How Can I Tell My Mother-in-Law to Buzz Off?

My partner and I live on the West Coast; our families live on the East Coast. When we go home, we make detailed plans for seeing our parents to keep our visits evenly divided and fair. Over the past few years, though, when we’re visiting my family, my partner’s mother has a habit of stopping by unannounced and staying for the day. (Once, she stayed overnight!) This upsets me; she is preventing me from spending time alone with my parents. We’ve told her these days are reserved for my family, and that my parents don’t encroach on her designated time with her son, but she continues to drop by. I want her to respect my private time with my family. Any advice?

DAUGHTER-IN-LAW

It’s tempting to conclude that your partner’s mother is a rule-breaking monster. (And she may be!) What could be fairer, after all, than dividing a six-day visit into three days with your family and three days with your partner’s? Here’s the problem, though: Sometimes neutral rules (like yours) affect people in different circumstances very differently.

Let me give you an example from my marriage. My mom was a widow and a little lonely. My husband’s parents are married with an active social life. My mom needed our visits more than my in-laws did. So, we spent more time with her. Now, this may not be your situation — and more important, it may not be what you and your partner want. (That counts, too!)

By your own account, you and he have clearly asked his mother to stop dropping by. So, ask again, and this time, explore why she’s having trouble respecting your request. Or maybe (and this is just an idea) you and your partner can split up briefly and spend some time with your families individually and then some time with them together. Added bonus: A mini-break from our partners (whom we love)!

Saving It for Later

My boss regularly buys lunch for the entire staff. When he does, there is a person in the office who always orders an appetizer, entree and dessert. Everyone else just orders a sandwich or salad. One day, this person said to me: “This is dinner for me tonight!” as she ordered a meal of penne à la vodka. Is this appropriate? Why does this bother me so much?

COLLEAGUE

Let’s start with the more interesting question: why this bothers you. I think your sense of fair play is offended by a colleague who takes advantage of your boss’s generosity. (I assume she doesn’t order three-course lunches when the company isn’t picking up the tab.) Still, if your boss doesn’t mind, why should you? I’d M.Y.O.B. here.

I agree that your colleague seems grabby. On the other hand, this occasional greed may help her feel better about any number of workplace grievances. And rest assured: Your boss is being reimbursed by the company for the cost of the lunches (or they’re being deducted as a business expense on his taxes).

The Noise Next Door

I am a caregiver for my husband who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. He also has leukemia and an inoperable brain tumor. Our next-door neighbors recently installed loud wind chimes very close to our house. They keep us awake day and night! My husband needs his rest, and I have to give him 30 pills a day, which is hard when I’m sleep deprived. Their house is like a fortress, so we wrote them letters (including my husband’s dire diagnoses). But nothing changed. The husband is a doctor, but they seem not to care. Ear plugs and noise machines don’t help. Any advice?

ANDI

I’m so sorry for your troubles! Coldhearted neighbors seem like the last thing you need. For now, forget about contacting them again. Your town may have a noise ordinance. Call its administrative offices or the nonemergency number at the police department and ask if they can help you.

Also, tell the medical team that’s treating your husband what’s going on. Maybe a social worker can get involved. Or perhaps someone on your husband’s medical team knows the doctor-husband and can call on your behalf. If readers have other ideas, please send them in, and I will pass them on to Andi. Good luck!

Finders Keepers?

Friends of mine were vacationing in a small town and waiting for a local restaurant to open. It had rained, and the street was dotted with puddles. Their teenage daughter stuck her toe in one and found a diamond ring with a good-sized stone. Her parents let her keep it. Would you consider this a “finders keepers” situation?

JILL

Much to the chagrin of playground veterans, the law is often more complex than “finders keepers, losers weepers.” Our common law (the jurisprudence created by lawsuits and judges’ legal decisions) recognizes a finders keepers doctrine.

But many states have passed laws that require finders to try to confirm that the property was truly abandoned — and not merely lost. This often involves police reports. So, it’s a complicated situation. (And how much could you really enjoy a ring that turned on someone else’s sadness?)

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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