How do I handle my parents who only possibly mean well?
August 22, 2008 5:24 PM   Subscribe

My parents cleaned my apartment when I was away - and went through EVERYTHING - how should I feel?

I went away for a long trip and asked my parents to stop by my recently moved-in apartment twice a day (they live two blocks away) to feed my rabbits. When I left, the room they needed to access was in order but the rest of the apartment had not yet been unpacked. I come back to a completely UNPACKED apartment with all my things in some place or another. They also took all of my clothes and linens back to their house and washed them. I have strong mixed emotions. My initial reaction was extreme horror. I felt like my privacy was violated to an extreme. I called my dad upset with him which in turn hurt him deeply because he and my mother thought they were helping. He dropped off my bed linens and took back his things - apparently they had brought over cleaning supplies and tools to fix up the place as well. I felt guilty and selfish, called back and apologized in tears. Things are now awkward. How should I feel and what do I do?

I have never been super close to my parents and I don't share with them many things. This has often been a source of distress for them in the past. My mother also is, and I write this objectively, blatantly nosy. If I kept a diary when I was younger and she came across it, she would read it without any qualms and defend her right for doing so. This is why I also feel as if the cleaning may have started as an excuse to find out about my life. They did not find a body in my closet but there were definitely things that I would have preferred them not to know (which they now probably do).

Am I wrong to feel upset? Am I being irrational or at least, overreacting? Should the fact that they, for the most part, possibly meant well in doing all they did supersede the fact that they went through all my possessions, and in essence, my entire life? How do I make amends while letting them know how I feel? And, for myself, how do I deal with the guilt of hurting my parents as well as deal with the fact that my whole personal life was up for their display?

Thank you.
posted by pinksoftsoap to Human Relations (51 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't know how your question can be definitively answered, but I would be very upset if that happened to me. Possibly I would freak out at my parents. My mom DID read my diary when I was growing up, and any perceived invasion of privacy would set me off.

It sounds like you are an adult woman. I think well meaning or not, they went beyond "helping you out." Doing your dishes is one thing. Washing your underwear - at THEIR house - is another. Don't feel bad about expressing how you feel.
posted by peep at 5:33 PM on August 22, 2008


I don't think you're wrong to feel upset. Your feelings are what they are; however, you may be overreacting a bit. Your parents were trying to help you, and you may be reading ulterior motives into their behavior that weren't actually there. You need to give it some time until you're less emotional and then apologize to them. Take them to dinner or something...

If you knew your mother was nosy and you couldn't trust them, why'd you give them the keys to your place?
posted by MegoSteve at 5:34 PM on August 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think most people will agree that if you are old enough to live in an apartment, you're old enough to have some expectation of privacy. Even at high school or junior high age, parents owe it to their kids not to snoop. Finding your drugs, porn, cigarettes, or booze is not an excuse for their mistrust or snooping.

I think all you need to do is apologize for being upset (you don't explain exactly how you reacted, but perhaps you did some yelling - you can say you're sorry for that), BUT reiterate that you felt your privacy was violated and that you feel strongly about it. They don't have to agree with you about it, but I think it's important to stand your ground during these times when your relationship with your parents is changing. You have to set the boundaries yourself, rather than allow them to set them as they did when you were younger. For example, my parents planned to visit me after I moved to California, and my mom casually mentioned that they would be staying with me for five nights. "No way," I said (more nicely than that), and I was firm about it. My apartment is small and noisy and not near anything, which are practical reasons, but the reality is that I just don't want my parents as houseguests, and there's nothing wrong with that! I love them, but I value my space and privacy just like you do. No feelings were hurt, and now it's not an issue for future visits.
posted by autojack at 5:39 PM on August 22, 2008 [5 favorites]


No idea how you can fix things with your parents. But your feelings are definitely warranted, and you know better than anyone if they would've used the cleaning thing as a way to snoop. I totally know people who would pull something like this, and then act like martyrs that their generosity wasn't appreciated. (In fact, that's a freaking ingenius way to make someone feel guilty about being angry at you for being a jerk. I'm going to have to remember this evil tactic.)

I don't think you're overreacting at all. But then again, I would probably react very similarly. Even if you didn't care about the privacy invasion, I bet you'd still be a little pissed that they came in your adult place and arranged all your affairs like you were a kid.

On preview, yes to everything autojack said.
posted by Coatlicue at 5:48 PM on August 22, 2008


I wish I knew the answer, but I know exactly how you feel. I know my mom has blatantly snooped at least twice (in my short adulthood) and I've never confronted her about it. My husband thinks it's no big deal, that it's just something moms do and it can't be helped. But I can't help feeling terribly betrayed, even now thinking about it.

Because in your case the confrontation has already happened, perhaps the best thing is to sit down and really explain your mixed feelings about it to them. You're already all three feeling hurt, maybe it'll make you all feel a little better for them to know that 1. you're upset for a real reason, and 2. you're also concerned about their feelings.

For what it's worth, I've had many moments of "oh no, I had a fight with a family member and now it's awkward and it'll never be right again" and eventually, things get back to normal.
posted by lampoil at 5:49 PM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: To humanize my parents a bit more and to show the extent of how much I hurt them, when I called back in tears, my dad responded in tears saying that I did not need to apologize. He said that I was not a stranger but their daughter. I assume he said that in defense of they doing what they did. This only added to my guilt and mixed emotion. On their end, it has been a long time of them trying to build a closer relationship with me and me stepping back.
posted by pinksoftsoap at 5:51 PM on August 22, 2008


Based on what I've read, it does appear that they were sincere in their desire to help you. I think you're right to feel a bit upset, but at the same time, get over it quickly. Tell them you appreciate what they did - the good parts - and explain to them NICELY that they went a bit overboard in their efforts to help you.

