Photo: Google


Dear Caroline,

My husband and I are ex-pats from Toronto currently living in Mexico. We’ve been married less than two years. I’m always on the brink of a panic attack when my mother-in-law flies down to visit. The minute she walks in the door, she gets a displeased look on her face and starts cleaning. I consider myself a good housekeeper, and I always clean before she arrives, so I find her behavior demeaning and embarrassing. What should I do?

…Bothered Bride


Dear Bothered,

Some new wives have to persuade their husband’s mother to cut the apron strings. Others have to pull a cub from the jaws of a lioness. I’m not sure which of those situations you’re in.

If you and your husband have been treating your mother-in-law like her behavior is fine, she may have no idea there’s a problem. Before you implement a “quick-and-dirty” solution to her cleaning, try a diplomatic approach.

Ask your husband to have a private talk with her. Have him tell her that while you both appreciates her efforts to be useful, there’s a fine line between helping and meddling, and that her cleaning has crossed that line. If he refuses to do this, or hands you an excuse like, “she’s always been that way,” you’ll have to step up and take control.

Nobody should ever be at liberty to take charge and do whatever they want in your home, regardless of their position in the family.

Next time you see your mother-in-law looking around your house with a displeased expression, give her a hug, hand her a bucket of cleaning supplies and tell her you’re glad to see her because the bathroom needs attention. Usher her down the hall with lots of love, and not a hint of sarcasm.

While you’re at it, mention offhand that your father recently announced he’d be coming over to do the handyman work around your home because he knew your husband was not very proficient in that department. Return to the living room and pleasantly serve drinks and appetizers to those who felt no compulsion to clean.

If that single episode doesn’t get the point across, quietly revoke her “guest of honor” privilege by arranging it so she’ll always arrive when your home is filled with people. Even the most overbearing and invasive person isn’t apt to start cleaning in the middle of a party.

If your mother-in-law still wants to stay and help you clean after the other guest have gone home, accept her help graciously, and with sincere appreciation. Maybe that will allow the two of you the quality bonding time you need.

Here’s to clear boundaries and successful adjustments,


Do you have a problem that’s been on your mind for a while? Send it to:

Leave a Reply