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What Is Yours Is Mine…Particularly Your Hotdog

I have an issue with my MIL, and I’m not sure if the blame lies with me, her, or somewhere in between.

I wouldn’t say I have issues with personal space, but I have firm opinions on what I find acceptable. For example, our bedroom is our own space, mine and my husband’s. I do not like other people entering my room, unless invited, and that very, very seldom ever happens. I also consider my desk my space and I don’t like other people to sit at it, even though it is in a common area in our house. There are plenty of tables and seating areas in our kitchen/living room so that no one should find it necessary to sit in “my space”. I know it may sound selfish to say “mine!” like a child refusing to share a toy, but I am a private person, and I expect a certain level of privacy in my own home.

My MIL consistently enters my personal space. She walks into our bedroom whenever the mood strikes. There is no reason for her to be there. It is a small room, and we don’t keep anything in there that she would need or want. I have mentioned this to her several times, and even had the support of my sister-in-law who also dislikes having my MIL go into their bedroom. MIL just argues that she isn’t snooping, and doesn’t see the issue.

Another problem, and perhaps the biggest one, is her habit of grabbing food off people’s plates, or taking sips of their drinks without asking. She will reach across the table and take a handful of fries from the plate next to her. On several occasions she has said “oh, what’s that you’re drinking? Looks good!” and proceed to take a big mouthful of drink before anyone can stop her. During her last visit, I had been rushing around trying to get ready for a family get-together at our house the next day. My husband grilled hot dogs for the kids and put one aside for me that evening as I hadn’t taken time to eat. I was standing in the kitchen, holding the hot dog when MIL came along, grabbed my hand, and pulled the hot dog in for a huge bite. Then she had the nerve to complain that I didn’t put mustard on my hot dogs. I know it was probably rude, but I just passed it to her and told her that she could have it and put whatever she wanted on it. She doesn’t think it’s a big deal, and gets offended when anyone protests. “We’re all family” is her stock reply.

The problem seems to have gotten worse instead of better over the past couple of years, despite my protestations (and those from her other DIL). I know that my issues with personal space play a part in this situation, but I need a way to let MIL know that pushing herself on others (or even just me!) is not OK.    0909-14


Your MIL has an entitlement attitude which expresses itself in crossing personal boundaries with no regard to courtesies of respect.  Your food is her food to do with whatever she wishes, your space is her space.   The first step to changing this behavior, or at least modify it, is to address the issue very directly and specifically….

“Do not go into our bedroom.”

“But I’m not snooping and I don’t what the big deal is anyway.”

“There is nothing you need to see in our bedroom, all the more reason why you have no need to go in there.  And it is irrelevant whether you believe it is not a big deal.  I do consider it a ‘deal’ and am requesting that you do not enter our bedroom.”

OP, where is your husband, the son of your MIL?   Why are you dealing with this invasion of your bedroom privacy apparently alone?   Is it perhaps that your husband has given up trying since he is familiar with this behavior for decades?

As for privacy for your desk, I think you have an unreasonable expectation that no one should ever sit at the desk given that the desk is located in a common area of the house.    Courteous, considerate people know better than to snoop through papers on a desk or drawers but if there is an available chair in the common area, I don’t think most people would view the desk as off limits entirely.    Until recently small writing desks were placed in common areas for guests to use for writing correspondences while visiting so  I don’t think people have it engrained in their cultural mindset to completely avoid sitting in a desk chair.    If the desk must be in a common area, you may need to invest in a roll top desk to get that level of privacy you want.

As for the food, that is just gross, rude and bratty what your MIL does with other people’s food.   I’d be tempted to stab her grubby paw with my fork if I saw it sneaking up to my plate.   If I were the victim of her theft from my plate, I would most certainly, and promptly, take my plate and empty the remaining contents of whatever it was she took onto her own plate and refresh mine with new food.    Can you imagine how barbaric meals would be if everyone at the table stole food from each other with no regard for the courtesies of asking, “Are you finished with that?  Yes? May I have it?”

As for the hotdog incident, I would have stiffened arm in resistance and asked incredulously, “What are you doing? Get your own hotdog.”

And when your MIL gives you that manipulative explanation that “We’re family!”, you respond with this….

“Don’t flatter yourself that friendship authorizes you to say disagreeable things to your intimates. The nearer you come into relation with a person, the more necessary do tact and courtesy become. ”
Oliver Wendell Holmes


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  • just4kicks September 11, 2014, 7:12 am

    Ooooh, the MIL stories really get me riled up, and I have posted many thing about my deceased MIL. My husband moved her into our home when she broke her ankle. The last year’s of her life we moved into her home to take care of her. In the instance when she lived with us, she was lying on the couch with a huge bag of cheetos or something along those lines. My oldest son was maybe four or five at the time and reached into the bag for a handful. Before I could admonish him to ASK first, my MIL grabbed the top of the bag shut and yelled at him, “if you touch my food again, I’ll break your fingers!!!” I truly wish I was making this up, I’m not. I was stunned and my son burst into tears. My husband upon coming home from work, and hearing what happened said, “Oh, come on! She was joking around! Jesus!”. Then YOU explain the joke to your son who is now scared of his grandmother. God forgive me, but she was a horrible woman, and my husband never believed the awful things that she used to say to me and the kids. She was sunshine and rainbows around her son so I always looked like a liar and a fool.
    Good luck to you, OP, I hope your situation gets better for you! 🙂

    • ColoradoCloudy September 11, 2014, 1:31 pm

      I feel your pain. My husband never believed all of the nasty things his mother would say to me- he actually thought I was lying to him about her mean remarks. Finally, after several years, he heard her say something particularly rude to me, when she wasn’t aware of his presence. It was a banner day for me!
      As far as eating other peoples’ food, one incident stands out. Most of the family was together to work on a project. MIL kindly brought Arby’s sandwiches for everyone, except herself, because she “can’t eat meat”. She had a salad or something. When it was time to eat, my husband was up on the roof in the middle of doing hot tar and said he would be down as soon as he was done. MIL removed his sandwich from the wrapper and cut a little triangle out and ate it, “just to taste”. Well, over the course of the next 30 minutes or so, the sandwich slowly disappeared, piece by piece. When he finally came down to eat, MIL looked around as if puzzled to not see a sandwich, then looked at me and said, “SHE must have eaten it!”

      • just4kicks September 11, 2014, 2:16 pm

        Ah, I see you’re the fall guy too. It was so frustrating, and still upsets me after all these years.
        Good for you that your husband finally heard it for himself. I hope he believes you now.
        Long story short, I once splurged on some very nice sunglasses and kept them in our car. My hubby took his mom somewhere, and when she left, I noticed they were gone. I called to ask if she borrowed them and forgot to put them back. Of course not! How dare I accuse her…blah, blah. When she passed away, my husband and I were cleaning out some drawers in her bedroom, and lo and behold….my sunglasses! My husband and I had had a huge over me losing them and blaming his dear mother. When I found them in her room, I called my husband’s name and then promptly threw them at him. The look on his face was priceless. Justice, indeed.

        • just4kicks September 11, 2014, 2:17 pm

          “…..husband and I had a huge fight over me losing them”….that should say….

          • NostalgicGal September 11, 2014, 2:40 pm

            Glad he finally seen the light, I remember that from other comment stream earlier. I do hope your DH did a sincere think and an even more sincere apology.

          • Melissa September 11, 2014, 2:48 pm

            Just curious did he apologize?

      • missminute September 11, 2014, 9:25 pm

        I would be tempted to make some secret recordings with my smart phone.

        • just4kicks September 12, 2014, 2:50 am

          Nope, no apology….par for the course where Mommy Dearest was concerned. I’m not a perfect wife and mother either, but I don’t go out of my way to make others miserable. While I’m not saying any abuse occurred, she was a little TOO attached to her three sons, and none of the DILS were ever good enough for “her boys”.

  • Cat September 11, 2014, 7:18 am

    This behavior is so far over the top that I am at a loss even to imagine it. Since she won’t respond to your reasonable request like staying out of bedrooms and not taking other people’s food, other measures need to be taken.
    I would put a lock on my bedroom door. When she tries to enter and cannot, say, “You would not respect my request to stay out of my bedroom so I had to lock it.” Getting a desk that locks is an excellent recommendation from the administrator.
    Taking food off one’s plate or from one’s hand is so far from decent behavior that dumping the rest of the food she did not take onto her plate is a wonderful idea. If she takes something from your hand, be prepared for it and snatch it back before she can take a bite. Tell her, “No!” in the same tone you would use for a food-snatching dog.
    Better yet, don’t invite her for meals and explain that her table manners are unacceptable and that you have to exclude her until she learns adult behavior. Perhaps you could show her the movie, “The Miracle Worker” in which Helen Keller (Patty Duke) is accustomed to feeding herself by wandering around the table, putting her hands in everyone’s plates, and taking what she wants. She had to be taught to sit in a chair and to eat from her own plate. MIL may need the same lesson.