Also: how old are you? If you're, say, a 19 y/o girl who just moved out for the first time, that's a lot different than if you are a 30 y/o woman who has been living on your own for years.
posted by davidmsc at 5:52 PM on August 22, 2008


I think all you need to do is apologize for being upset (you don't explain exactly how you reacted, but perhaps you did some yelling - you can say you're sorry for that), BUT reiterate that you felt your privacy was violated and that you feel strongly about it.

I agree. I think that now that things have calmed down a little that maybe a clearing-the-air conversation could happen, where you apologize for losing your temper and explain that you understand and appreciate that they were trying to help. But because in the past, things like your Mom's reading your diary was an issue which you had conflict over before, you just had concerns that something similar had happened again, and that was why you reacted the way you did, and there you have it. They may say that "but I didn't touch anything and blah blah blah," at which you carefully explain that you are not accusing her OF doing that, you are just explaining why you REACTED the way you did, and that it is a sensitive spot for you and hey, maybe it'd be in everyone's best interest to just not go there again. And if your Mom says again that "but I had the right to read your diary, etc.", you can explain that whether or not she had the right WHEN YOU WERE A KID is a separate issue from whether she has the right NOW, and both of them are separate issues from how you reacted anyway, and so you're not going to discuss it. It is just a sensitive area for you, and you are an adult NOW, anyway, and so you get to call the shots when it comes to privacy now, and since this is a sensitive area for you, maybe it'd be in everyone's best interest not to try that again...

Calm but firm. Apologize for your reaction itself, but clarify that the motivation behind it didn't come out of nowhere, and suggest a better way to handle the situation in future (i.e., as nice as they think doing your laundry is, you just have a different opinion, and so they should try something else, maybe).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:55 PM on August 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


So I don't know whether how you feel is right or wrong. But from experience, this is what you get when you live two blocks away from your parents.

Note that your perception of your privacy differs vastly from your parents' perception. Your mom pushed you out of her girly parts. They bathed you naked for a number of years. They have watched you do absolutely everything from before you can remember. I know that from my perspective as a parent it seems natural to be far closer to your child than to anyone else in the world - in some ways closer than to your spouse. Unlike my kids, I have never wiped my spouse's bum. And even though you are now an adult, you're still their kid in their eyes. (I mean, this is my take on it. I don't really know what they think)

Am I wrong to feel upset?

You're upset. Thinking of it in terms of right or wrong only leads to guilt and self-recrimination. So no, it's not wrong to be upset. And is this really the first time you've been upset at your parents?

Am I being irrational or at least, overreacting?

You can only be irrational if you're attempting to construct a logical argument. So I'd say no.

Should the fact that they, for the most part, possibly meant well in doing all they did supersede the fact that they went through all my possessions, and in essence, my entire life?

So, although I do not really know what they were thinking, it's not a huge leap to say that in their minds they do already know your entire life. For 18 or so years everything that you "owned" was supplied by them. They may be having trouble making the transition to you being independent/an adult. (I'm assuming you in your early 20s and recently moved out. If you're actually 45 then YMMV and this may not really apply)

How do I make amends while letting them know how I feel? And, for myself, how do I deal with the guilt of hurting my parents as well as deal with the fact that my whole personal life was up for their display?

Have a frank but not-too-serious talk. Tell them you're an adult and that you want and need some privacy. Reiterate that you still really value their support. I assume you see them regularly. But don't ask them for favors like that any more - you really have to assume that ever time your mom comes into your apartment she will take it apart mentally, visually or physically. I'm a grown man and my mother still does this to me. I don't know if it's normal, but at least it's not uncommon.
posted by GuyZero at 6:01 PM on August 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


This happened to me too - my parents came over while I was out of the country and cleaned everything, rearranged things, hung a painting and discarded my favorite mug whose handle had fallen off (without trying to repair it).

I did feel pretty violated. But I also felt guilty and selfish because I knew that they were only trying to help, in the best way they knew how. It also is a reminder of the parent-child dynamic, which involves a different type and level of respect than you'd give to a peer or a colleague, and that can be a jolt when you're trying to take care of yourself as an adult. (I'm 23, for what it's worth.)

But honestly, sometimes as kids we have to be the adults in the situation. Ease the tension by sucking it up and making some kind of gesture so that they feel that you do appreciate their effort - flowers and a thank you card, maybe?

I get along with my parents, but it's because I've learned their quirks and expect certain behaviors, and only those behaviors, from them. My stepmom also cleans as an excuse to be nosy, so I know that if I leave things lying around, she'll see and go through them. It's not good or bad, it's just the way things are. By not expecting anything different, I'm never disappointed, shocked or surprised.

The feeling of violation will fade. But you have to prevent this from happening in the future - and it will happen if you let it, because that's just their way. Take back the key and have a friend look in the next time you go on a trip.
posted by lhall at 6:02 PM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


THIS HAS JUST HAPPENED TO ME ALSO. I'm 25, have lived out of home since I was 19, but have recently had to move back in. My mother (and a friend) went round to my house when I was at work to clean it for me - i found out afterwards.

Then the other day she went through my cupboards (at her house) and "tidied" them - she found my vibrator, so she got more than she bargained for. Wouldn't discuss this - but left it out in the wardrobe so I'd know she'd know.

I didn't say anything to either time - but I've since snarked at her about it - I was trying to find something in the cupboard and it wasn't there, so I was really pissed off, because I'd had everything so carefully organised.

I think it would have been better if I had said something, as I felt so violated, but I know and understand that she was trying to help. I think it is the implication that I'm still a little girl who needs her mother to sort her life out for her.

I realised in my case a lot of the problem was that I *hadn't* asked for any help from her - not with moving, not with money, not at all. I think she felt left out. I bought her a bunch of flowers to say thanks for the help, so she knew I appreciated the thought, and she calmed down after that.

