I’m dreading hosting my mother-in-law for several weeks. Would canceling and blaming COVID be terrible?

Dear Wayne and Wanda,

Every August, my mother-in-law comes down to Anchorage to stay with us for several weeks. She says it’s to help get the kids ready for the new school year. She does make some effort — she usually takes them school shopping and buys them a couple of new outfits, maybe a new pair of shoes. She often will take us to dinner one night, or cook once or twice. The kids are always happy to see her. They love their grandma.

For me, I dread her visit. Besides the light school shopping and maybe providing one dinner, she depends on us to provide all her food and beverages. For an older woman, she has quite an active social life, and tends to go out nearly every night, and often comes home buzzed or worse, which confuses the kids — my husband and I rarely drink. While I haven’t called her on it, I know she’s smoking when she goes out because she comes home reeking of cigarettes. I have my suspicion she possibly smokes pot or at the very least takes edibles while at home, as she’s had prolonged stretches of behaving, well, stoned. She takes over the TV and will delete shows I’ve saved to make room for her own. She’s extremely messy — she leaves food and dishes out in the kitchen, and the spare room is trashed while she’s with us. She sleeps in until late morning and gets irritable if the slightest noise wakes her up. I could go on, but you get the idea.

As her annual visit looms, again with her saying she’s coming to “help with the kids,” I am trying to figure out a way to shorten or cancel her trip altogether. I thought about blaming COVID. The kids are too young for vaccines and I know she’ll be out and about while she’s here, as always. I mentioned this to my husband and he said it was up to me whether I tried to “alter tradition” but he wanted to stay out of it. Ideas?

Wanda says:

Wow, your mother-in-law claims to be coming to help with the kids, and instead acts like a big old kid herself! It was the ever-quotable Ben Franklin who said, “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” Your guest apparently smells like cigarette smoke, booze and pot gummies!

Lucky for you, summer 2021 presents a window of opportunity. While COVID has been a big pain for us all, not to mention a real health scare or even tragedy for others, it has also allowed us space and time to reconsider our ways of doing things. In this case, it’s even a convenient excuse. After all, with the delta variant popping off, your priority is protecting your kids, not providing a pop-up hostel for your party-hearty mother-in-law.

Do you risk hurting her feelings — and her social life — if you uninvite her, or even limit her stay? Yes. But COVID poses a legitimate reason to tone things down and gives you a chance to change up this annual invasion into something that feels less frenzied, while still providing ample opportunity for grandchild bonding. Have a conversation with her and begin with your decision: “Due to COVID, we need to revise your visit. It needs to be shorter and we may even want to consider you staying elsewhere. Do you have any ideas on how we could make it work?”

While your mother-in-law sounds like a lot, she also is a grandma who no doubt dotes on her grandkids and also wants to do her part to keep them safe. Appeal to her love for them as you navigate this.

Wayne says:

Well, you certainly have your hands full, Super-Mom. Two young children in the house full-time and then you foster a troublemaking teenager disguised as a middle-aged woman for a few weeks every fall. Good times! Well, good times for her — Go Granny! It’s your birthday! — not so much for you. Oh, and let’s not forget the meek middle-schooler disguised as your husband.

Your mother-in-law’s behavior isn’t just annoying, it’s downright disrespectful. And I personally don’t think the positives of her “help,” shopping trips, and occasional doting of the grandkiddos outweigh the negatives of her treating your home like a flophouse and walking around with a ‘tude and smelling like the dumpster in the alley behind a dive bar. She’s a terrible guest and a terrible example for her beloved grandkids, who I’m sure adore her and watch her every move.

But what really bugs me is your husband’s non-response to the situation, and lack of support for you, his distressed partner. Is his mom’s conduct not bothering him? Is he afraid of Mommy Beerest? Or is he a mama’s boy who will never see her in a bad light?

Whatever the case, tell him that he does not get a pass and he should be in your corner on this — it’s affecting you, his wife, as well as his kids and the sanctity — and cleanliness — of your home. And you two, together, should make a unified stance and decision about Mom’s upcoming visit, just like all major decisions. You can give her a heart-to-heart talk and some house rules — hopefully that’s the route you choose and hopefully she agrees. You can tell her not to come at all, using COVID as an excuse or just telling her the truth: she’s a hot mess that you don’t want around your kids and home. But you cannot just let her drop in and repeat the usual routine. You’re beyond over it; your kids are getting older and shouldn’t be seeing that; and if your husband isn’t fed up, he should at least respect the fact that you are and work with you on the solution.

Good luck.