    • AIP September 11, 2014, 4:56 pm

      Followed by a “Naughty…. Naughtyyyyyy”, as one would say to a toddler putting muck in his mouth or a cat walking on kitchen worktops (far easier problems to deal with than a super-annuated brat).

      • Cat September 13, 2014, 5:50 pm

        I have to admit that I am an absolute fool about cats. My Siamese loves boiled shrimp. When I put some on my plate, I can see the paw coming up. I can’t bring myself to stop him. The claws come out, skewer one and then he runs off with it.
        He never wants more than one and doesn’t want it handed to him. It’s his prey and must be taken by stealth.
        I never serve boiled shrimp when I have company; and I live alone so it’s my little secret sin- I let my cat take a shrimp right off my plate. My bad, as the kids say.
        If a MIL tried it, she’d better have a furry face and be really cute.

        • NostalgicGal September 14, 2014, 2:24 pm

          For being owned by a purrie, this is a mild one. As long as you don’t mind and leave one ‘unguarded’ near the edge for him to stealth; I see nothing wrong with it.

        • Yet Another Laura September 14, 2014, 11:16 pm

          I had a cat who would hunt whatever meat was thawing on the counter. She had a litter of kittens and she taught them how to grab and run off with human food. The kittens’ father also lived in the household and he was a good dad. He taught the kittens how to wake up the sleeping human by knocking things off of the desk. These cats had better manners than this homo sapiens who ought to know better than to grab food out of someone’s hand. Not cute. Not okay.

        • Ladyofsighs September 23, 2014, 4:01 am

          “If a MIL tried it, she’d better have a furry face and be really cute.”

          >>> Cat, thanks for this morning giggle, it was more than welcome. 🙂

  • MyWorld September 11, 2014, 7:37 am

    You know what would solve part of your problems? A lock! And a husband capable of standing up to his mother…but thats behavior he probably grew up with and considers “normal” I would change the knob on your bedroom door to a keyed lock and make sure its locked before she comes over. If you want your common area desk to remain private, put it in the bedroom. Its unreasonable to expect people to know you would prefer they not sit there. Or you could simply redirect them….”Aunt Sally would you mind sitting at the table rather than my desk”
    As for the food issues…WOW she does push the limits. I would turn my back or move away if I saw her closing in and I like the idea if she was faster than you, of dumping your plate onto hers and getting fresh food.

  • Lex September 11, 2014, 7:45 am

    HA! What a ghastly woman. I’ve been on the receiving end of behaviour like this before and the perpetrator always makes you feel like the ‘bad guy’ for being offended. Unfortunately in situations like this (especially re: Bedroom privacy) boundaries need to be asserted and defended rigorously. As for the food thing – eurgh. That’s disgusting. ‘We’re family’ only applies to blood relatives, and spouses. LeBoyfriend and I might share food but there is no way I’d ever share food with his Mum or Brother or even his Nephew. It’s just disgusting and uncouth. Similarly I might share food with my sister or mother but wouldn’t expect LeBoyfriend to do so or even to share MY food after I had given my sister a bite (for example). Again, you need to be making it clear her behaviour is disgusting and unacceptable. This is MY food and I do not wish to share it with you. Please do not continue.

    • missminute September 11, 2014, 9:27 pm

      I don’t like sharing food with anyone – not even those with whom I am intimate (though if we are kissing it’s not that much different!)

      • NostalgicGal September 14, 2014, 8:47 pm

        When we first married DH thought my glass was his and he could drink of it at an time. Even in a restaurant. And empty it. I caught the cold from H*** and went out of my way to share with him, drink out of HIS glass, and of course he caught the cold. And suffered for about 3 weeks to get rid of it. If he wanted to SHARE so bad, then it was going to be EVERYTHING. Yes, kissing means you have the same germs; so I was going to share EVERY germ. Including the colds and flu. My glass has been my own for over three decades now.

  • Lo September 11, 2014, 7:47 am

    This is so unpleasant. Even if one wasn’t as concerned with personal space (My spouse is a lot like that, with spaces kept private even in common areas, and I totally get it) this would still upset me to no end.

    I have to be honest, I am surprised you still speak to this person. Grabbing my food? No way. Not even my family. Not even my spouse gets to grab something off my plate with even asking. It’s not at all rude of you to give her the food she’s taken, expressing that you no longer want it. If anyone took a bite out of something I was eating like that I would just tell them, “take it” or throw the food away. That’s horrifying. I wouldn’t tolerate that from a child much less an adult.

    If you cannot get it through to her that this is inappropriate, I’m going to be totally blunt here, just stop inviting her over. NO ONE deserves to be treated like this. There is no excuse for her behavior. Absolutely none.

  • PlainJane September 11, 2014, 7:51 am

    Letter writer should install a locking knob on the bedroom door. It isn’t that expensive nor difficult to switch. Box up everything on and in the desk when MIL visits and store in the locked bedroom until she leaves. It isn’t subtle but it will do the job.

  • JO September 11, 2014, 7:54 am

    People reaching onto my plate is a huge pet peeve of mine. It’s not that I mind sharing food. If someone asks, I am usually happy to let them sample. But it is a huge invasion of space to reach over and just take it. And taking a bite or drink directly from someone’s hand? Not only rude, but downright gross, family or not.

  • JWH September 11, 2014, 8:06 am

    This really struck me:

    The problem seems to have gotten worse instead of better over the past couple of years, despite my protestations (and those from her other DIL)

    Are you sure this is an etiquette problem? I know that you’re offended mightily here, but, especially given that her behavior is getting worse, there’s a good chance that your MIL is having a mental-health issue related to her advancing age. Your first step might be for your husband and SIL to consult privately with MIL’s doctor.

    • admin September 11, 2014, 8:31 am

      Stop attributing every episode of bad behavior to mental illness. MIL is getting worse because she’s been allowed to get away with rude, obnoxious antics for years with no consequences.

      • Wild Irish Rose September 11, 2014, 8:54 am

        I’m with Admin. on this one. Rudeness and mental illness are not interchangeable. MIL needs her hand slapped when she grabs someone else’s food or drink, and she needs to be locked out of the OP’s bedroom. That would be the very first step I took. And when MIL demands to know WHY she’s being locked out (because you know she will), you look her straight in the eye and say, “I’ve asked you NOT to enter that room, and you don’t listen, so I did what I could to maintain MY privacy in MY bedroom.” And when she reaches for your food, you smack her on the hand and when she expresses surprise, you say, “Anne Sullivan isn’t here, so I’m doing what she did to teach Helen Keller not to touch other people’s food. If Helen can learn, so can you.” Repeat as necessary. And before anyone goes telling me this is violent or whatever, this woman isn’t a little child who is learning boundaries; she’s a grown woman with grown sons, who is BEHAVING like a little child, and a slap on the hand may be just what it takes to jolt her out of her entitled behavior. Stop being afraid of her, OP, and get your husband on board too. This is as much his fault as it is his mother’s.

      • Devil's Advocate September 11, 2014, 9:49 am

        I disagree Admin, I don’t think JWH is saying the the root cause of MIL’s problem is a mental health one. However, depending on MIL’s age it could be causing the problem to worsen. There is no reason why LW can’t take handle her MIL both ways.

        1. Do what Admin suggested, lock the door and invest in a desk with more privacy . Be VERY clear with MIL. With regards to the food, agreed–refresh your plate/drink and dump the rest on her plate. Very clearly and loudly, say NO when she tries to take your food/drink.

        2. Check out her mental health. The problem is worsening, I saw this in my own grandmother. There is not reason to not be proactive in the health of your family members.

      • Lisa September 11, 2014, 10:32 am

        I politely disagree with you here. Yes, MIL actions are atrocious but early onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia should not be ruled out.

        • admin September 11, 2014, 2:00 pm

          You have no basis upon which to speculate early onset dementia, etc. The OP writes that her MIL’s privacy invasion has “consistently” been a problem for years. The only sentence that might hint at dementia is when the OP mentions that “it SEEMS to be getter worse, not better” which could mean nothing more than the OP’s perspective is that it seems to her to be worse. Early signs of dementia do not occur in a vacuum. If there are changes in behavior, they are also accompanied by other signs such as confusion and memory loss, none of which the OP reports as her MIL having.