Don't know if it was a good idea though, as I didn't address the invasion of privacy part at all.
posted by jonathanstrange at 6:03 PM on August 22, 2008


Your feelings are definitely warranted. That your parents acted like this might shed some light on why you've been keeping them at a distance. It must be hard to trust them. She had no right to read your diary and they had no right to dig up all of your things just because you asked them for help with your rabbits. It was probably a temptation for your mother though, if she's the nosy kind, but she must learn to respect your privacy if she wants to get closer to you. Make this clear for her. Demand an excuse . They should understand.
posted by okokok at 6:03 PM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: I am almost 27. This is my second apartment after college. My parents are Chinese though (mostly Americanized but still traditional in some ways) which makes them believe that I should not only seek their advice in all that I do but that there are little, if any, boundaries between family.
posted by pinksoftsoap at 6:06 PM on August 22, 2008


This sounds almost exactly like a letter I read in Slate a few weeks ago. Before I went back to find it and read all of the details again, I thought that you may have actually been the same person who had submitted it. Here's a link to the article.
posted by sabira at 6:07 PM on August 22, 2008


I would relax and take relief in the comfort of family.

Make it understood that they over stepped their bounds but be grateful that you have someone to call and feed your pets.

If you want to distance yourself from your parents, change cities.
posted by Max Power at 6:34 PM on August 22, 2008


I'm trying to look at this from a different perspective -- what if your best friend was taking care of your apartment and decided to do all the work of unpacking and cleaning as a kindness to you. I think you would be grateful and maybe not so upset as you are at your parents.

It sounds like they were just trying to do something generous and nice to you, and it sounds like you are sorry you hurt their feelings by the way you reacted. Maybe you could express to them that you appreciate all the time and effort and love they put into helping you, but you were just upset because it was intrusive or inappropriate to your way of thinking.

It sounds like, to their way of thinking, it was the nicest thing they could think of.
posted by mmf at 6:41 PM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


You are not at all unwarranted in your feelings. I'd be mortified as well, and the worst thing that my parents would have found is a journal from high school in which I talked about how I wished I was 18 so that I wouldn't have to hide the fact that I smoked (cigarettes) and maybe that party at Kelly's or something. I'm an intensely private person, and it sounds like you might be as well. It doesn't matter if you have anything worth "hiding" or not, your space was violated and that's not cool.

Sure, maybe they meant well, but that's not the point. When I moved, my dad helped me, but he knew that the extent of it would be helping me drag boxes and bags upstairs. (And frankly, he probably preferred it that way...my mom would be a different story.) Then he left and I spent the next few days figuring stuff out and where I wanted everything. I deeply appreciated his help with the move, but he also knew that it probably wouldn't be a good idea to help me organize my CDs and figure out which drawer I kept the tampons in.

You should, however, apologize for your reaction. Do not apologize for your feelings/anger. Explain to them that it was in the heat of the moment, but it came from a place that values your privacy. You are an adult, and while you'll always be their daughter, they have to respect your space and privacy. It is part of growing up - just like you have to learn how to be an adult, your parents have to learn when to let go.

Also, next time, hire a pet sitter or have a trusted friend check on your pets. I pet sat occasionally in high school, and it was nice just to have a living room to hang out in and watch tv alone for a couple hours while I played with the cats or whatever. I could have cared less what the people had in their cabinets.
posted by AlisonM at 6:53 PM on August 22, 2008


I've been pissed at my mom for helping me unpack my apartment--while I was there! This is because she and I have completely different notions of how things should be organized, and while there's nothing wrong with what she does, it doesn't fit my sensibility. I can't imagine what I would do if she unpacked it while I wasn't there.

That being said, I think you're on the right track--letting them know that while the intent was clearly in the right place, they went way beyond an acceptable boundary.
posted by stevis23 at 6:56 PM on August 22, 2008


Why are you weirding out on this?

Maybe they crossed the line, but they are your parents, they (feel like) they own you.
I'd let it go, but know in the future, if you grant then access, to expect a strip search, IAMOS.

especially in things like, well you know, some Mary Jane layin around, a firearm that you may own, phone numbers, porno, whatever. You'll need a safe.

Rabbits? Well, OK, they are timid, my cat kills one like every week.
posted by cvoixjames at 6:59 PM on August 22, 2008


Just for a different perspective, I'm close to my parents and older with my own kids and understand the impulse per GuyZero's comment, so I'm having trouble understanding.

I'm an adult. My parents are adults. If my parents unpacked my apartment and did my laundry, I'd think it was awesome. I hate unpacking and putting stuff away, and if they found anything sex-related, both they and I would think it was either hilarious or no big deal. I'm sure they would get stuff wrong that I would want to change, but they did me an enormous favor. I'd be grateful. It would have been nice if they'd asked first, but as an unexpected gift, pretty cool.

Also as a parent, I really want to know what's going on with my kids, and treasure my closeness to them. It seems sad to me that you're not so close to your parents. If I were your parents, it would break my heart.
posted by idb at 7:08 PM on August 22, 2008


When I first read this, I wanted to know what your cultural background was. I totally identified with this question because I am Chinese too.

They were totally being nosy under the guise of doing some heavy labor for you. But aren't you used to this by now? Nearly everything my parents do for me is at a price.

"Let me bring you this giant bag of rice and these towels I bought for you because I know you like egyptian cotton and it was on sale at Sears, but now you must listen to me criticize your boyfriend's hair length and why are your shorts so short and when are you getting maaaaaaaaarried so I can have grandkids?"

