I have a story regarding my many experiences as a guest in the home of my future in-laws. They are both wonderful people and I love them dearly, and they keep many wonderful pets. There are four cats, two dogs, two large parrots, a lizard, and a snake in their home. I enjoy the company of a polite pet, but many of theirs unfortunately cross my boundaries quite frequently. The best example of this is when I am invited over for a meal.
My future in-laws regularly feed their pets directly from the table and, presumably as a result of this practice, the pets are not shy about begging, crying loudly, or even jumping into your lap in order to get at your meal. Since they do not seem to mind this, they do not seem to expect that I should mind it either; however, I find it very rude. My fiance has tried to address this source of discomfort by insisting that the animals be instructed not to jump on me while I am at the table, and this has helped some.
They also regularly allow the pets not only to eat from their utensils during the meal but also to lick off the plates and utensils afterward. Besides the fact that I have always been taught that “human” food is not good for animals on a regular basis, I am also personally not comfortable eating from a utensil that a pet’s mouth has touched, and so I choose not to participate in either practice if I can avoid it. My choice is met with insistence and, at times, judgment (though usually joking in nature). Again, my fiance tries to intercede on my behalf without hurting any feelings. I realize that it is their home and I am a guest, but I do not think that I should feel judged for not following practices that make me uncomfortable, particularly regarding feeding pets directly off utensils and then continuing to use them.
They also seem to expect that I am just as comfortable around their reptiles as they are; unfortunately, this is not the case. I do not mind a reptile in the room, but I would prefer that it remain in its cage or, if it must be taken out while I am in the room, that it is not brought in close proximity to me without my consent. However, they find this odd and unacceptable and insist that I not only maintain close proximity to both reptiles but also hold and pet them. If I refuse politely, they tell me that I “just don’t like animals very much.”
My future father-in-law is also a smoker, and while he is a very nice man and I do not judge him for what he chooses to do in his free time, I feel that he is somewhat inconsiderate in his habits while I am there. I have allergies and asthma and as such smoke can make me quite uncomfortable, and besides this he sometimes smokes a substance that is illegal in my country. I do not particularly enjoy having irritated eyes and lungs during my time there, nor do I feel comfortable with illegal actions performed while I am a guest in anyone’s home. I have never felt comfortable voicing my objections directly, since it is his home and he can do what he likes, but for the sake of avoiding the coughing trigger I usually try to unobtrusively move away. I have been accused of being rude for doing this, but I feel that it is rather inconsiderate of him to ignore the fact that it causes me physical discomfort.
These are mostly minor annoyances, certainly nothing that would entirely stop me from visiting them; they are wonderful people and generally good company. My only question is whether I am in the wrong for feeling this way about any of these things. I do my best to just avoid “sticky situations” all together, but that is sometimes just not possible. 0222-12
Having politely expressed your point of view with little compromise from the future in-laws, it seems to me that the best course of action is to prepare yourself to be the hostess in your own home by extending many invitations to your mother and father-in-law. On your own turf, where you call the rules, you can best entertain them and maintain the family harmony at the same time. Provide FIL with an ashtray outside to smoke his cigarettes and forbid illegal substances in your home. One of the advantages to entertaining and hospitality is that it does give you to upper hand to define how the family will interact together when they are in your home. Make your hospitality so wonderful that everyone will want to come to your house on a routine basis where you get to have a pet-free, smokeless, happy experiences with your husband’s family.
On visits to them, I suggest a vigorous greetings to the dogs and cats. Love on the pets in the proper context in other words. Having displayed your affection for them, it won’t seem as odd to the parents when you discreetly keep pushing the cat off your lap at meals or ignore the dogs’ begging during meals. I have a friend who owned a rather large dog who wasn’t quite mannerly. I greeted the dog very affectionately (I do love animals) but I maintained my boundaries with him by refusing to allow him to paw me or jump on me. Firmly shoving the paw or body away is all it takes. And you may have to do it repeatedly.