          • NostalgicGal September 11, 2014, 2:47 pm

            And this is why I have a friend in a spiral that may very well kill her from the stress. Her mother is in the SERIOUS stage of Alzheimer’s and the brother that has joint medical POA refuses to relocate the mother to a facility to care for her. The friend is being forced to work a professional job/livelihood plus deal with providing part time care for the mother. The brother refuses to clue in and when the mother is in his eyesight/earshot she can be pleasantly sweetness and light yet; she can fake off when she is taken in for eval because they never ask her a few simple questions she couldn’t answer; though the friend has asked them to before going into the eval…. and stuff like that.

            We don’t have to blame everything on mental illness or the like but let us NOT rule it out if this is getting worse. Ask Just4kicks… I know she’s had these issues too. It’s not the first wagon to jump onto but don’t forget it at the back of the list.

        • Lurking Lurker Who Lurks September 14, 2014, 12:43 am

          I agree with Admin. My reason is that my MIL was an evil nasty hag from the moment I met her when she was in her 40’s. It took me about 20 years to speak up about her nasty behavior to my DUH. Of course he defended his mother by saying “She’s getting older. Maybe it’s Dementia.” So did his siblings when they witnessed horrid behavior out of their beast of a mother. Imagine their shock when I said “She was the same age, we are right now, when I met her. If you claim she’s acting this way because of old age and dementia, then how do you explain the fact she’s acted like this since the day I met her? When she was only 45……You know, the same age we are?” That caused some deep thought and at least my DH realized I was right and his mother plays dumb and incompetent in order to get away with her little power trips over others. She doesn’t have dementia. She didn’t have it almost 30 years ago, when I met her. She’s just an evil, hateful, beast who trained her children to worship her, no matter how much she hurts them, their spouses and the grandchildren.

      • just4kicks September 11, 2014, 12:59 pm

        I agree with you, Admin., wholeheartedly! In my own experience with my hubbys mom, toward the end of her life, even he couldn’t brush under the rug comments and actions of hers that were downright nasty. At that point my husband’s mantra became “well….I guess my Mom’s mind is going….She must have dementia”….etc. She did have many physical ailments, but all her doctors never mentioned any psychological problems. She was as they say, sharp as a tack. You know when a person is a little vacant behind the eyes, and when there is an evil glint while she mentions “My goodness! THAT dress certainly doesn’t do you any favors, does it now???”

      • Elizabeth September 12, 2014, 11:18 am

        Even a true narcissist learns what they can get away with and with whom.

        • just4kicks September 13, 2014, 5:26 am

          Very true.

    • KJR September 11, 2014, 10:24 am

      Not to mention, I don’t know of any health care professional who would allow such a conversation to take place, in light of privacy laws.

      • Daphne September 11, 2014, 4:56 pm

        Exactly. And isn’t it a little presumptuous to assume OP cannot tell the difference between dementia and bad manners? I think it’s actually a little insulting to suggest OP is that ignorant of basic human behavior.

      • A different Tracy September 12, 2014, 8:01 am

        You are mistaken. MIL’s doctor couldn’t share information about her, but there’s absolutely no reason they couldn’t approach the doctor and say “This is what she is doing, we’re concerned it could be a symptom of the beginning of dementia.” And the truth is, worsening/rude behavior CAN, in fact, be one of those signs. That doesn’t mean it’s what is happening here, but while there isn’t enough info to confirm that suspicion, neither is there enough to conclude it couldn’t possibly be the case.

        • admin September 12, 2014, 8:30 am

          The onset of dementia is not limited to just one symptom. If they have behavioral issues, that is accompanied by periods of confusion, memory loss, etc. And besides,the OP has responded that her MIL does not have dementia/Alzheimer’s so this line of speculation has been pointless and fruitless.

    • keloe September 11, 2014, 12:51 pm

      Honestly, to me it sounds more like a case of “that’s how we always behave in our family and nobody ever complained, so that’s how we’re (meaning “me”] going to go on and these girls just better get used to it”. In other words, she’s trying to dominate the OP.

      I have never had a mother-in-law, but the feel of it is very similar to my mother’s stories about the early days of my parents’ marriage. Not that my grandma would ever snatch other people’s food… but there were other things. She also had only sons and would compete with her daughters-in-law.

      • Gill September 11, 2014, 10:09 pm

        Yes! That is what happened with my m-i-l. She was not pleased when she realized her sons had married women who were more dominate. My sis-in-law and I are forces not to be taken lightly. When we team up, we are unstoppable. And our m-i-l had to back down when her sons stopped speaking to her and neither one of us would answer our phones.

        OP, you have to get her sons in board and you must grow a polite spine.

    • OriginalDIL September 12, 2014, 5:40 am

      It’s definitely not a mental health issue. MIL is still a young woman in good health.

    • iwadasn September 13, 2014, 5:58 pm

      I think her behavior is getting worse because OP has already tried to stand up to her, so now MIL is escalating her behavior in an attempt to show that she won’t be “defeated” by OP. Deliberately and consistently violating people’s privacy is often an issue of power–the MIL wants to demonstrate that she has power over her son and his house, no matter how her daughter-in-law feels about it.

    • Rachel September 13, 2014, 8:29 pm

      All that means is that she’s horrible to both daughters-in-law!

  • Steve September 11, 2014, 8:25 am

    Here is the crux of the problem:

    “I know it was probably rude, but I just passed it to her and told her that she could have it and put whatever she wanted on it.”

    So you think it was rude to give her the hotdog she had already chewed and slobbered over?

    Besides reading Etiquette Hell, you need to watch a little Cesar Milan. Because your mother in law is literally behaving like a female dog. She is constantly displaying her dominance over you, and you never fight back. She invades your personal space. She claims your things as her own. She even metaphorically eats out of your dog bowl. And all you do in return is a little whining.

    You need to learn to assert calm authority in your own house. The first step is to get your husband on the same team. He is notable by his absence in your story. So is his brother in your sister-in-law’s complaints. You two may have a couple of submissive mama’s boys on your hands. Territorial dogs usually have a human co-conspirator, often in the form of one owner who pets the dog and coos, “There, there,” as it snaps at and growls at guests. Hubby needs to stop petting mama and start disciplining her.

    Next, agree on a regimen of discipline and enforce it religiously. Never make an exception.

    Get privacy locks for your bedrooms, and keep mom penned up in the main area while she is there. Or both of you –notice I said both– go into the bedroom and confront her every time she enters it. Shoo her out. Do not relent until she has left. Do not engage in any arguments with her; do not recognize what she says at all. Just keep saying, “Out!”

    Agree on a common response to her food pilfering, and again, repeat it every time without exception. You could pile every violated plate onto her own, as admin suggests. If she is exceptionally pigheaded, you could take away her plate instead. If she is more sensitive, a negative word from her own son, for once, might suffice. Remind her of the rule as you do this: “We do not take food from other people’s plates in this house.” Ignore everything she says, except to repeat the same statement over and over.

    Sometimes, you have to physically stop a bad dog from behaving badly. Stop inviting her over for dinner. Eat only when she is not present. Explain why if she asks.

    But for heaven’ sake, start involving your husband. And stop acknowledging any right of hers to argue or debate with you. It is your house, and she does not get a vote.

    • mark September 11, 2014, 8:58 am

      If she is going to act like a three year old you may have to treat her like one. Start by explaining it to them, if the behavior continues give her time outs, etc.

    • cdubz September 11, 2014, 9:16 am

      I love this advice! You have to get your husband on board, otherwise this will be much, much harder than it has to be. If you don’t present a united front, you’re just the “mean daughter in law” and her behavior will get much, much worse.

    • Teapot September 11, 2014, 9:22 am

      Spectacular reply!

    • lafred September 11, 2014, 9:24 am

      This, a million times this!

    • Wendy B. September 11, 2014, 10:24 am

      Excellent response!

    • knitwicca September 11, 2014, 10:58 am

      “Next, agree on a regimen of discipline and enforce it religiously. Never make an exception… Do not engage in any arguments with her; do not recognize what she says at all. Just keep saying, “Out!”…Sometimes, you have to physically stop a bad dog from behaving badly. Stop inviting her over for dinner. Eat only when she is not present. Explain why if she asks.

      But for heaven’ sake, start involving your husband. And stop acknowledging any right of hers to argue or debate with you. It is your house, and she does not get a vote.”