You know this is going to blow over in no time. Just go to dim sum with them on Sunday and everything will be ok. They just want to know things about you like an obsessive fan likes to know about their chosen celebrity. They're totally going to play it cool and be all like "Oh! No, I didn't know that your favorite color was magenta even though I totally read it in Teen Beat."

At this point, while my parents and I still butt heads, I have to take the crazy stuff they do lightly and try to let it roll off my back. They're not doing it maliciously, they're doing it because they are crazy Chinese parents who love you.

Also, I had therapy in college. That helped A LOT. It helped me change my perspective from "How do I cut them off/make them stop meddling in my life?" to "How can I react to their feelings of ownership over my life in a way that will not give me an early heart attack/cry all the time?" And my therapist was Asian. So he both understood the Asian family dynamic and probably had crazy Asian parents, too.
posted by spec80 at 7:14 PM on August 22, 2008 [30 favorites]


Recognize that you and your parents are negotiating an unfamiliar relationship -an American-style parent to adult child relationship. It sounds like they love you, they want to part of life and they care about your feelings. You are going to have a better sense of what you want this new relationship than they do. I suggest that you focus on ways that you can comfortably let them be more a part of your life while gently letting them know where you think the boundaries should be. Can you offer to eat dinner at their house once a week? Send them regular emails on life and adventures of bunny rabbit? Ask your mother to teach you to cook a favorite dish? Call her and ask her advice about something? The idea is to give them more contact while protecting the aspects of your life that you would like to keep private.

At the same time, if you want to exclude them from something that they would think is their natural perogative, you need to be gentle but clear. As a mother, it helped me a lot when I get advance warning. I knew almost three weeks ahead of time that daughter would be happy getting help caring things into her new dorm room but did not want help unpacking. I was hurt at first and then got used the idea that she needed to be independent but I still asked twice if she wanted me to make her bed while she unpacked her desk stuff. Also be sure to say how much you love them and how you are using what they taught you as go about being an independent adult.
posted by metahawk at 7:18 PM on August 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


My parents are Chinese though (mostly Americanized but still traditional in some ways) which makes them believe that I should not only seek their advice in all that I do but that there are little, if any, boundaries between family.

This changes things a little (at least in my mind). My Japanese family is very similar in their thinking, despite the fact that I'm 4th generation American. You'd think that by now they would be a bit more western in their thinking, but not so much. First, you need to be more independent. Don't ask for favors- next time get a friend or hire a pet sitter. Get yourself to the airport instead of asking for a ride. When you're spoken to like a child, answer as an adult.

Finally, just keep reminding yourself that they obviously love you and as long as you want them in your life, you're going to have to continually remind them, firmly but gently, that they can only be involved in your life on your terms. And if need be, you need to spell out those terms. In your situation, it might help if you told them that it would be easier to feel closer to them if you could interact as adults and not as child-parents. And for the record, I don't think you're wrong to be upset.

On preview, spec80 has it. Is there a support group for American kids of Asian parents? :)
posted by dogmom at 7:33 PM on August 22, 2008


I'd feel much the same way (however, I don't have kids, so I can't see it from a parent's perspective). Something like this happened to me when I was about your age, and it pissed me off immensely and was one of many reasons why I've deliberately reduced contact with my family to a bare minimum over the years.

When I was a graduate student I invited my mom to come to visit me in Baltimore for a weekend; I cleaned my apartment until there wasn't a spot of dirt visible anywhere and laid in a supply of snacks and books so Mom, whose train arrived in midafternoon, could relax and enjoy herself until I got home that evening. When I opened the door my mother was standing on a chair cleaning the top of the refrigerator. (I'm too short to see the top of the fridge without standing on a chair myself, but who would expect a guest to STAND ON A FREAKING CHAIR LOOKING FOR DIRT?) I was furious and Mom went into full-blown martyr mode. It was not a pleasant weekend and I did not invite Mom to visit me again for another 10 years or so.

To answer your larger question, your 20s are the time to redefine your relationship with your parents. When you were a kid, everything was on their terms. Now they need to see you as an independent adult and it will be hard for them - it's a big change, they're probably feeling a bit useless now that their little girl doesn't need them all the time, maybe they're feeling suddenly old and a bit scared of an empty future. They'll keep trying to treat you like their little girl as long as possible, and it's up to you to establish a new dynamic.

My approach was effective but not particularly kind - I gradually drifted away, paring down contact to one or two phone calls a year and maybe an email a month. I don't think Mom knows why I'm so distant but any emotionally charged discussion with her ends in tears so it's just easier to stay away. Most people probably don't want this sort of relationship with their family (hell, even I don't really want it, it's just what works best) and I hope you find a better way to assert yourself as an independent adult in your parents' eyes, but as a last resort you can always gradually cut your ties. Move far away, take your time replying to phone calls, let a few emails go without answering, that sort of thing.

And stop asking your parents for help - if you don't have friends who could take care of your pets try to find a boarding facility. "Our little girl still needs us" puts you right back in little girl territory. Good luck - it's hard to find a graceful balance in this process and I hope you do better than me.
posted by Quietgal at 7:48 PM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Clearly, there are some cultural distinctions concerning "privacy," and I'm no stranger to that. Americans seem to have a much stronger perception of privacy rights at a younger age than other cultures I've come across, including my own family with immigrant parents. For example, I was born and raised in the States. My mother read my diary when I was in middle school, had the gall to write an admonishing letter inside it, and the damage to trust has been irreparable.

With the subtle and deeply rooted cultural differences in parenting and child expectations between Western and, in your case, Chinese culture, it's not like they can change the habit. I've never met a family of Asian first- and second-generations* where parents and children completely understood each other. Naturally, this does not make it wrong, merely... a bit incompatible. (I'm assuming you're second-generation, anyway.) And obviously, not all Westerners would feel a violation either, but split-generation* families can be quite awkward and, I think, are different beasts.

