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Overbearing future mother-in-law

by Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I recently became engaged and I am now living with my fiance. Before I moved in with him, his mother had a key to his apartment because she works around the corner from us and she likes to have lunch at our apartment. I didn’t mind her having a key to our apartment at first, but now she is letting herself in unannounced on a daily basis. I have a problem with this because I consider myself to be a private person and last week she keyed into our apartment when I was in the shower (we currently do not have a lock on the bathroom door). Also, my fiance works the overnight shift so he sleeps during the day. I have tried to be quiet while he sleeps. I am a full-time student and I usually work on my assignments quietly during the day. When his mother keys into our apartment during the day, she is rather loud and opens the door to our bedroom to check in on her son (who by the way is almost 30). My fiance is close with his mother and I don’t know how to tell him I am uncomfortable with this situation without offending him and his mother. His mother has been known to hold grudges and I don’t want to get on her bad side before I marry her son. Please help! This is driving me nuts! Thanks.

Let me get this right: Your fiance’s mother is opening the bedroom door to “check on” her son? Is she worried he’ll be abducted by aliens? What if you two were having a bit of afternoon delight??? At 30, it’s long past time for an adjustment in their relationship. In fairness, she may simply be continuing an old habit. Apparently this worked for your fiance and his mother for a long time. But when things are different, they’re different. You are now an important part of the equation.

Start with your fiance. There’s no need to blame or be angry with his mother or to be upset with him — at least initially. She doesn’t see her behavior as unusual. He apparently sleeps through her intrusion so it may be new information to him that you are bothered by her visits. For those reasons, I suggest you focus on your needs for privacy and uninterrupted study time, not on his mother’s lack of boundaries or their unusual arrangement. Ask him to talk to his mother about making other plans for her lunch hour now that he’s engaged. She can keep the key for emergencies but he should be clear exactly what an “emergency” is. (Not having a place to go for lunch is not an emergency. Being locked out of her car when there’s a blizzard is.)

If he can’t do that, your problem is with your fiance, not with his mother. Marriage and making a life with someone means shifting our primary alliance from our family of origin to our new family in the making. That doesn’t mean that love, concern, and caring stops. It doesn’t mean that parents can’t be an important part of our lives. It does mean that there needs to be some boundaries between the generations in order to let the new family figure out their own rules, rituals, and routines. This is not something to be offended about. It’s part of the usual cycle of life. My guess is that your future mother-in-law went through a similar transition when she first married.

If your fiance feels he can’t talk with his mother or if his mother sees this as a reason to hold a grudge, you have another problem. You are then confronted with the strong possibility that to marry your man means to accept his mother as a part of the daily package. Only you can decide if it’s worth it.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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