      I am the same way as the OP when it comes to my bedroom. I always keep the door closed when anyone else is in my home. And, if I hear it open (it is just down the hall from the bathroom), I will walk into it, take the other person by the hand as if (s)he is a 3-year-old and use my best mommy voice. “No, we don’t go into other people’s bedrooms. That’s not nice”

      Taking food from my plate without asking, grabbing food from my hand, would not be tolerated by my guy. It is rude and indicates that you Less-than.

      Steve has it right. She is acting like an alpha female dog. Treat her the way she deserves. YOU become the pack leader. Your pack, your den….Be the alpha

    • JesBelle September 11, 2014, 11:48 am

      In other words, if the OP’s MIL is going to act like, um, a “female dog,” she should be treated like one?

    • Hilary September 11, 2014, 12:01 pm

      Thank you for the Cesar Milan (Dog Whisperer) comparison – so funny and apt in this case! I love watching that show, and it truly informs my strategies when dealing with out-of-control children. In this case, it’s a grown adult woman who needs the discipline.

      We are trying something similar with my mother-in-law. She calls to complain about other family members, neighbors, friends, etc., but when you suggest something that might fix the problem, she talks over you instead of listening. She doesn’t really want a solution, just a sounding board for complaints. My husband (her son) has twice hung up the phone on her after saying calmly, “If you aren’t going to listen, I am going to hang up.” Then he does! So far the only result is that she doesn’t call as often and she’s complained that he’s “mean” to his brothers. Maybe consistency will eventually pay off!

      • susie derkin's mom September 11, 2014, 2:42 pm

        If you get a chance, check out the South Park episode that Cesar Milan appeared on. I think it is called ‘Tsst’, or something close. He voices himself, and he comes to South Park to help Cartman’s mother, who is at the end of her rope with her horrible son. It’s hilarious, and has a great message about teaching others how to treat you. Even if you are not a South Park fan, I think you will love it.

        • Wild Irish Rose September 11, 2014, 3:48 pm

          I loved this episode.

        • just4kicks September 12, 2014, 9:53 am

          @Susie Derkin’s mom: is your screen name from “Calvin and Hobbes”?
          One of my son’s and I adore that comic series! I wish it was still in circulation.
          I love Susie and Mr. Bun…. 🙂

    • ColoradoCloudy September 11, 2014, 1:18 pm

      Oh yes! This!!!

    • NostalgicGal September 11, 2014, 2:50 pm

      Good Luck

      Get the hubby on board

      The hardest bit may be getting everyone to be consistent, every time (my DH, love him, is anything but and I’d have to keep on his keyster to keep him towing the agreed on line)

    • crella September 11, 2014, 8:04 pm

      Steve, that’s hilarious, but right on the mark. What she is doing *is* dominance behavior! Grabbing other’s food, to the point of pulling the OP’s arm (that I found shocking!), going into rooms you’ve told her not to, she is asserting her dominance over all of you.

      I agree that you have to take a stand as a couple, both of you need to do it. My MIL did things like this like refusing to sit anywhere but my personal chair in my living room for the duration of her visits despite lots of other places to sit, taking my scarves and putting on my gloves and hats to go out, just little digs and jabs continuously. My armchair is higher than the sofa and a godsend when my back is off, sometimes I needed it and she wouldn’t let me sit in my own chair for love nor money. ‘I like this chair, this is where I’m sitting!’ and it wasn’t until DH spoke up that she eased off a little.

      • NostalgicGal September 12, 2014, 12:20 am

        I had this issue once concerning my hubby and a clueless. I offered that if they didn’t surrender the seating that they could take care of my DH until he recovered from the back and knee grief not being able to use that seat would cause. Then I packed a wheeled suitcase and put it next to the chair. I’d bring more over as he needed it. They moved.

  • Asharah September 11, 2014, 8:51 am

    Is she actually living in your house? Because if she is, I would recommend telling her to find another place to live.

  • Ashley September 11, 2014, 8:54 am

    I second the question: Where is your husband in all of this? He needs to put you as his first priority, get on the same page with you, and stand up to his mother for both of you. In all honesty, a MIL like her will not listen to you, especially as you seem to be fighting your battles alone – without your husband. She needs to have the boundaries enforced by her son. He needs to step up.

  • Yet Another Laura September 11, 2014, 8:56 am

    Of all the examples of bad behavior, this one struck me:

    MIL just argues that she isn’t snooping, and doesn’t see the issue.

    I posit that she was. Nobody said a word about snooping until she brought it up. Put locks on all rooms you want her to stay out of and find a way to secure your desk.

    On the food issue, that is disgusting. I grew up in a large enough family and am the youngest of the siblings so I got the “Are you going to eat that? No? Mine, then.” fairly regularly. If she pulled that in our family, it would be ever so easy to bump her reaching arm off target. She’d be the one rebuked, not the one whose plate she was going for, when something inevitably spilled.

    • UKHelen September 12, 2014, 2:31 am

      re: snooping – yes, that occurred to me, too. You said it, MIL!

  • EllenS September 11, 2014, 8:57 am

    “Please don’t do that.”
    “Please ask before you put your hand in my plate.”
    “If you want a hot-dog, they are on the sideboard.”
    “Please leave.”
    “That is not okay with me.”
    “Eww, yuck.”
    All of these are perfectly acceptable and polite responses within the scenarios you describe, OP. And to the guilt-trip about “we’re family, I don’t see what the big deal is,” you can respond:
    “It may not be a big deal, but it’s my deal. I said no.” (Trying to establish whether it is or is not “a big deal” is just another way to invalidate your opinion.)

    Whenever you set a verbal boundary with someone, you must, must, must back it up with a physical boundary. Stiff-arm, move away, or as suggested above scrape the “fingered” food onto MIL’s plate.

    There is nothing unreasonable about wanting privacy or to keep your food to yourself. Staking out a chair in a common area when you are not actually using it, is a bit extreme. Perhaps you could close up/clear the desk when you have company and turn the chair around so that it faces into the room, to separate using the chair for seating vs. occupying your desk. Or you could move the chair into another room or another part of the room. Nobody can sit at your desk if there is no chair there.

    • Steve September 11, 2014, 1:54 pm

      This is critical:

      “Whenever you set a verbal boundary with someone, you must, must, must back it up with a physical boundary.”

      Exactly the way you do with a dog. And it doesn’t involve hitting, or aggressively pushing, or smacking her upside the head with a pan, as rewarding as that might be.

      Husband and wife should stand shoulder to shoulder to block her way to the bedroom, or physically crowd her out of it if she gets in first. Push away the hand reaching for the hotdog. Or, if it’s too late, open your fingers and drop the hotdog onto the floor before she can bite into it. Physically prevent her from ever being rewarded for her behavior.

      • AIP September 11, 2014, 5:02 pm

        I think you’re spot on.
        Lock the bedroom door.
        Invest in a screen to physically block the desk and chair when not in use.
        Make a sacrifice like throwing the hot dog in the bin after her mucking around with it – no point in rewarding her
        And respond to the “but we’re faaaaamily” nonsense with a “I wouldn’t tolerate that off my own mother either”, and repeat physical actions to reinforce what you say.

  • INeedANap September 11, 2014, 9:03 am

    My mother is the same way. One thing that usually stops her is to point out that she clearly wants me to be unhappy. When my mother invades my space or privacy and I tell her it’s not acceptable, she responds like your MIL — “but I’m family! but who cares!”. I remind her that since it is my space and it bothers me, any kind of negotiation or denial on her part is equivalent to her admitting that she knows it makes me unhappy and wants me to remain that way. And I just keep hammering it home — “Mother, does it make you happy to make me uncomfortable? Is this the purpose of your visit, to make me sad and angry?” A bit over-dramatic, but it’s typically the only way to get her to curb her entitled behavior.

  • CW September 11, 2014, 9:05 am

    I’m pretty sure if someone grabbed my arm to eat something directly out of my hand they would probably end up injured because I would flip. It’s one thing to ask for a bite or drink of something but completely rude and gross to just take a huge bite or drink without permission. I don’t have personal space issues and I’d still be mad and throw a fit, especially now that I’m pregnant. I snapped at my husband for taking a container of sour cream from me without asking, and that wasn’t even something on my plate! I can’t imagine letting this habit of hers go on for years.

  • Moralia September 11, 2014, 9:12 am

    Ugh! Food pilfering is one of those things that makes me want to instantly revert to early childhood and smoosh the remainder of the food into the pilferer’s face.

