Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

Mother-in-law overstepping boundaries? Friend marrying a serial cheater and you don’t want to be the maid-of-honor?

DEAR NATALIE: My mother-in-law makes herself at home in our house as if she lived here. She has a key to our front door and knows the code to open our garage door. She frequently helps take care of my son when my wife and I are at work/away from home. I'm OK with her having a key to the house, but yesterday, I feel she overstepped her boundaries. I was upstairs shaving and my 13-year-old son was in the backyard hitting baseballs. All of a sudden, I heard someone opening the front door. I start down the steps to find my mother-in-law entering the house and calling out my son's name. I ask her, "What's going on?"  She tells me that she is here to take my son to get his haircut. She tells me that she has been trying to call my son on his cell phone, but he is not answering. I tell her that he is in the backyard. She opens the back door and yells for him to hurry up and get in her car or else he will be late for his appointment. Meanwhile, our backyard as well as our next door neighbor's yard has about 10 baseballs scattered all over the place from where the balls landed when my son hit them. Also in the yard is a bucket for the balls, an empty cardboard box the balls came in, and the shed (where the balls and bat are stored) is unlocked and wide open. I tell my son not to leave the backyard in such a mess and to go clean up before he leaves. My mother-in-law tells him "Come on, let's go or we'll be late to get your haircut.”  I asked, "What time is the appointment?" No answer. I tell my son once again to pick up the balls before he leaves. His grandmother scoots him out the door and tells me to pick up the balls myself. The ground in our backyard is soggy and muddy from a recent rainfall. I am getting ready to go out to an educational event. I have my suit and dress shoes on and I do not want to go into the muddy backyard. What has me upset is twofold.  First, how my mother-in-law just entered our house without ringing the doorbell or calling me on the phone. I have no privacy. At any point of the day, my mother-in-law can just enter our house unannounced as if she lived here. My wife finds no problem with this and says that my mother-in-law is a "member of the family" who is welcome to enter our house anytime she pleases. On another occasion, I found my mother-in-law in our kitchen rifling through our "junk drawer" because she was looking for something. The other thing that has me upset is how my mother-in-law stepped between me and my son when I was ordering him to pick up the baseballs.  I can't blame my son because he had two different authority figures telling him to do opposite things and he wasn't sure whom he should listen to. So, do you think that my mother-in-law is going too far with access to our house and overriding my orders to my son? --FRUSTRATED FATHER

DEAR FRUSTRATED FATHER: While it is very nice that your mother-in-law is helping keep an eye on her grandson and be supportive while you and your wife are working, she clearly does not have any sense of boundaries. You are the father. If you tell your son to do something, he needs to listen to you. The fact that she overrode your request to your son in that way was disrespectful. If he was late for his haircut because he didn’t pick up the balls in the backyard, oh well. He should’ve cleaned up his mess before leaving and your mother-in-law should have recognized that. This sounds to me as though she is trying to control whatever is going on in the house because she has access to your space at all times. The only time she should be using her key is when no one is home. This is a conversation you need to have with her and your wife. Boundaries are incredibly important in any relationship, as is respect. Her behavior was disrespectful. Going through your drawers is disrespectful. Overriding your request to have your son pick up after himself was disrespectful. She should always knock before coming into your home, even if she has a key. While it is great that she wants to help and be a part of everyone lives, there have to be ground rules. Talk to your wife first. You need to be on the same page, and then you can have a conversation with your mother-in-law. It may be awkward, but your best bet is to talk it out as a family. And maybe change the locks. (Just kidding!)

DEAR NATALIE: My friend is marrying a serial cheater. He has cheated on her several times during their relationship and she just keeps going back for more. I have told her that she deserves better, she cries on my shoulder when he does these things, but then takes him back. She said that he loves her and she is convinced that he will stop cheating once they are married. She has asked me to her maid-of-honor, but I have no interest in holding up this sham relationship. I am afraid to tell her how I feel because I don’t want her to be mad at me. I really care about her as a friend and want her to be happy. Why can’t she see that he isn’t worth her time? What will it take? Any thoughts on how to handle? --WALK AWAY

DEAR WALK AWAY: Unfortunately, this may be one of those situations that just has to play out on its own. His cheating just isn’t a deal-breaker yet. If it was, she wouldn’t be marrying him. She may be lying to herself that he will “change” his ways after they marry, but we both know that she is just in denial. All you can do is wait this one out. So, you have two choices. You either be the maid-of-honor and move forward in the spirit of hope, or you tell her that you can’t support this marriage and it would feel disingenuous for you to stand up there with her. The first scenario most likely keeps the friendship intact, while the second most likely blows it up. You have to decide what is more important: Your sense of integrity or your friendship. If it were me, I would find a place in between. I would say something like this: “I’ll be your maid-of-honor but I have to tell you that I don’t believe that this is the right person for you. You deserve someone that respects you and doesn’t hurt you over and over again. If you still want me to be your maid-of-honor, knowing that I feel this way, I’ll support you. But, I don’t support his behavior.” Then let the chips fall where they may.

Natalie's Networking Tip of the Week: Lower your expectations so you decrease your anxiety. Don’t go into a networking situation expecting to make 10 new contacts. Putting pressure on yourself can heighten stress and decrease the chances that you will make a meaningful connection. Instead, keep an open mind and work towards one

or two quality conversations.

Please send your questions to Natalie Bencivenga to her email, nbencivenga@post-gazette.com; or through postal mail to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Dr., Pittsburgh, PA 15212. Follow her on Twitter at @NBSeen and on Instagram @NatalieBenci

(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)