You are absolutely not wrong to feel upset; social expectations on this side of the cultural rim demand the "modicum of privacy" for adults. They are not wrong either, necessarily, because they were, in their own way, trying to help--and I believe from experience and conversations with friends that children never become wholly independent of Chinese parental responsibility. You will likely never quite "grow up" in their eyes, so they will never accept the Western values of privacy for adults. So this isn't quite the issue about "OMG you're an adult! THIS IS HORRIBLE!" This major difference between Western and Chinese thought is probably inherited from filial piety and concepts about individuality.

Understand this: This is not a discussion of "rights" but of perspective. Your feelings and expectations in this setting are not wrong, and your parents are not wrong in their efforts to parent either, because this is strictly a cultural difference of expectation (and can cultures be "wrong"?). That said, it's incompatible.

At this point, so long as apologies have been said, that's a good start. It should dissipate. First-generation parents may never, ever understand your socialization and adopted expectations as a second-generation child (and so on), although that shouldn't stop you from trying to explain why you were upset within a cultural framework. I'm afraid there's no easy answer for that, and in most cases, you will simply have to live with it: secure your private items and take time away from them, while allowing them into certain aspects of your life, if you can do that.


Some random links if you want to try a dialogue with them anyway:
An Adventure in American Culture & Values
Privacy and Security in the Chinese Cultural Sphere


*I'm using the second definition of "generation" in terms of naturalized citizens.

And get a pet sitter.
posted by Ky at 7:50 PM on August 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


How you feel is how you feel. It sounds like you feel violated and upset, and also guilty. That's an understandable, if confusing, response to the situation.

I think we should all be able to ask our parents to respect us on our own terms, as our individual selves. After a certain point, children no longer belong to their parents, no matter what the parents may like to believe. You should be able to set boundaries, and have them respected. It's part of being an adult. That doesn't have to mean any less love or closeness, just that trust and respect are a part of the relationship as well.

My response is definitely colored by my experience. I had one of my parents violate my trust, and it definitely damaged our relationship: I no longer trust her with very personal information. Take my input with that in mind.
posted by gingerbeer at 8:04 PM on August 22, 2008


You should feel violated. I did when a helpful in-law cleaned up my apartment while I was away. It happened 20 years ago, and despite the fact that I'm sure she meant well, I'm still peeved.
posted by Dave Faris at 8:07 PM on August 22, 2008


I'd let it go. Moms and Dads are going to be Moms and Dads. I have to imagine you have known this your whole life. I think, once you have some kids of your own, their impulse to help you out is going to become much clearer.

If you had something to hide then it was your mistake to invite them into your living arrangements.

They acted in your best interest and did what they thought being your parents is all about. You need to recognize that they set up these definitions before you were born and since they "had" you that is their right- at least in their minds.

Of course you have the right to tell them to F@$K off but since I stand a bit ahead of you on the age ladder I would advise against this. One day they will be gone and you will never have to worry about this problem again but you might have to live with the remorse of doing so. Accept them for what they are and what they do and be happy you have two parents that will always care... seemingly, no matter how old you are.
posted by bkeene12 at 8:15 PM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


I am not close to my mother either, and in my teens I learned that the more privacy I tried to establish (in other words, the more I pulled away), the harder she clung, to the point of outright violation without remorse.

Now that I'm a little older I have been able to establish some boundaries but the minute I renege on them my mother's old tendencies take over again.

From what you've written about your closeness to them being an issue for a while, I honestly think your parents were trying to gain some sort of access to you under the guise of helping you out. "Guise" isn't even the right word, because I'm sure they felt totally justified and innocent in doing it. But if this sort of thing makes you uncomfortable you have to set boundaries now and do not give in to them.

This means asking someone else to bunny-sit. Sorry.
posted by Brittanie at 8:16 PM on August 22, 2008


When I was first dating my now-fiance, tomorrow-wife, my arm was mauled by a jeep with a faulty emergency brake. In the emergency room, I mentioned to her that I'd not yet put the a/c unit that I'd bought that morning into the bedroom window. My dad was there, and when he left, he went right over (I'd left the door unlocked on account of, you know, my arm being fucked up) and put the a/c unit in for me. There was a trash can full of used rubbers, etc. right next to the window, and when she brought me home that night, the trash can was emptied.

Now, my parents are rather religious, no sex before marriage, etc. She was scared that they'd think she was a tramp after seeing all the rubbers. Nothing was ever mentioned, and they apparently approve of her, so...I think it's just parents trying their best to be helpful, connect, what have you.

There's bigger privacy issues in the world than the two people who brought you into the world, innocently going through your stuff in the process of trying to help you out.
posted by notsnot at 9:21 PM on August 22, 2008


So this mother, who is nosy. Is she the type that, if you had a diary when you was younger and she came across it, and she read it without any qualms and defended her right for doing so, and then now, now that you are adult, she would still mis-quote and utterly mis-represent your most private 12-year old thoughts in front of other people to push your around and make herself look better?

Not that anyone's mom would do that.

You should be upset. But you're going to have to get over it, suck it up, and go on trying to make your adult relationship with your parents better. If they bring up anything they could only know by spying, try to remain calm and ask something like, "It's interesting that you mention that - what makes you think that's something that would be meaningful to discuss with me?"

Short term, why not spend some quality time with your bunnies?
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:56 PM on August 22, 2008


I'll nth you're not wrong to feel upset about this. How you went about telling your parents may be another matter--it all depends on the dynamic all of you have together.

I moved out at 18 for college but would come home during the summers for the next 5 or so years, and I would visit every couple of months, so I was only quasi-out of the house. This would very gradually taper off to the point now that I visit my parents only once a year or so and have almost nothing at my old house that I need.