    Fortunately, I am an adult and have long since learned to use my words and a quelling look instead! 🙂

  • JD September 11, 2014, 9:21 am

    MIL is way, way out of line here, and no one, repeat no one, would be taking a bite out of a hotdog I’m about to bite, without hearing about it from me loud and clearly. Don’t even begin to think you could be rude for handing it to her.
    The desk, yeah, I have to agree with admin on that. Get a desk with locks and keep it locked, if you don’t have room to put it in a more private space, or move your stuff out when people are coming over.
    You, your sister-in-law and your spouses need to get a united front on this. If the husbands have given up on re-training mom, then you and your sister-in-law still must unite. This one is going to take a firm, firm stand. I agree with Steve’s plans, and yes, a lock on the bedroom doors. What on earth is she doing in there, anyway? That’s just so weird.
    When she says, “We’re all family,” I think I’d tell her you insist she leave the bathroom door open when she goes at your house, then. You’re all family, after all.

  • Medowynd September 11, 2014, 10:03 am

    I wouldn’t give the food on my plate or in my hand to the thief. I would walk over and dump the plate in the trash or throw the hot dog in the sink. Why reward a thief, it motivates them to continue to steal. If a dog took a bite off your plate, would you reward the dog with additional bites. When I have a dog stealing food, I throw it away. Someone takes a sip of my drink without permission and I dump the drink and get a clean glass and fill it.

    • Mary September 11, 2014, 1:57 pm

      Excellent point

  • KJR September 11, 2014, 10:26 am

    I am just curious as to what the MIL is doing in your bedroom anyway? Is she lounging on the bed watching TV? Looking at knick-knacks? Going through your clothes? I have the same issues with people outside my immediate family (husband and kids) being in my bedroom for any reason, so this scenario really gives me the creeps. It’s just so weird that she does this!!

    • just4kicks September 11, 2014, 2:58 pm

      One of my teenage son’s ex girlfriend’s used to waltz into our bedroom without knocking, it drove me crazy. I let it go a few times, then pulled my son aside and said, “please tell your gf to stop coming into our room without knocking first. Either you tell her, or I WILL, and I guarantee she won’t like THAT conversation!”

      • mark September 12, 2014, 8:38 am

        I would probably count the pills and change in the room after that. There are no good reasons for her to be in there and many not good.

        • just4kicks September 13, 2014, 5:32 am

          You are correct, which is why we invested in a good safe a few years back. My older son’s have friends that are good kids, but every once in awhile there is a shady one that shows up to hang out. My husband and I take various medications for different ailments, they along with any cash we may have put aside for something are always locked up.
          As far as my son’s ex gf, I don’t think it was trolling for goodies, she had NO boundaries whatsoever. The word “no” was not part of her vocabulary.

        • Ajax September 17, 2014, 2:17 pm

          My husband’s ex used to do that sort of thing all the time. Her own parents would find pain medication missing right after a Christmas visit, and once when she was caught with her hand in the cupboard, she grabbed an inhaler and sprayed it in her five year old son’s mouth to provide a “legitimate” reason for rifling through the meds. She didn’t even know what was in the inhaler exactly; it was prescribed for a grown man. She also had a bad habit of bringing her pit bulls to our house and letting them run loose, despite being asked not to because they frightened our neighbors.

  • Renee September 11, 2014, 10:34 am

    As far as your bedroom, IMO it seems like your MIL is taking the approach of “this is my son’s house and I will go where ever I want.” This should not be your battle. Your husband needs to have a sit down with his mother and tell her to cut it out. You should not have to explain this to her.

    Now as far as her taking food off you plate, it’s time to get a polite spine. As soon as she reaches for your stuff, tell her to stop. Look her straight in the eye when you tell her and have a serious look on your face. She has asserted dominance over you and it is time to take it back. You allowed this behavior for too long and it’s going to take time to “teach” her how to treat you. Yes, I said teach and I mean it. If you do not take up for yourself, then your MIL will continue.

  • Outdoor Girl September 11, 2014, 10:42 am

    I agree with the lock for the bedroom door. And don’t give DH the key, if he doesn’t back you up. 😉

    As for your desk, if everything is locked away in the drawers, I would just put the chair in your bedroom while you have company. Then no one can sit there.

    As for the food issues… Yikes! Personally, I’d block her arm when she goes to reach for my food and just say, ‘Please order your own if you’d like some; this is mine.’ And I’d have done the same thing you did with the hot dog, if I didn’t manage to stave her off. And the previous suggestion to never share a meal with her is also a good one. I wouldn’t want to eat with someone who did that.

    I do snitch food from close friends and family. But never without permission and I never touch anything except the piece of food I’m snitching.

  • manybellsdown September 11, 2014, 10:42 am

    It takes a very special kind of entitled to steal another person’s food and then complain that it is not seasoned to your liking.

  • The Elf September 11, 2014, 10:58 am

    Re: The desk

    I agree with the Admin that since this is a common area of the house, asking for people not to sit there or look at stuff on it is too much. One thing you can do, other than relocating the desk or getting a roll-top, or to clean the desk into file cabinet drawers before company comes over. They make attractive cabinets for this purpose. Stopping someone from looking at something in plain view is hard, but stopping them from rifling through a file cabinet is a lot easier! Probably won’t work on MIL, given her penchant to be “grabby”, but it would stop most people.

    • Aletheia September 14, 2014, 5:17 am

      Especially if the cabinets can be locked!

  • Tara September 11, 2014, 10:59 am

    She sounds like my MIL, who seems to think that diseases cannot spread among family. GROSS.

  • delislice September 11, 2014, 11:00 am

    …Then there was the time when my MIL, visiting for Thanksgiving, could not get the blinds closed enough to suit her privacy. They were basic blinds, which close enough for most folks, but this is also a woman who taped a square of cardboard over the small opaque opening in her front door.

    So she fiddled with the blinds. And fiddled, and fiddled… until she broke them. Then she went into the pantry and rearranged it to suit her. Everyone concerned should be relieved that I was at work and not in the house.

    • B September 12, 2014, 2:16 pm

      My MIL cleans out my fridge when she comes to stay, when I am at work.

      I do not appreciate it. My fridge gets cleaned out by me. However, it beats my sister’s MIL, who goes into her bedroom, takes out her dirty laundry and washes it despite being told not to.

      My sister does not like her MIL getting her mitts on her dirty knickers. I’ve told her to get a lock on the door.

      • NostalgicGal September 12, 2014, 6:45 pm

        If my MIL wanted to do laundry, I’d make sure to have 3-4 mixed loads of the most aged, mucky, raunchy stuff there is. Strewn not in the hamper. If she wants to do it, she’ll have to round it up, sort it, then wash it. My and my DH’s unmentionables, I’d make sure to have done before she showed up and safely tucked away.

        Fridge, I’d be handing over a bill. I clean mine weekly, just because I have to or stuff tends to mutate in the back corner (or more like my DH knocked something over in there and didn’t tell me again until it mutates)

      • Ajax September 17, 2014, 2:22 pm

        I thought I was the only person in the world old enough to have two children whose mother insisted on washing her laundry! I finally had to tell her quite firmly not to, and she acted offended, confused, and hurt that I didn’t want her to process my panties anymore.

  • Tyler September 11, 2014, 11:39 am

    I would have already lost my cool in regards to the food/drink issue. Her behavior is beyond unacceptable, regardless of familial bonds, and I’m not sure if she has a motive with her actions or if she simply doesn’t understand basic manners. I would have to say something along the lines of “Please don’t take food off my plate or out of my hands. I don’t mind sharing if you ask, but this is food that I have prepared for myself/has been prepared for me, and if you would like some, please ask first or prepare your own serving.” Having dealt with people like this in the past, I don’t trust them in the least. If they’re stealing food off your plate, what’s to stop them from taking money out of your wallet or possessions out of your home while using the excuse “Oh, it’s OK! We’re family!” That may seem a bit of a stretch for some, but I am immediately distrustful of people who don’t seem to grasp the concept of boundaries.

    Furthermore, I see many complaints about in-laws in online forums and advice columns, and I always ask myself why the actual son or daughter of the troublesome in-law doesn’t intervene. If one of my in-laws behaved ghastly towards me, I would expect my s.o. to say something on my behalf.

  • Cecilia September 11, 2014, 11:49 am

    I do not have much to add; admin & others all have excellent suggestions. Especially about the locking bedroom door. I am a private person as well and the bedroom is an absolute “stay out” area of my home, so I have a locking door handle. If I have guests coming over (family or friends), I shut and lock the door.

    The desk thing would not occur to me, unless I knew that you did not want people to sit there. A locking type desk seems the best option if you do not want to move it.

    The food thing- excuse my language but, HELL NO. I would leave the table and throw the food away or put it on her plate, every time.

