Q: Could you give some tips or advice on having parents as guests?
My husband's parents and sister are from the East Coast and do not agree with the way we expect them to behave when they visit us. I would like your advice on how to handle such situations as their not being satisfied with what I cook for them, wanting to do something other than what we have planned, being careless with our personal possessions, taking over in the kitchen, bringing their own food with them, monopolizing our TV set and being loud and boisterous.
They argue that when we visit them, we are permitted to do what we want. What they don't seem to realize is that we go along with their ways, so there are no problems. But when they come here, I expect them to adjust to our ways, and they don't agree. They feel they should be able to do what they want and treat them as family, not "guests."
A: It seems foolish to volunteer for the losing side in mid-battle, but Miss Manners wishes to inform you, first that she is with you, and second, that we will lose.
You are correct that the proper order of things is for the guests to conform to the standards of the household, rather than the other way around. Guests do have the privilege of immunity from reprimand, but are on their honor not to abuse it.
What your relatives are really asking is that they be granted the status of guests, without your having the hosts' recourse of not inviting back people who have violated this status by doing things they know you don't like.
This is the basis for Miss Manners' feeling of hopelessness. You do not, of course, wish to begin a family feud over such petty violations as you cite, and yet you cannot politely criticize and correct your guests, your elders and your in-laws.
There is much to be said, therefore, for putting up with their visits and rejoicing at their conclusion. The rewards of doing this are consciousness of virtue and a renewed pleasure in the basic household.
However, if you really can't bear it, and feel yourself going over the brink at the sight of them eating their own food--a reaction that Miss Manners would find completely understandable, though unfortunate--you might try their suggestion of treating them as family.
Family rules, as you know if you live in peace with your husband and perhaps a child or two, do not mean that everyone can do whatever he likes and no one else has anything to say about it. They mean that compromises must be worked out to indulge foibles, while refraining from annoying others.
In this case, you could tell your in-laws in advance that you enjoy planning their stay, but would find it helpful to know if there is anything they would like to do (including scheduling periods for doing nothing or following impulses), and anything they would especially like to eat (or avoid). It would be flattering to suggest that they bring a particular food specialty that you can plan into your menu.
Miss Manners would give in on the television, hoping to keep them occupied while she repossesses the kitchen. But as for such characteristics as carelessness and boisterousness, you have to assume that these are not special guest behavior, but their general standard, which you cannot change. It would be wrong on many grounds to criticize them--the only grounds on which to accomplish your goals is a plea that they indulge your household eccentricities, regardless of whether they endorse them.
Good luck. Miss Manners still recommends temporary martyrdom. If you air your grievances, your husband's loyalties will be at best divided; if you maintain a sweet submission, he will see their behavior through your eyes.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper
Copyright (c) 1983, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.