My mother did this a lot when I was in college and a few years after that. I remember once she had taken it upon herself to organize every book and piece of paper--including letters and notes and scribbles and lame writing attempts and so on--and even made a folder with pouches labeled "notes", "letters", etc. I was livid, but kept it all inside. So you're definitely not alone on this.

The awkwardness will pass. Chalk it up to a turning point with your folks: you are an adult, and from this point on, they should know that you're not comfortable dealing with them dealing with your stuff. Even if it's for the "right reasons". So they should deal with that, and maybe you should learn to be more tactful in telling them when you get upset.
posted by zardoz at 11:46 PM on August 22, 2008


My family is Irish-German-American. I am thirty years old. A month ago, my parents came to help me move. I have to let them help me with things now and then, or they get very upset and hurt. So they came to help me move, which I deeply appreciate.

But.

My mother quizzed me the entire time about every single thing she helped me move. I have a dog and I have a bottle of Pepto for her when she gets an upset tummy. My mom wanted to know exactly why I had a large bottle of Pepto. Was I stressed? Did I need money? Was there anything I wanted to talk about?

When I was younger, it drove me insane. I try not to let it get to me now, and I never leave them alone in my house. You were not wrong to be upset. It's not worth making a point with them over it, though, because they'll not understand it. You're their baby! And no matter how old you are, you'll always be their baby.

I wouldn't feel guilty about your reaction, though. Prying is rude, and if your mom is anything like mine she went through everything and will be posing peculiar questions based on the contents of your home for years. But she's your mom, right? Moms are just like that.

I would just tell them you're sorry that you hurt their feelings, that you love them very much and leave it at that. Anything else will just make them more upset. I wish I could tell you they will stop and start respecting your privacy, but in my case it just didn't happen that way. The time they helped me move before this one, I got questions about why I had so many band-aids! Because everyone knows a box of band-aids is an inexplicable item to find in a kitchen drawer! Maybe your mom will not be like mine that way. We can hope.
posted by winna at 12:01 AM on August 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I too value my privacy very highly, and I'm of the opinion that just because they "tried to do something nice me me", it doesn't necessarily follow that I should accept it. The Jehovas Witnesses who hassle me on my doorstep are "just trying to do something nice for me", but it's equally as unwelcome as going through my things. They think it's "nice". I think it's really really irritating. Would you give someone a gift that you could guess they didn't want?

You're not wrong to feel upset. You're not overreacting, or being irrational. Something happened that has made you feel violated - these feelings you have are perfectly natural.

What I would do is leave some time for the wounds to heal. When they've calmed down, meet them on some neutral territory, and have a discussion about boundaries, and make it clear to them what they are. They've raised a nearly 27 year old child - they should be able to handle you saying "please keep out". And if they can't or wont, then I'd take steps to enforce them keeping their distance. They're old enough to understand, even if they don't agree.
posted by Solomon at 12:04 AM on August 23, 2008


I think this may be a life stage thing. If I was 20 and my parents did this to my apartment, I would feel the same way you do -- totally pissed at the privacy invasion. When I was younger, I really put some effort into distancing myself from their awful habits and crazy lifestyle.

As a middle aged dude of 35 though, I would be totally and completely stoked if someone did this for me and I'd be sending thank you cards. At 35, I really don't give a rat's ass if my parents found out I had porn on my laptop or that I should clean up better after my cats and their litter box. I literally can't be embarrassed by them any more and I never have time for housework or unpacking.

I agree with a lot of people above that being an adult and apologizing a bit but also be clear a boundary was crossed that made you uncomfortable, but the bottom line is to move on and put this behind both your parents and you. There's no need to carry a grudge or hang-ups over it.
posted by mathowie at 12:45 AM on August 23, 2008


I'm the mother of a 16 yo and I feel uncomfortable moving her stuff off her floor so that her cat won't pee on it. She's been very clear about what she considers acceptable and what's not, and I try not to overstep those boundaries and apologise if I do. Of course, I too have boundaries (no, you can not borrow my camera without asking, or just randomly look in my closet). So, yeah, I get it, it's awful that people went through your stuff. Did you not expect it at all? Your mum's been snoopy before - why would now be any different? I'm guess she doesn't get it, and she won't, not really, no matter how much you tell her, because it doesn't make sense to her.

So, don't be giving them keys, don't be expecting them not to be who they are.

And even if you didn't do anything wrong, a heartfelt apology for upsetting them can go a long way to mending things. But, you may never get them to understand and apologise for what they did.
posted by b33j at 12:46 AM on August 23, 2008


From a western lens what your parents did was utterly wrong, and quite deliberately invasive. However, I'm guessing that this is a cultural thing and you are straddling the boundary. I can't help you with that, but I'll say one thing. If they didn't already have a copy of your key, they've made one now. They won't hesitate to use it if they feel justified. Change the locks in your apartment, and keep the old ones. If you decide to temorarily trust them to help you in the future, switch the old locks back in. Get your landlord on board before changing locks though, as they will want one that works with their master key.

What the people in this thread who think this is no big deal don't realize is that you've been dealing with boundary issues with your parents your whole life, and every instance of violation is the scraping of a raw nerve. I've never had to deal with this, but I've seen it between my mother and grandmother, and it is ugly.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:29 AM on August 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm with spec80, I was sure you were Chinese as soon as I read the question.

They snoop because they love. My Chinese mom would totally, positively, snoop too.

That's why she doesn't get a key to my place.

Ever.

If your folks are at all like mine, you've probably already realized that Asian parents will never see you as a fellow adult the way Western parents would. But at least they don't cook rice in the microwave, right? So it's all a trade off. As a savvy Westernized daughter, rule number one is that you don't leave your parents in your house without supervision, because they'll get into everything.