    I think Steve explained the situation well. She’s pushing and you, and hubby, need to push back, set boundaries and administer consequences every time she goes too far.

  • Alli September 11, 2014, 11:52 am

    If someone tried to take my food out of my hand or drink my drink, I’d be tempted to tap their hand away or snap my fingers and go “no. no. down.” Like I do when my cat tries to get at food or cups. My three year old nephew knows better than this woman.

    • admin September 11, 2014, 1:30 pm

      You should not treat people like dogs. There are ways to solve a problem without resorting to dog training tricks.

      • Alli September 11, 2014, 2:27 pm

        I was being facetious, but the woman in this letter is likely to get slapped on the hand if she does this to the wrong person.

      • Eclipse September 12, 2014, 8:39 am

        I can’t believe I’m going to write this but, Admin, I noticed people above Alli mentioned using dog-training tactics when interacting with MIL (ex: Steve with the Cesar Milan reference that many people loved) and they were not admonished for “treating people like dogs”.

        That being said, Steve does have a point. If you are not going to act like a human with manners, then you might not get treated like a human.

      • JAN September 12, 2014, 12:17 pm

        I believe Alli said she was “tempted” not that she did so.

    • CW September 11, 2014, 2:54 pm

      I’d be tempted to do the same thing. If a person cannot stop themselves from touching my food when I’ve asked them not to do so in the past, I’m going to treat them like, at minimum, a child. If that doesn’t work then “No. Bad!” And a few finger snaps like I do for my dogs. If a polite request isn’t enough, I’m probably going to make you feel just as offended as I do by you touching my food.

    • B September 12, 2014, 2:17 pm

      I’d automatically slap her hand away. What on earth else does she expect?

  • Coralreef September 11, 2014, 12:24 pm

    And this is another situation where the water bottle spritz would work wonders. I agree with the previous poster who commented about dog behaviour modification methods.

    I would get a lock for the bedroom door. It would be the cheapest and easiest way to prevent her from getting there. What is she looking for anyway?

    As for the food, I would not give it to her, I would empty my plate in the garbage and serve myself another plate, using a clean one. When protests arrise (and they will), tell her you don’t eat food someone else picked at.

    My mother was also a bit of a snoop (amazing what a slammed closet door can achieve) and would lick her ustensils before reusing them into the jam or pickle or whatever jar. I only broke her out of that when I threw everything in the garbage can and refused to open new ones while she was visiting. Yes, it was rude and rash, but gentle requests and explanations just did. not. work. with her.

    • PM September 11, 2014, 6:07 pm

      Agreed. A relative of mine believes that if a close relationship between her and another person doesn’t exist and she wants one, she can force it by blithely ignoring boundaries. If visiting a home, she would walked into closed rooms and exclaim, “But we’re FAMILY!” or “But we’re CLOSE FRIENDS!” if she was asked not to go into that room. If, on her next visit, the room was locked, she would rattle the door and demand to know why she wasn’t allowed in to that room, exclaiming again, “But we’re FAMILY!” or “But we’re CLOSE FRIENDS!”

      She thought close friends and family also shared food, so she would snatch food off of your plate or sometimes, right out of your hand, “Families share!” she’d claim. I was so grossed out by the idea of “sharing” a cookie covered in her spit, I would just shove it at her and tell her to keep it. But then I realized I was rewarding her bad behavior with my food. So the next time she took a pizza slice out of my hand and took a bite, declaring us “pizza sisters,” I threw the slice away. She asked why I did that and I said, “I don’t care to share your mouth germs.” It took a few times, but she eventually stopped. My reactions didn’t support her illusion of “closeness.”

  • lnelson1218 September 11, 2014, 12:24 pm

    A friend of mine had a boyfriend like that with the food. She started to simply poke his hand hard with her fork every time he tried to snatch something off her plate. He did finally get the hit.

    My aunt is also like that. However she has finally learned over the years to either ask first to give my dish a try (especially if we are at a restaurant) so she will wait for other to actually eat all they wanted to first. But again it was YEARS before she managed to exercise some self control.

  • Marcal September 11, 2014, 12:25 pm

    I have one solution for you: when company is over, move the chair way from the desk.

    • Mary September 11, 2014, 2:01 pm

      Yes! Put the chair in another room and that would hopefully eliminate the issue.

  • Marcal September 11, 2014, 12:26 pm

    *away….darn sticky button

  • Lisa September 11, 2014, 12:32 pm

    I find that with my MIL, my DH has gotten so used to her behavior that he just tunes it out. He literally and purposefully spaces out when she is annoying him. So that may be the case with OP’s DH.

    As for the desk thing, I can’t see that being a big deal unless the person sitting there is causing some harm, like snooping in the drawers for instance. Or in the case of my MIL, who used my computer and ended up getting a virus on it that cost us $$ to have the hard drive wiped. (GRRRRRR.)

    The hot dog thing is just so completely gross. THAT is so far over the line. I don’t mind sharing my food, but for her to grab your arm and force your hot dog into her mouth? And then complain about the toppings? You did exactly what I would have done. Gross.

    • NostalgicGal September 12, 2014, 6:55 pm

      I had adopted a rescue cat; and though sweet, he wouldn’t integrate with our other two cats. So he lived in my office (MIL suite so adequate space) and was my lapwarmer when I computed or beaded. One day while I was out, he jumped up on my computer keyboard and so messed it up I had to reinstall from my last backup a week before. Which lost three days of some intensive upgrade work I had done related to my business. Hence I put password on my computer; to use it you have to type a password. It’s no secret to DH, and I know his too, but anyone visiting will find that they just plain can’t use my machine UNLESS I unlock it. And no, don’t ask, you are not using my computer or my wifi. I will escort you to a place you may access both. (I’m tired of excising computer STD’s from compromised [formerly trusted] sites, I don’t need someone helping me find more!)

  • NostalgicGal September 11, 2014, 12:33 pm

    Locks on doors. If you don’t want it gone through in/on the desk, don’t put it there or move the desk to a secure area.

    Food? Plate dumping sounds great. The hotdog bit was beyond it. Grabbing my hand would have caused me to ram it straight up, hopefully out of reach. And my best glare. I’m afraid after the grab and munch I would have tossed it in trash in plain sight. I was no longer hungry (she didn’t get it then either).

    Where’s the DH in this? Considering there’s another complaining the same things; I would have things looked into by a healthcare professional. It’s not just that the MIL is getting away with stuff but there could be issues that need addressing….

    We had a friend, bless her heart, she was solid gold; and she had the worst mouth disease issue going on (you didn’t want her to open her mouth, this was bad, her gums were past a mess-dentist and she were losing the fight and she was losing the teeth) and she thought all food was communal and always wanted to feed you a bite of her food after she had eaten of it. Or grab a bite of yours. If she was pouring stuff from a pitcher, she would end up getting some on her fingers, lick them off then manage to get them in the beverage. No. You didn’t want to share a calorie with her. We actually consulted the vet on if she fed our dog stuff could the dog get gum disease and/or pass it on to us…. She wasn’t this forward in grab your hotdog but she’d ask to have a bite… or try to stuff hers in your face after she bit the one end… the end she bit of course, not the untouched end. Her son couldn’t do anything about it and neither could the rest of us. I actually tried a nice discussion about her dental issues and that I didn’t want her sharing people food with the dog any more, here’s allowed treats, you can feed her all of these you want; and until she had her dental on the mend; I didn’t feel comfortable on intimate sharing with her. She said oh, okay, I understand, then the dog bounces through and she goes to give the dog a spoonful of her frozen slushy dairy beverage not a moment after I had presented her with the container of dog treats. I politely stopped that and handed her the treats. Then she offered me some of the beverage…. OP good luck, some don’t get it. Ever.

  • Daphne September 11, 2014, 12:46 pm

    I might be tempted to place a little sign on my desk and/or chair saying something along the lines of “Daphne’s Office, KEEP OUT”. Or remove the chair entirely when she is there. Otherwise I agree totally with admin.
    And thank you admin for the Holmes quote. It is absolute perfection!

  • Anna September 11, 2014, 12:56 pm

    Keep informing her that she is bothering you. Frame it that way, not “this is rude behavior, can’t you see?” Because she can’t see, and that leaves it up to argument with her about whether or not her behavior is OK.

    “MIL, please do not take bites out of my food. I really do not like that.”

    “But faaaamily!!!”

    “Yes, we’re family, and therefore we should treat each other with respect. I don’t find that respectful. Please stop doing that.”

