hotel. That's how grownups do it.
posted by ottereroticist at 6:01 PM on April 23, 2008

Having "the talk" with either of them is probably not going to work. You're the kid, they're the parents (even if he's not your real dad, he is married to your mom) and instructive lectures on being a nice guest are going to ignored, amusing, or (most likely) misunderstood and argument-making.

Try to get them to stay in a hotel "for their own comfort." Child-proof your home. Put a coaster under his glass. Ask him to please take his feet off of the table. Take the remote control and turn the TV down. Everyone takes their shoes off at the door. Yes, it's annoying to have to chase him around like a kid. If he gets sulky about you nagging him, you'll have another opportunity to remind them of the comfort of a hotel.

I'm with the others upthread who pointed out that you'd be pretty hurt if you were banned from your mom's house for accidentally breaking something.
posted by desuetude at 6:09 PM on April 23, 2008

Isn't your relationship with your mom and your stepdad more valuable than five days of your time and some shitty craigslist furniture?
posted by sid at 6:10 PM on April 23, 2008

I have a large, occasionally uncouth, belching, farting, not-coaster-using, eats too much, etc., relative. He drove my Mom nuts. I find him sort of annoying at times. But we miss him like crazy when he isn't around at holidays. He's boisterous, fun and good at livening up the holidays.

Your aunt gets to deal with things however she chooses.

Deal with the behavior. Choose your battles.

his lack of respect for my property (messiness, drink-coaster-free living, breakin' stuff), put away the critical stuff, make sure tables have lots of magazines on them to put under his drink
his impressive oblivousness to, uh (sorry), how his bathroom habits affect others, Ewww, George, light a match!
his tendency to stream audio and talk whilst blasting the TV rendering the airwaves pretty much incapable of supporting anyone else's conversation, George, you gotta keep the noise under control; I just don't cope well with all the stimulus, so if you want the radio on, I gotta turn off the teevee.
general grossness like putting his stinky bare feet on my tables, bed pillow, etc. Tables wipe up easily; I can't figure out how his feet got on your bed pillow.

Limit visits to a few days. If you must send them to a hotel, explain that you are just really fussy and like to have your space just so. Or, visit them at their place.
posted by theora55 at 6:56 PM on April 23, 2008

Best answer: Five days with a houseguest would make anyone stir-crazy. And I'm guessing your place isn't all that large.

It's more than evident that you are not president of this guy's fan club. But he's your mom's husband. She loves him. You owe it to her to be polite and welcoming to him. But that doesn't mean you have to put them up for 5 days.

I would offer to put them up in a nice hotel, B&B, whatever when they come to visit. Whatever it costs will be worth it for your relationship with him and more importantly, your mom.

It sounds like you already don't like the guy, my guess is that tension would be significantly lessened if he wasn't in your house for five days straight.

I also think it is immature and very unwise to not speak with him directly. You'd be putting your mom and your aunt in the middle and it's not fair to them. And it's also cowardly.

Don't start a war. Life is too short.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 6:57 PM on April 23, 2008

Another echo of this is you vs him. Don't put your mother or aunt in the middle. Lots of good advice above. Good luck.
posted by anadem at 7:09 PM on April 23, 2008

I'd babyproof your house like you were going to be babysitting toddler triplets. I realize this is a pain, but I would ask a friend if you can store some stuff at their house when they come. Put table cloths on anything he can put something down on, get some cheap rugs to try an soak up his boots when he walks in the house, etc etc. I realize this is totally ridiculous, but you're jeopardizing your entire family relationship over this and you'll end up regretting it. I'm not trying to minimize what he's doing. It's totally unacceptable, but he doesn't give a damn, your mom probably can't change him anyway, and she'll take it as a personal insult no matter how you say it, so I'd just go for damage control.
posted by whoaali at 7:59 PM on April 23, 2008

I think all this "THEY'RE YOUR PARENTS YOU MUST LOVE AND OBEY" talk is way over the top.

You're not 11, you're an adult. You presumably own or rent your home yourself, with your money. if you don't want someone, parents included, staying there, ask them to please stay at a hotel when they visit.

I agree there's no need to be so dramatic as "LIFETIME BAN!!11!!!1," just tell them it's best if they stay at a hotel.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:34 PM on April 23, 2008

Can you get the TV and radio out of the shared space in the house while they visit, so that he can't turn them on?
posted by amtho at 9:53 PM on April 23, 2008

It would be much better if you simply talked to him about being more considerate around your house. Tell him it's very important to you, and that if he can't resist messing up your stuff he's going to have to stay at a motel when he visits.

My friends and I overstayed our welcome at one of our friend's houses (we partied there too much) so he had his roommate tell us we can't come over anymore. We don't. We also don't talk to him anymore and he has hardly any friends. Avoiding confrontation only damages relationships. Talk to him, him, him, not your aunt, him.

posted by Citizen Premier at 10:44 PM on April 23, 2008

not your aunt
"not your mom"
posted by Citizen Premier at 10:44 PM on April 23, 2008

Best answer: Unless you expect that they'd stay at the hotel rather than just go there to sleep, you're still going to have hours during their visits when he is in your home.

I go along with those who say that you're either going to have to say no visits whatsoever or be prepared to police things heavily and not take no for an answer because if they come, he will be there for lengths of time, and he will be eating and drinking. ("Here, please use a coaster." "Don't worry about it." "I do worry about water spots on my wood table. Use this coaster." *pick up drink, put it on coaster, be prepared to do this repeatedly*) He will be walking in with messy shoes. ("Take your shoes off at the door please." "Oh don't worry about it." "I do worry about it, take your shoes off, there are slippers there for you to wear." Have the slippers, btw.) He will be using your bathroom. (Get one of those air fresheners that automatically puts out a puff of fragrance at pretimed intervals and stick it in the loo before they arrive.) He will be wanting to overload with TV and sound. (Move something out of the common areas so that it's one or the other, TV or music, and shush repeatedly during the TV shows you watch together.) Shut the door to your bedroom. Suggest activities that don't permit incessant babbling conversation like games or trips out to movies, galleries, etc. You will have to work, and work hard. This is the choice you make when you allow them to come visit, regardless of where they are sleeping.

