When houseguests insist on "helping"

My mother-in-law is staying with us for two weeks. She missed the grandkids, and we have a spare guest room, so it was no problem. I’m happy to host her for a short visit.

She is also 75 years old, and recently had knee replacement surgery. So her mobility is quite limited, and she doesn’t have the same energy that she used to.

And yet, every time she comes to visit us, she insists on helping us out. She wants us to make up a list of items that she can do. She constantly asks what she can be doing around the house. She wants me to think up projects for her to do - or failing that, projects that I can do, which she can help me with.

Here’s the thing. Because of her limited mobility and the fact that she is no spring chicken, there is really not that much around here for her to help out with. She can’t go work in the garden. She can’t go up and down the stairs or bend over, so most of the housecleaning is out. Really what I would love the most is for her to just relax with her crossword puzzles and enjoy her grandkids for two weeks. Instead, I have to keep coming up with new projects for her to do, most of which we don’t really need to have done, and most of which cause me more work in the end anyway.

Like right now, for example, she’s making dinner for us. I’m perfectly capable of making dinner for everybody myself. But she insisted that she wanted to make dinner for us. Fine, that’s great. But she can’t reach anything in the cabinets, so I needed to get those for her. She couldn’t find any of the ingredients she needed in the fridge, so I found those for her. She heated the nonstick skillet over high heat with nothing in it. (Argh!) She’s not cleaning as she goes (partially because she can’t reach the dishwasher) so I’ll need to clean her work area after she’s done.

I know this probably sounds like a bunch of petty whining and complaining, but we’re on day 9 of her visit, and it’s been like this practically every day. She gets very accusatory when we don’t have a list of chores for her to do, but then if we do come up with a small task, she has difficulty with it and we wind up doing more support work to help her out than we would have in just doing the task in the first place. Besides which, I feel weird about assigning my 75-year-old mother-in-law chores in the first place.

I wish she would just relax and enjoy her vacation without demanding that we constantly provide her with jobs to do.

She’s 75. Will you miss her when she’s gone? (Serious question; I won’t miss any of my grandparents or parents.) If so, imagine re-reading this OP after she’s died. Will it seem like a missed chance then?

Again, serious question. If yes, indulge her; she’s obviously lonely. If not, give her some busy work–clipping coupons, alphabetizing your underwear drawer, whatever. This too shall pass.

Playing with the children is work enough at any age.

Sort of.

I think re-reading this OP after she’s died, I’ll still wish she’d spent more time reading stories to the kids and less time puttering around our kitchen and trying to organize our laundry room.

Edited to make clear that “sort of” is answering the question, “Will I miss her?”

So that’s her assignment. Tell her you wish you had more time, so she’s a blessing, yadda yadda yadda.

Give her stuff to do with the kids- reading to them, helping with their homework, baking cupcakes with them - maybe they can show her how to do fancy stuff on the computer. Do you have a bunch of old photos that need to be put in albums or labeled? Kids usually love looking at old pictures, maybe that’s something that they could do together.

I’m spending a couple of months with my brother and his family–which includes two small children who are picky eaters. The original plan was that I would help reduce the burden on Sis in Law by cooking dinner once a week. We’ve stopped that.

My schedule’s capricious, meal planning was a problem, and getting picky eaters to eat food cooked by Mom is hard enough without making it a hospitality issue as well. (Plus just the issues of me feeling like an invader and she not really wanting anyone else in her kitchen). It’s just easier if I eat what I’m served, which I don’t mind doing–I’ve let her know that I don’t eat eggplant or waterchestnuts, but otherwise I’ll eat just about anything.

My mother complains that visits from her sister consist of “I’m the guest, entertain me” and visits to her sister consist of “Fix my house for me”.

Your complaints are certainly not unique.

Absolutely. Helping with the kids is probably one thing that will actually be helpful to you, and is what Grandma should be doing for the majority of the time that she’s visiting, anyway.
And I love the photo albulm idea :slight_smile:

Got any silver she can polish? Is it to early to ask her to address Christmas cards or help with a new Christmas card list? I have a boatload of recipes I’ve torn out of magazines – I could use somebody to type those onto index cards or into a computer. Maybe you have the same “problem.”

I sympathize; my mother-in-law is like that. She empties my dishwasher and puts everything on the counter, because she doesn’t know where it goes. Thanks.

The photo idea is genius. My mom keeps threatening to come over to my house and hang my pictures. I tell her she can’t, but I secretly wish she would, because the only pictures in my house on the walls are the ones I put up within a month of the move. You know how that is.

I was a Nanny for a family for 10 years, and my bosses mother-in-law was exactly like you are describing.
My boss used to get a bit bent out of shape, having to find stuff for her to do.

But the MIL, just wanted to feel useful, and fill her downtime. So, she would clean closets, empty out junk drawers, whatever she could. Personally I would love someone like that in my house for a few weeks. My own mother used to run around my place like a white tornado a few years ago, even on a 2 hour visit. I loved it. She hasn’t done it in over 2 years, because my dad died, and she doesn’t drive anymore. And, she isn’t as healthy as she used to be(also 75).

So, Ma didn’t always put things in the right place, or do things the way I would…It was still nice. When she left, I always had the cleanest house and kitchen and best swept porches I had had in weeks. Hell, who am I kidding…in months.

I would learn to deal with. It isn’t worth the grief. My old boss used to be pulling her hair out by the end of the MIL’s visits. I am pretty sure there was more going on than the “help” issue.

Rather off topic I know, but with this window minimised in my task bar I keep seeing the first few words out of the corner of my eye and reading it as ‘when houseguests attack!’.

Now that is a thread I would subscribe to.

I could have written the OP minus the limited mobility. My mother-in-law insists on doing the laundry, doing dishes, emptying the dishwasher, washing windows, etc. Sometimes I wish she would just sit back, read a book, play with my daughter, and enjoy herself. Oh, and clean the microwave. That’s one job I don’t want her to give up…she’s really good at it. :slight_smile:

I feel ya! I feel ya!

We just had my in-laws with us for 2 weeks, as well. The first year we were in our new house and they could stay with us instead of a hotel, I hurt my wonderful mother-in-law’s feelings by insisting that she relax and enjoy herself while I made dinner. She actually pouted!

My kitchen isn’t small, per se, but it’s laid out like crap and very difficult for multiple people to work together in. And it drives me crazy when people are under foot in there. Besides, whenever we go visit them, she’s such a wonderwoman that things seem to be magically done without ever actually seeing her do any work or preparation! And she’s so warm and hospitable to me, that I really wanted to try to return the gesture by doing likewise for her when she visits us.

However, what I learned is that she is much happier helping than relaxing! So this year I found tasks she could do, like setting the table, or making the salad (everything for the salad was in the fridge or on the fruit/veggie trays on the table, so it’s not like she’d get in my way standing on the other side of the counter doing that). And several times, I just let her take over and stood out of her way!

I think everybody was happier this year, and I, for one, was way less stressed not “fighting” with her over control of my kitchen. She’s a wonderful woman who I am blessed to have in my life. If she wants to be inside helping me instead of on the patio with her feet up, then inside helping me she’ll be!

Good luck!

Yeah, why can’t you cook together like Shayna and her MIL?

Is there anything that MIL makes that MrWhatsit likes? How about she teach you how to make it, by sitting in the kitchen and watching you make it? Ask for her tips on meatloaf or spaghetti. Even if you think it’s gross and never make dishes her way again, at least you guys have passed the time.