    Ignore her pouting. Repeat, repeat, repeat. If she’s anything like my mother, she will make fun of you for setting down a boundary, but that is her defense mechanism. Ignore.

  • Dee September 11, 2014, 12:57 pm

    OP, you are not overreacting with your boundaries, they need to be even tighter! I would have had such a hissy fit by this time that there would be a permanent mushroom cloud over my house. I like all of the suggestions above – lock on the bedroom door, dog training, etc. But, in the end, it is not your job to teach your MIL to be considerate. The lock I would focus on is the one on the front door; I would not let MIL in the house again until she’s proven she is house-trained. I would only visit her at her house and only between meal times. I would explain all this to her and tell her it is up to her to start treating you with respect. And if hubby is not on board then you have a very big problem, and it’s not your MIL.

  • Ergala September 11, 2014, 1:07 pm

    I would flip out. I have a serious issue with people sharing drinks with me. I cannot drink after someone. It makes me wretch. It is a serious phobia and I would end up dumping the drink, rinsing the glass and puring a new glass, even if it had been full. In this situation I wouldn’t be discrete about it. If she made a comment about it being wasteful I would be sure to explain as simply as I could each and every time why I had to do that. It was her fault I was being wasteful, not mine. I will be submitting a story soon about my own food thief.

  • Miss Raven September 11, 2014, 1:33 pm

    It’s not stated outright, but I’m getting the sense that OP and her DH live with their MIL. If this is the case, it is especially important to set boundaries. For awhile, my very long-term BF was living with his mother to take care of her (just4kicks, we may be sisters in this regard) and she had no concept of boundaries whatsoever. Once, she was out with a friend and the two of us took the opportunity to shower together. We didn’t hear her return until she burst into the bathroom (the lock on the door was, unfortunately, broken). As though she couldn’t hear the shower running?? As though the door wasn’t closed?? Whether it was BF, myself, or both of us in the shower, it was mind-blowingly inappropriate.

    She would also attempt to jokingly discuss our sex life with me (OH MY GOODNESS), walk around in her underthings or mostly naked (OH MY GOODNESS), and co-opt anything in the home that she wished. She would steal BF’s clothes and wear them – favorite t-shirts, pajama pants, whatever – and not wash them until they were ruined. And they were several sizes too large for her. Once, I made him fancy brownies for his birthday. He ate one, and put the box away. Throughout the course of that night, after we had gone to sleep, she ate every single last one of them.

    I was an adult, but still quite young at the time, and it felt like a losing battle trying to argue with her. You can’t fight with crazy people. They don’t know they’re crazy. He (and we) did not get any peace until she died. OP, I urge you to speak with your DH and your SIL and anyone else who is being affected by your MIL’s inappropriate and obnoxious behavior, because I do not envy you the stress it is adding to your life. Maybe an intervention is in order.

    • admin September 11, 2014, 1:47 pm

      The OP mentions this behavior occurs during “recent visit” from MIL indicating that MIL does not live with them.

    • just4kicks September 11, 2014, 3:05 pm

      Oh my….I just got a mental image of my MIL running around naked or in her underwear. Ewwww.
      Good Lord, that just takes the cake, how very inappropriate indeed! I hope for your sake she’s stopped doing that!

  • Jaxsue September 11, 2014, 1:53 pm

    OP, I think your MIL and my lat MIL are related! I can relate to your experience so well (including the DH who seems blind to the rude behavior). My late MIL was really bad about treating all food as communal. In fact, you never saw her bring a complete dish to a dinner. There was always a corner that had been eaten – by her – and eaten with one utensil (she also tasted dishes as they cooked, using the same spoon/fork over and over). Then she expected everyone to eat from that dish (ew!). She would also grab food off your plate. If you protested, even a little bit, she did the, “I gave birth to DH, I am owed the world” Stand up for yourself. It’s too late for me; MIL died in 1999. It’s not too late for you!

  • just me September 11, 2014, 2:01 pm

    Maybe I’m just evil, but as soon as she took any of my food or drink, I’d say “oh, i forgot to tell you – I had the worst stomach bug yesterday. It was not pretty. Hope I’m over it”.

    • NostalgicGal September 11, 2014, 3:00 pm

      Oooh, I like that

      [LIKE] button

    • Rowan September 12, 2014, 6:47 am

      If you’re evil then I am too.

  • Angel September 11, 2014, 2:13 pm

    No need to resort to dog training techniques–though with your MIL’s behavior I would be sorely tempted! Remove the chair from the desk, lock what you can and declutter the desk when people come over. I used to lock all the doors in the upstairs bedrooms/office when people came over–leaving only the bathroom door unlocked. This was when we used to have large parties of 50 or more people though. With just family you would think you wouldn’t need to resort to this stuff. But your MIL seems to have a curious streak, so lock the bedroom doors!

    You can’t really stop inviting your MIL to occasions that involve eating together. But you can let her know that she is not allowed to take food off people’s plates without asking. Physically move your plate from her grasp if possible. If she takes a bite from your sandwich, throw it away rather than give it to her. Make sure she sees it! Do this every single time. Be honest about how it makes you feel. It really grosses you out, correct? Tell her so! I agree it’s important to get your husband on your side–but you have to remember he is used to all this crap. He probably believes it is normal. Or at least–tolerable.

    • NostalgicGal September 11, 2014, 3:03 pm

      Put the leaf in the dining room table, set it fancy, and put space between the settings. Give her the ‘guest of honor’ seat at the end. It’s easier then to isolate her reach; and harder for her to get to everyone else’s stuff. It doesn’t have to be the good china and crystal, but nice placemats, napkin rings, a centerpiece… certainly a cut up and the reason you set things fancy (to show off the placemats and centerpiece, natch)

      • Angel September 11, 2014, 5:44 pm

        NostalgicGal that is a pretty good idea! Most guests will appreciate a nicely set table too. It might also help to serve everyone exactly the same thing–this way she can’t look at someone’s plate and say “oooh, that looks delicious can I have it?” because she already has it!

        It is unfortunate that you have to go to these lengths to prepare for your MIL’s visit–however–if you can expect those undesirable behaviors, then it is important to use preventative measures when you can. Perhaps this will inspire your SIL to make some changes/speak up as well? You can take heart in the fact that you are not the only family member your MIL has managed to offend!

        • NostalgicGal September 13, 2014, 9:11 pm

          If you have less than about 8 eating, you can do a chef style ‘plating’ … add a few sprigs of something or what have you, and carry out and serve people with an already prepared plate. If there is more available, then you can bring that to the table in serving bowls and platters to be passed after the first plateful is finished. I can still see MIL deciding she liked the fruit garnish or something like that and trying to grab someone else’s, but. It makes for she can’t grab or mess with the food as it is passed; and you the chef can then make sure everyone gets the same thing.

  • GHN September 11, 2014, 2:17 pm

    Locking private areas would be a simple solution to the MIL going where she is not wanted. As for the food sharing issue – OP, if somebody grabbed my hand and snatched a bite of whatever foodstuff I was holding, that someody would have been hurt. Because I would have hit that person.
    I’m not a violent person, and I would guess that any injury would at most have been a couple of bumps and bruises, but I _would_ have had an automatic reaction to an unexpected and unfriendly intrusion into my personal space.

  • Green123 September 11, 2014, 2:39 pm

    Forks are sharp enough to cause a shock, but not enough to cause harm. I suggest you employ your fork next time your MIL tries to steal food from your plate. In my house, dogs do not get away with stealing food, let alone grown humans!

    • NostalgicGal September 11, 2014, 3:05 pm

      Forks can be lethal. Yes someone can get punctured (we had two people fired from a place I worked at-they got into a screaming match in the parking lot and one took a fork out of her purse and put seven holes in the other one’s arm) as I’ve seen it happen at family reunions.

      • Green123 September 12, 2014, 3:58 am

        Perhaps if OP’s MIL got ‘seven holes’ in her arm she might think twice about stealing food.

        • NostalgicGal September 12, 2014, 10:25 am

          The rest of that one. The attackee had started the altercation, the attacker took it physical with a weapon. The attackee got a month suspension without pay (and decided to find another job) and the attacker got fired and all benefits canned. Both had charges, the attacker plea’d out and paid serious fines and a restraining order. Dunno if it’s worth all that. I don’t advocate poking holes in someone, there are other ways to deal with it. Hot sauce maybe? (and I don’t advocate going past jalapenos; there are some peppers out there that can deal serious injury too)

  • Stacey Frith-Smith September 11, 2014, 2:43 pm

    Your MIL appears to like gas lighting you and other family members. It’s a power play. “See? I can do as I darn well please and there is NOTHING you can do to stop me.” Stop hanging out with her until she amends her behavior. Your hubs can see her at her place. Simple. Done. If you MUST have her over and she offends, feel free to act in kind. Ignore all protests. Help yourself to her food, her purse, her personal space. Get as close as you possibly can when she is on the cell phone, watching television or engaging in ANY activity. Follow her into the bedroom, the bathroom, and the shower. If she protests, remind her that “we’re family”. Bonus points if hubs, sibs and in-laws join in. If she doesn’t “get it” after that….see the first solution above and enforce it fully.

