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How to enforce house rules with guests?

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We're having the in laws coming to stay with us for a few days, and I'm at a real loss as to how to handle the situation. They only come to stay with us a few times a year, but everytime they do, I find it upsetting and exhausting. I recently learned that my husband actually feels the same way, and after they leave we feel really taken advantage of.

Without getting into specific examples, basically his family doesn't follow what (to me) is "common sense etiquette" - I feel like they don't show any respect for us, our home, or our property. I do try to make people feel welcome and at home when they are in our house, but I feel like these guests take it to the extreme and it makes me uncomfortable.  We are treated like a hotel... they come to stay, eat our food, take over our living space, make a mess, and dictate the schedule and entertainment. I don't think that they do this intentionally, but they really don't know any better. There's never been any sort of confrontation, our attitude up until this point was just to allow the behaviour in the name of being hospitable. I also know that they are very sensitive, and if we were even just to mention feeling this way it would be a major blow out and a lot of tears (probably on both sides) But now that my husband also feels uncomfortable with it, I think its time to do something... we can't allow this to continue, I feel like its turning his valued time with his family into something we both dread instead of something that should be a pleasant experience. I don't want him to grow apart from them, but I think it may happen if we can't get past this. It's building a lot of resentment on our end, where they remain oblivious.

What my husband and I have done so far is set our boundaries - so when they come, we will both know exactly what is out of our comfort zone. Previously we didn't have house rules (or we did, but they were just unspoken, common sense things that we knew to do, ie: don't interrupt, no yelling, mind your please and thank yous, don't take things that aren't yours, etc - kindergarten stuff!!) With these guests, there's very much an attitude that anything in our home is theirs and up for grabs for them to use/take/dirty/break. After the last time they visited, we have written down exactly what the rules in our home are. (Just for our own reference  - we aren't rude enough to show this to them!!!  ;)) These need to be followed by our houseguests as well - I understand that with some guests, I can make small concessions to make them more comfortable, but the behaviour I'm taking about is out of my comfort zone.

So how to do I walk the fine line between being a good hostess and being a doormat? How am I suppose to enforce rules upon people who don't live there and that I really have no authority over? I'm going to try some of the e-Hell classic phrases "I'm afraid that's not possible" "Why would I want to do that" and "No!", but I guess I don't really know how to do that when there's no question being asked in the first place. How do you stop people in their tracks, when they never asked to begin with?
I'm also worried about how a change like this will be perceived, since we have allowed them to do whatever they wanted for years. I don't think it's going to go over very well, but at the same time, things can't continue how they are.

I might try "dumbing down" the rules you think should be common sense that they don't seem to get, in the hopes that maybe they don't realize they're making things harder on you. It's the same concept as dealing with people when they're being passive aggressive - ignore the bad behavior and react as if they're making an innocent mistake.

So, for example, if they leave dishes lying around, instead of picking them up and fuming about it (understandable) go into the kitchen and holler out to the living room "I'm going to load the dishwasher. Can everyone please bring their dishes to the sink." Discuss it ahead of time with your husband and agree that he'll bring his but not pick up after anyone else. If nobody makes a move to help holler again "MIL, FIL, can you please bring me your dishes? Thanks."

I have a friend who snacks a lot so I don't stock more food than I can afford to go through (taking into consideration that there is an extra person eating, of course). Once the snacks are gone she'll start hinting that this or that would be good and then I'll say "I'd be happy to run you to the store if you'd like to pick up a few things." I never get anything for myself due to once being burned by someone putting their items in with mine and then wandering off when it was time to pay.

If they make a demand such as "We want to go to Tourist Place tomorrow. Set your alarm for 6am so we can leave at 7." you can say "Oh, I'm afraid that's way too early for me. I'd be happy to take you at 8:30 or I can get the phone book so you can find a cab company."

Are there some specific things they do you need tips for?

What my husband and I have done so far is set our boundaries - so when they come, we will both know exactly what is out of our comfort zone.

The problem here is you're setting boundaries with the wrong people.  In fact, this isn't really setting boundaries.  It's just you and your DH discussing what bothers you and what doesn't.  The boundaries need to be set by your DH to his parents, and it's never rude to do this.  In fact, it's the ultimate anti-doormat vaccine!

Beyond that, it's hard to say much else without knowing specifics.  If there are behaviors in your home that are flat out wrong, like using things from your medicine cabinet, then these are things he would put on a list that he would either e-mail or use as talking points to explain to them what isn't ok in your home.

When you mention things like dictating the schedule, I'm not sure what this means, or even if it can be handled ahead of time. 

You have to speak up, in the exact moment something is happening.  It's good for you and DH to come to agreements on boundaries, then the key is implementing them.  Which means speaking up when something happens that crosses the boundary.  You don't have to state your boundaries explicitly (and I'm glad you're not giving them a list of rules!), but you do have to enforce them for yourself.  Jenjay, gave really good examples on how to speak up in the moment.

Good suggestions so far! That's what I was thinking about "dumbing it down" for them. Basically if they are going to act like children, I guess that I'll have to treat them that way.

To get into specifics, they'll do things like:
-not tell us when they are coming, how long they are staying, when they plan on leaving - they just show up and expect us to accommodate. Getting this information is like pulling teeth.
-rummage through our pantry/fridge, looking for and taking food without asking - when there is other food available to them, its just not what they want. MIL often takes it upon herself to prepare meals when she's there, which I feel is presumptuous, but of course I often don't have anything planned, because I never know when they are coming and if they will want to eat (see point 1) There are also some picky eaters in the bunch, so if they don't like the food that has been prepared for everyone, they will just make themselves something else
-turn on the TV really loud when we are visiting.. to programs that neither husband or I want to watch. If it was one show they really just don't want to miss, I understand, but they'll watch reruns for hours instead of spending time with DH. I can tell it upsets my husband that his family would rather watch TV than spend quality time together as a family, especially because they don't see each other very often. (I'll hide the remote this time - at least make it a little harder!!)
-interrupt me or my husband (or each other!) when speaking - they have a habit of just yelling over each other until it just gets louder and louder and I just give up on speaking all together because I don't want to participate in a screaming match
- criticize my decisions, life choices, home, preferences, etc - all under the guise of "being helpful". (I can let this one slide.. I think that just comes with the joys of in-laws!  ::))
- funny you say about the medicine cabinet - yes!! they totally do that! last time they stole my shampoo out of the shower  :o Frankly I don't care if they need to use it, but a) ask b) put it back! Not fun to be soaking wet in the shower trying to get ready for work and realizing you have no shampoo. lol
- when they stay, seems things to get damaged frequently. I often don't see until after they are gone. There's never an acknowledgement or apology. It's not that these are fancy or expensive items, but they are ours and I don't think I should have to replace/fix multiple items after every visit.
-expecting us to provide toiletries and specific food items (even things we simply don't use and never have) - they seem surprised/offended when we don't have something, and I have been asked to "run out and pick up xyz because you are out"... of course we are out! We have no use for it! That time I did go get some, because I was at the store anyways, but it annoyed me that they feel they are entitled to it and because they are staying with us I need to provide all food and personal items free of charge. I'd say we are treated like a hotel, but hotels get paid! ha ha


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