We love to do things to help out our adult children. It may be little things like packing up lots of leftovers to send home after Sunday dinner. Or sharing access to our Netflix account. Or babysitting so new parents can enjoy a date night.
Little things mean a lot. But sometimes we step over the line. When my mother flew up from Florida for her semi-annual two-week visits, I would go off to work and she would give my kitchen a top-to-toe scrub, including re-organizing my pantry and re-arranging my plants. I resented it. This was not help I asked for or wanted.
Maybe that's why I reacted viscerally to a recent commentary cum question from a Social Qs reader about a mother-in-law who seemed to have lost her sense of boundaries.
Returning home from a trip during which my in-laws stayed with our kids, I discovered my mother-in-law had replaced our kitchen chairs with a set she bought at a neighbor’s garage sale. Who does that? .... I am appalled that someone would change my furniture without permission. BTW: I hate the chairs. What should I do when she comes over and sees that mine are back?--Anonymous
Here's some of what the Social Q guru Philip Galanes had to say, first about the chairs and then about the crossing of lines by "helpful" parents:
It is the greatest disappointment of my week that I can’t show our readers a picture of these chairs, for the sake of anonymity. (They are wantonly hideous!) Sadly, though, there is a bigger issue here: boundary-busting by your mother-in-law.
You don’t mention any history of inconsiderate behavior on her part....It also seems unlikely that she’d be respectful for years, then — wham! — new chairs appear without your blessing.
Acknowledge the germ of generosity here. Say to your mother-in-law: “Thanks for watching the kids and for your gift. I don’t care for the chairs, though. I like to choose my own furniture. Would you like them?”
Just a little reminder that we can be helpful on little things (if they don't like the left-overs, they can toss them out on the way home. No harm done.). But they are in charge of their homes and hearths. Note to Self: It's their life.