Next time you skip town, sublet your place to a nice quiet girl from Craigslist who will feed the rabbits and pay the rent. Use the Vacation Rentals section, it's awesome- you can sublet for periods of time as short as a weekend if you post in advance & use nice photos of the place. And don't tell your parents about that arrangement, because they will Freak. Right. Out. that a Stranger. is. Sleeping. In. Your. Bed. and possibly Opening. your. Shoebox. of. Finances. and Reading. your. Tax. Statements. Identity theft! Be vigilant! ...So just tell them a friend is staying there.

Lesson learned. Until Asian parents learn boundaries (Never!) Asian daughters must compensate by learning sneakiness.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:52 AM on August 23, 2008 [5 favorites]


They love you. They know they are estranged from you. They wanted to help. They thought you'd come back and be delighted. They were wrong. But they love you.
posted by A189Nut at 4:22 AM on August 23, 2008


I would've hit the fucking roof. If I had a mother with no respect for my privacy, unpacking my house is no kind of favor to me. But it is taking advantage of my trust and using it as an opportunity to snoop her way through every single thing that I own! (It's happened to you but it's making me feel sick!)

Cleaning cobwebs is meaning well. Even washing towels is meaning well. Putting cutlery away, stacking things into the obviously appropriate room? Maybe even putting your bed together with nice crisp clean sheets and putting something you can just heat up and eat in the fridge would be pretty sweet.

Ignore the tears - it's a dirty trick! Since when is invading someone's privacy a way of strengthening bonds? My family's not tight but I could hug the ones responsible that. Somebody sure put in the effort that affords me some breathing space today!
What they did was wrong. 100% wrong. But because you love them, what is ok is that you'll forgive them. Your mum was likely just snooping pure and simple. But maybe your dad was just curious about.. who you are now? There are much better ways to find out but that's not as terrible a thing as just poking through all your shit.

But if you just let it slide...
Fuck that, call me ungrateful - but selfish offensive things thinly disguised as doing me a favor - yeah it more than cancels the last part out. It's pretty sad when strangers would've had more respect. (That's a good one. Edit it so the word daughter fits in there too and you could use that.)
This is going to hurt them way more than it hurts you. One word - grandchildren. It doesn't matter who you are, that'll get you over a barrel of some description without fail. So they're just going to have to behave themselves? Right? :)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 4:45 AM on August 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I love this thread. I, too, hail from immigrants with a snoopy mom and dad. Not blaming the victim, but the first rule is to never ever give keys to snoopy mommies and daddies. it's like requesting, 'oh, hai, ear ees mah privacee. let you intrude upon eet.'

And you've gotta admit that you're totally playing into their hands with the most absurdly 'i'm totally still a kid, plz take care of meh' request that they stop by TWO TIMES A DAY to feed teh bunnies. who else but retired immigrant parents would do such an absurd thing? next time, for privacy and some semblance of adulthood take teh fuzzy wuzzies over to their place! :)

(sorry, bunnies, parents like mine, 5am....wanted to do lolspeak)
posted by citystalk at 5:16 AM on August 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


My family's not Chinese but I do think there's something 'old country' about the lack of boundaries. My Polish-Russian grandmother used to monitor how long I was in the bathroom in the morning and ask me about my poops afterward when my family would be down visiting. This continued through my teens and was Mortifying, to say the least. My mom, who is American, definitely inherited some of that invasiveness from her mom, since it was what she grew up with.

I think the trick is defining the boundaries lovingly. If you tell them, with love, that what they did bothered you (not that it was objectively wrong), they then have the choice to respond by hearing you or getting offended, but you will have less to feel guilty about if they choose the latter.

Funny story-- my mom recently moved to my town. When she was house hunting she mentioned that she was considering getting a condo on my block and that she would then come over to my house and garden in my garden. I was horrified of course-- but I made a joke out of it, and told her if I woke up and found her in my garden I would call the cops and report a trespasser. By making a joke out of it, she got the message without us having to have a whole intense conversation about boundaries. Of course, YMMV. Doesn't sound like your folks are quite ready to go there.
posted by miss tea at 5:34 AM on August 23, 2008


Since when does being Chinese have anything to do with it?

They did what they did, and you have reacted. Some here are saying they would not care, others violated.

It's over, you can't change what happened, so instead of deep thinking how you feel about it, decide how you will handle your privacy in the future!

Personally, I don't like anyone touching my stuff. I keep valuables, medications, things that are for my eyes only locked up. My computers are password protected. (my sister would come over, sit at my desk, and just start surfing the net like its just her given right! Not now!)

"can I check my email?" "umm...no"

And I always lock my doors.

Learn from this experience, and as for rabbit sitting, find a friend you can trust.
posted by cvoixjames at 6:07 AM on August 23, 2008


You should feel like getting the lock changed. Learn from this experience; you know your mom likes to investigate, next trip, find a different pet-sitter.

Now it's time to mend fences. Take your parents a gift, after all they did a lot of work for you. Explain that you're in the process of establishing yourself as an adult, and you understand that they were expressing their love for you. Keep telling them how much you appreciate their work and their love, but also occasionally throw in that you need some distance as you make your way in the world. Mostly, move beyond this as gracefully as possible. The feelings and actions on both sides are understandable; there's no blame to be assigned, just part of the process of a child separating from family.

