Question:

In this question, I'm honestly not sure if I am being inhospitable, or if I have genuine concerns. Thus why I seek to ask this to you. My wife and I have been married for still a relatively short time, and have a child. My father-in-law lives a couple hours away, but still visits, often with little or no notice, fairly frequently. It is rare if he is not around for at least one day every two weeks. In addition, he has taken to calling me if he can't get a hold of her to chat. He calls in the evening at least five days a week, or sends me Facebook messages to see if my wife is available if he sees me online.He is a widower who seems to have few friends, works as a driver and doesn't get much work. One of his claims for why he visits, besides to see his family, is that it is easier for him to get driving loads in our area, rather than where he lives. As such, he will sometimes stay for days waiting for a job (he sleeps in his commercial vehicle). Personally, from the way he acts, I thinkat least a portion of the issuelonely and just struggling to find someone to spend time with.

My wife and I are fairly busy normally just trying to care for a one year old and trying to get some time together. When he visits he usually is around from the time we are home from work until we go to bed.I understand he wants time with his daughter (only child) and grandchild, but at the same time it gives us less privacy and time to just enjoy each others' company, let alone to talk about important things such as finances.

I would have no problem with him visiting every once in awhile, but the fact that he sometimes stays up to four days while visiting, and is usually around at least once every two weeks and sometimes up for a day or so weekly. My wife also sometimes doesn't seem happy that he is visiting so often, but she doesn't want to hurt his feelings.

Are we (and especially me) out of line by wanting privacy and time just as our family? If not, do you have any advice as to how to help set boundaries without hurting someone else's feelings?

My wife has asked him to go home on one occasion (he was with us for four days, got a short-haul job, and was back after a day for another two days). On that occasion she said he acted like he was offended and upset with her for a week or two afterit happened. She still seems to feel guilty that she asked him to go home that time.


Answer:

Your problem isn't unusual. It isn't a problem of hospitality, which literally means a love of strangers. It is problem of a man letting go of his child. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). It becomes a particularly difficult situation because you want to be kind to the man who raised your wife, but he is imposing himself on you.

There isn't a good way to handle this without making him aware that he is being rude. The very awareness is going to hurt his feelings. But think of this as good practice with your children. There are going to be times when you will insist that your child do what is right and your child's feelings are going to be hurt. You don't back off from insisting on good behavior just because his lip starts to quiver. It's hard, but a good parent has to keep proper focus.

Here are a few things you can do to set distance up some boundaries:

Don't discuss personal matters with him.

As nice and as wise as he may be, don't fill your conversations with day to day matters going on in your household. He is living vicariously through your family, so you need to wean him off his involvement. Don't mention what you plan to do tomorrow. Don't talk about what you are doing at the moment. Keep things vague. Sure, you can relay the funny things that you little one did or said. Send him pictures. But don't make him a part of your day-to-day life.

Set your chat to say you are not on-line (he and others don't need to know). If he calls you to ask if his daughter is around, then politely say she must be busy since she wasn't able to answer the phone. He is going to get annoyed, but stick with it. If he asks why the change, tell him you love him, but it is time for you and your wife to be your own family.

Limit visits by scheduling the next one.

Don't leave things open-ended. Give him something to look forward to. Something like, "It was nice to see you again, dad. We have things we got to get done, but we'll come up and see you next month on the 7th." Or, "How about we plan on you coming again on the 7th for the afternoon?" These give you control on when the visits take place and how long you expect them to last. When he overstays, be nice and say something like, "Why don't you stay for dinner, but afterward, we have things to get done." Then set up a time for the next visit.

Going back to the first point, don't say why you are busy. To do so is an invitation for him to negotiate. It doesn't matter if you want time to do your taxes, watch a show together or get some shopping done.

Don't change plans when he drops by unannounced.

Don't include him unless it was pre-planned. "Nice to see you, dad. We've got to go, but we are looking forward to seeing you (when you scheduled your next visit)." But at the same time, when there are things that come up which you wouldn't mind having him along, make sure you call and invite him to join you if he can.

The point is that things are planned first and not one side or the other imposing themselves unannounced. So if he calls up and says "I'm going to be in the area Tuesday, mind if I come by?" Set the time frame, "Sure! Why don't you come by at four? You can play with the baby while I finish dinner and then join us for dinner. We'll be busy after 7pm, but you're welcome to stay until then."

It won't be easy. You are breaking old, bad habits and establishing better ones. There is going to be a rough period during the transition. Feelings are bound to be hurt for a while. Always be polite. Be kind. But stand your ground. When he asks why, be straight forward. "Dad, you're not letting us be our own family. We've left home and need our space. We love you and want you to feel welcome, so it needs to be when we can plan on spending time with you."