If you're not able to do the work, you'll either have to tell mom outright that he is not welcome or you will have to passive-aggressively find reasons and excuses to delay, stall and put off every time a visit is suggested.
posted by Dreama at 11:25 PM on April 23, 2008 [4 favorites]

Best answer: There is absolutely no need to confront your mom or stepdad about this issue. It's your home, and you get to decide who stays there. Let them know, far in advance of their next visit, that they will need to make other arrangements for lodging. You don't need to give any reason at all - a simple "it really isn't going to work for me this time, sorry," should be sufficient. If they want to press the issue, just reiterate that it's not something you can do.

Confronting them will not only create a huge scene, but it would be incredibly hurtful to both of them. I can understand the urge to make it clear that you found your stepdad's behavior unacceptable, but I fail to see how hurting your parents will improve anything down the line.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:33 PM on April 23, 2008

Any pain your mother feels when you bring this up with her she brought upon herself by lowering her standards enough to hook up with this guy (sorry if that's harsh). You are not the villain of this piece.

The polite phrase to describe him might be "An excess of [joie de vivre / zest for life / enthusiasm]" if you need to put a positive spin on it. Sounds like he's a disaster though, and even if he doesn't sleep there you are going to have issues with him. Try and spend as much time as possible when they visit taking day trips and eating out at restaraunts (unless that's too embarassing). Also, they have these goofy shoe covers at janatorial supply stores, maybe you could get him to wear those in lieu of taking his shoes off (also, folex is great for treating carpet stains). I have this painful mental image of him drinking red wine in front of the TV with his feet propped up gesticulating and sloshing.

Your aunt told you what she told you in confidence. It's not something you should repeat even in the middle of a big argument.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:45 AM on April 24, 2008

I'm all for a big scene, if I were insulting/annoying someone with my behaviour, especially a family member, I would hate to have to tease and knead it out of them. You should confront him, it's your house & life, it's directly where you live. Besides, unless you know it might cause long term damage, it is probably better to get it out now, rather than implant the idea that they aren't welcome at your house for no reason, all of a sudden.
posted by Submiqent at 2:18 AM on April 24, 2008

So far it sounds like it's mostly been gentle hints about her living space preferences, which stepdad hasn't gotten. As a few other posters have pointed out, first step is actually setting expectations for visits to her house, clearly and directly.

That includes:
length of stay (5 days is way too long for a small apartment), if shoes come off, coasters, when TV is off, yadda yadda. Firmly but pleasantly insisting on them will get you a long way -- and give you grounds to take further action should it be necessary. No, "Please watch out for..." but, "Here's a coaster, please put it under your drink."

Unfortunately it seems your mom's not the only one with a fear of confrontation. People can't read your mind. I'm not at all clear what's meant by the comments about bathroom habits - everybody's shit stinks, if you know what I mean. Two words - air freshner.

Start with that - it may take some repetition, but it's likely to have far better results than declaring him, out of the blue, persona non grata. Now that would be some serious drama.
posted by canine epigram at 7:13 AM on April 24, 2008

Nthing what's been said above, particularly canine epigram's point about fear of confrontation. Going directly from "Uh, please watch out for X" to "Never enter my home again" is going to be completely incomprehensible to someone who may not even know you're upset. I am decidedly unhappy with confrontation, but I also have to remind myself constantly that, when I have conversations with people in my head about how angry they make me, those conversations are in my head and usually the target people think everything's just fine.

Hotels rule. Besides, they may not be entirely comfortable crashing in your place either, and just don't know how to bring it up.
posted by catlet at 8:56 AM on April 24, 2008

Please don't ban your stepdad from your home. This will ruin your relationship with your mother, and you'll end up without either of them. Do some practical stuff-- put them up in a nearby hotel, on the old adage that fish and house guests stink after three days. During their actual in-home visits take steps to minimize the impact. Put the tv in the attic, closet, next door neighbor's, whereever-- if it's not there, he can't blast it. Remove easily moveable carpets. Cover upholstered furniture with sturdy (yet attractive) drop cloths. Put away the breakables.

Muddy footprints can be cleaned. Broken vases can be replaced. Bathroom doors can be closed (if he makes a gross mess in there-- hand him a mop or a sponge and tell him to clean it!) Broken relationships, on the other hand, never really heal.

I have not seen my father in 15 years because I couldn't get along with his wife. Do not do not do not ban them from your home. Your relationship is more precious than any heirloom.
posted by nax at 9:21 AM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Since this is family, you want to do this in a way that preserves family decorum and avoids hurting feelings.

Don't lay down any ultimatums, and never mention the aspects of your stepdad's behavior that offend you. However, the next time it is proposed that he stay over at your house, firmly and clearly suggest that, for that visit, your house is not open and you would be delighted if they stayed at a nearby hotel. Resist the temptation to explain yourself - you will be badgered to do so. Don't do it. Just say, "I think it would be much better if you stayed at a hotel! Don't you?"

Everyone knows what that means; there is no appeal from it; and no feelings get hurt unless the person who is being told really decides to press the point and hurt their own feelings.

You may have to offer to pay for the hotel.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:18 AM on April 24, 2008

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