You sound like you really love them; they obviously love you. You're all luck to have one another.
posted by theora55 at 8:37 AM on August 23, 2008


p..s I just moved. Do you think they'd like to visit and help me unpack?
posted by theora55 at 8:38 AM on August 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


They have boundary issues. ANYONE with any sense knows you don't unpack someone's stuff without permission. Essentially they got you to you apologize to them for this. Basically now the focus is right where they both want it to be: "look how much we help her and look how bad she treats us/it's no wonder things are so difficult between us all our lives/boo hoo waah/oh poor selfless, life-giving us".....
It is your job to put the focus of the problem back where it belongs--forgive them but don't forget this lesson. Move on with your parents once you make it clear to them that they were wrong to do what they did and to stop trying to infantilize you. Hire someone to care for the bunnies in the future.
I grew up with bigtime manipulators and I can tell you I don't let any of them have acceess to my personal stuff because they've got lousy interpersonal boundaries. I suspect you have more issues to explore with your parents than the one you are asking about. Good luck.
posted by mamaraks at 8:44 AM on August 23, 2008


I don't think you're wrong to be upset, but it was probably unhelpful to say something to your parents about it, because they probably really did feel like they were just helping. There might have been some degree of nosiness involved in the decision to unpack everything for you, granted.

Something similar happened with my fiance's mother a few years ago. When Hurricane Rita was coming to Houston, he went and got his mother and brought her to Austin to stay with us until he could drive her back the next weekend. Basically, his mom stayed with us for a week. They have a bit of a rocky relationship but she really likes me, so I did my best to keep things going smoothly.

Well, we were in college at the time, so we had to go out to classes every day. She decided to clean our apartment for us and do our laundry. I honestly think that she both felt nosy and grateful to us, and wanted to do something nice for us since she probably felt like she was inconveniencing us. Let me tell you, it is way awkward to come home and find that your future mother-in-law has washed all your lingerie and, while folding your clothes and putting them in your drawers -- which we never do -- helpfully moved aside three different bottles of lube and a box of condoms to make room for some shirts.

She said nothing about any of that stuff, so I just smiled and gave her a hug and thanked her, and said how sweet it was for her to do our laundry and clean up the place.

Was she maybe looking for something like the stuff she found? Maybe. Probably. It's natural for parents to be curious about their kids. It's also natural for them to want to do nice things for them, especially when they're grown up and moved out and they feel like they don't have the opportunity as often. I also think his mom was trying to make up for mistakes she had made in the past, because given their relationship I wouldn't have expected my fiance to go get her. Any of his siblings could have done it, but he did, and I think that meant a lot to her. So I imagine I'm in her position, and I'm curious and wanting to help, and well... it's really easy to see how parents could justify the snooping to themselves because it's inevitable given the nice thing that they sincerely want to do anyway.

If I had said, "You know, it was nice of you to clean up, but I feel like you invaded our privacy," I think she would have just been hurt. And I realized that since she didn't make a big deal out of anything she found, the loss of privacy wasn't actually that bothersome. You might rethink the situation in those terms and see if it's helpful, but of course, you would not be wrong to be bothered by the invasion of privacy on principle. I just felt like in my case, at least, it would have made things worse to be upset, and I usually choose not to be upset whenever possible.

One other thing, though, that might influence how you feel... sometimes I wonder if she had found something different if she would have made a big deal out of it. For example, what if we had a bunch of drugs lying around? Or what if we had really weird sex toys or just a huge cache of porn videos? Did she read some journals I had lying around and just didn't say anything about them? I don't know. Maybe it's just that she didn't find anything she considered unacceptable.

Still, though, for me, it comes down to the fact that she didn't actually make a big deal out of anything, so I didn't make it a big deal either. As a rule of thumb I try not to escalate things because it generally makes life easier. Whenever some awkward or dramatic situation arises and I feel myself getting upset, I ask myself whether it's worthwhile to make things messier by saying my bit. Sometimes, if the stakes are high enough, it is -- I don't let people walk all over me -- but usually it's not worth it.
posted by Nattie at 12:12 PM on August 23, 2008


My view on this is the oposite from most responses. My parents flew across the country to help me unpack my new house and stayed for three weeks. Most of that time involved going through all my stuff with a few breaks for torturing my contractor. I'm sure they saw an item or two that they wish they wouldn't have. However, I'm a grown woman and I'm long past the point where I live to please mommy and daddy. If they saw something they didn't like, then that's their problem.

Did they occasionally get on my nerves - yes. Did I appreciate that they pitched in and helped during some unpleasant task of unpacking my house - absolutely.

Unless you've got some evidence to the contrary, why not give them the benefit of the doubt? You've escalated this and now you have to decide how you want this to continue.
posted by 26.2 at 4:58 PM on August 23, 2008


Totally a cultural thing. And because of that I don't know if my tricks (culturally mixed family) are going to work... but I've found that the thing to do is not respond by trying to cut them off entirely but rather to find them something nice they can do and some way they can keep in touch with you. So when you call you tell them that you're really glad they wanted to help you out, but it really surprised you and you were expecting to be able to set up house in your own way. A lot of the emotional reaction can be easily explained as shock - coming back from a trip and expecting to see one thing, and instead finding that all of your things had been gone through and moved around.

I have two friends with similar-seeming parents. One always tells her parents "Oh, and we're going to the mall, and there might be a cute boy there, but even if there isn't we've been meaning to see that new movie..." and the other says "Eh, going to a movie." The second friend gets a whole lot more nosiness and questions, because her parents feel like they don't know her at all. It's like the only way they can hope to know this person who used to be so close to them in every way is by going through her stuff and sifting through her words looking for clues. Noone's happy in that situation.
posted by Lady Li at 12:07 AM on August 24, 2008


Next time, the rabbits go over to their house.
posted by oaf at 8:57 AM on August 25, 2008


I went away for a long trip and asked my parents to stop by my recently moved-in apartment twice a day

Yeah, don't do that.

Speaking as parent myself, I would never do what your parents did. My child or not, they deserve their own bit of privacy and sense of space.

The big lesson for you is not to ask your parents to do these sort of favors in the future.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:43 AM on August 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


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