DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband will be having outpatient surgery with almost no risk to his life, but his recovery will be long and painful, with months of physical therapy and many restrictions on what he can do as he recuperates.
His mother, who lives several states away from us, knows that he needs the surgery, but does not yet know the date. She wants to be here when it is done.
The biggest problem with having her for a visit at this time is her dog, whom she refers to as her “favorite son.” She refuses to go anywhere, including our home, without him. She bought him a service-dog jacket and forces her way into any and all places she might want to go with him.
I like dogs, as does her son. That is, any dog but hers. The animal is hyper, aggressive and destructive. It never stops barking. It uses the upholstered furniture as a toilet and tears curtains off walls. It is always underfoot. It fights our dog, and has been the cause of trips to the emergency vet. It has bitten everyone in our family at least once.
She “disciplines” her dog with hugs and kisses and baby-talk scolding, but refuses to control it or allow us to do so. There have been many ugly scenes causing many hard feelings.
My husband needs peace and quiet. He cannot break up dogfights or risk a fall tripping over her dog. I need to be able to pay attention to his needs, not spend the time arguing with his mother and cleaning up the dog’s messes.
Since she has lied more than once about leaving her dog at home (the dog was “just too sad,” and we are “being mean”), we do not trust her to respect boundaries.
So, it seems that we must tell her that neither of them may visit. Is there a polite yet firm way to tell her this? She may be very obtuse about what she is doing to her relationship with her son and grandkids, but she is over-the-top sensitive about feeling rejected herself.
GENTLE READER: “I’m afraid that we can’t accept visitors while Horatio is recovering. We’ll let you know when the doctor says it’s OK for us to do so.”
Notice that while Miss Manners’ wording invokes your doctor’s authority, it does not strictly implicate him in a lie. Still, given your mother-in-law’s apparent obstinance, it would not be a bad idea to ask for something from him in writing.