  • Girlie September 11, 2014, 3:00 pm

    Does anyone have an AWESOME MIL that they absolutely love and have no complaints about? My mom and I were talking the other day wondering how rare that might be. I can’t imagine my mom being crazy like my MIL.. but could she ever be??? I hope not!! haha..

    • Katana September 11, 2014, 4:25 pm

      I like my MIL and wished she lived closer. She’s lovely. It’s my stepfather in law who is sort of strange. She’d move back near us but he wouldn’t let her.

    • Mrs. Lovett September 11, 2014, 7:13 pm

      Not married quite yet, but I have an awesome almost MIL (getting married a month from today)! I can’t say I have absolutely no complaints – I can’t imagine anyone knows anyone at all that they can’t complain about at least a little. But she’s sweet, accommodating, welcoming, and respectful of our time and boundaries. My mom is the same way to my fiance. It’s pretty awesome! When I read posts like these, I am certainly reminded of how lucky I am to have a wonderful mother and a wonderful mother-in-law.

      As to the OP, evil me would be tempted to leave various intimate items around the room whenever MIL visits. If she is one to get embarrassed about sex, especially her son’s sex life, leaving naughty lingerie, toys, handcuffs, and condom wrappers out in the room might get her flustered enough to start respecting your privacy, lest she be subjected to the thought of her son in the throes of passion again.

    • AD September 11, 2014, 11:01 pm

      My current mother in law is the most awesome woman ever. Always helping out with my son, always ready with a laugh or willing to accommodate our plans to the best of her ability. We agree on discipline and scheduling and tv programming. The only complaints I could make about her are so small and easily dealt with that they don’t seem worth the time to bring up. I really struck gold on this go round. Hail JG!!!

    • NostalgicGal September 12, 2014, 12:36 am

      I had a majorly awesome MIL and FIL… I couldn’t have asked for better. One of my SIL’s was the cake and icing that made up for it, but. I got along famously with both M and F in law. I miss them both.

    • The Elf September 12, 2014, 7:42 am

      I can’t imagine anyone I wouldn’t have some sort of quibble about. People aren’t perfect.

      But as far as in-laws go, I like mine well enough. She’s fun to hang out with.

    • Steve September 12, 2014, 7:46 am

      I hope every woman who responded yes to your question will take a moment today to email their mothers in law and tell them how terrific they are. It never hurts to hear.

    • Amy A. September 12, 2014, 9:34 am

      My MIL is a lovely woman. She has never been anything but nice to me.

    • hakayama September 12, 2014, 10:05 am

      My MIL was a good enough person and we got along pretty well. Same for the rest of the ILS.
      I feel that rotten MILs are also poor co-workers, bosses, sisters, neighbors, etc. It’s not the “position” that makes them rotten. They are rotten (or at least badly flawed) people to begin with. Since it’s impossible to change the core of the individual, then their behavior needs to be modified. And if they are “unteachable”, then they might as well be excluded from EVERYONE’S life.
      There is a reason (actually multiple) why some frail old folks die alone. It’s not necessarily because there are no succeeding generations, but because they’ve alienated everybody around them, family, friends, co-workers, and nobody gives a darn any more…

      • The Elf September 15, 2014, 9:26 am

        Well, that would be my FIL. Believe me, he more than makes up for fun-to-hang-with MIL. We’re pretty much the only people who take his calls anymore, and the name on the caller ID is met with a certain degree of dread. And you called it – he’s a bad father-in-law, and also a bad friend, a bad father, a bad co-worker, a bad boss, a bad neighbor, a bad brother, a bad husband….. The father-in-law just the expression his nastiness takes with me.

        The good news is that since they are divorced, I can see one without the other tainting the visit.

    • manybellsdown September 12, 2014, 10:15 am

      My mother-in-law is an amazing wonderful person who thinks EVERYTHING her children/children’s spouses/grandchildren do is just the most wonderful, amazing, and incredible thing she’s ever seen. Anytime I talk to her it’s a huge boost that will carry me for weeks. She is a pure delight and always ready to help with anything you need.

    • Renee September 12, 2014, 10:40 am

      I did. My MIL was a great women. We got along really well and I truly miss her. She passed away in 2011. She was one of the nicest people I ever met.

    • helen-louise September 12, 2014, 12:03 pm

      Yes, and I miss her terribly. Though I can be consoled by the fact she raised an awesome son.

    • JAN September 12, 2014, 12:36 pm

      My MIL is awesome (my FIL on the other hand gets on my nerves, but he’s not really bad, our personalities just clash). She is overly concerned with not stepping on my goes and I have to tell her to make my kids mind. I love having her visit!

    • nayberry September 12, 2014, 1:15 pm

      my MIL is lovely, sadly as FIL is not i don’t see either of them.

    • Lindenharp September 12, 2014, 11:06 pm

      I do! She is a wonderful woman who is a delight to converse with, and is generous with her time and attention. Years ago, she knit me a 7-foot-long Doctor Who scarf for Christmas. Though my husband passed away 11 years ago, and we had no children to create a grandma connection, my MIL is still my family and my friend. I’d see her more often if she didn’t live 200 miles away.

    • carol m September 12, 2014, 11:29 pm

      My MIL is great, but then she lives 4 states away. Visits are pleasant, she loves getting pictures and talking to the grandchild on the phone, and only gives advice when asked.

    • Jenn50 September 14, 2014, 3:46 pm

      My mother in law (who lives with us) is a wonderful woman whom I love dearly and does a great deal for us. Is she perfect? Do I have zero quibbles? Heavens no, I can’t imagine feeling that way about anyone, (and I’m sure it’s mutual) but she is a loving, hardworking lady, and we get along very well. I try to remember that when she thinks she’s helping and shrinks or bleaches my favourite hoodie, or decides she simply MUST vacuum at 7 AM on a Saturday. And, yes, I’ve told her how much I appreciate and love her.

    • Ange September 16, 2014, 12:00 am

      My MIL is wonderful but some of the guys I dated in the past had some real whackadoodle mothers. Seriously part of the reason I married my husband was because I knew his family were awesome and I’d never have to deal with any family insanity again.

    • LlannaLee September 24, 2014, 10:01 am

      I feel rather guilty when I read these horror stories … because I have amazing in-laws.

      My husband’s family is really wonderful. Even his siblings.

      Whenever I hear these stories, I always thank my lucky stars … and feel bad that not everyone scored in the in-law lottery like I did.

      (I feel that I should add that my parents are fine, too. So it’s not like my husband is having to fend off the crazies. My mom works very hard to be his favorite MIL … not that either of us has had any other marriages. … Kind of how I’m my mom’s FAVORITE child — since I’m an only child. … But my mom knows what it’s like to have INTERESTING mothers-in-law. She was determined from before I was born not to be like that.)

  • hakayama September 11, 2014, 3:05 pm

    My own in laws were quite lovely and all-around pleasant people, but if they had not been, I’d have dealt with them the same way I’ve dealt with obnoxiously behaved “others”. (One of them was their son, and HE got dumped when reason failed.)
    “They are not your friends. They are not your family. They are your in laws.”
    This mantra/motto should guide your thoughts and actions with regard to the grabby intrusive MIL.
    If your DumbH doesn’t “get it” and does not see the need to make his mommy’s visits less revolting for you, then perhaps you need to make the motto into a sign and post it in a highly visible spot in your home. Treat it as an old style sampler of sorts… 😉
    The commenters did give good solutions to the physical aspects, and that is easy. What is not easy is the sit down “talk”, where you and DH lay out the guidelines. And the consequences. Yes. CONSEQUENCES of crossing the line.
    “Training” children and dogs is very similar in principle. Let’s start with the premise that MIL is arrested in emotional/intellectual* development, so you treat her like a 4 year old.
    Children get time out. MIL can have same for a week for the first offense, the second gets a month, and so on… If DH is not on board, he can visit mommy in her home. Or, if he insists that MIL visit him in your shared home, you do not have to co-host. I’m sure that you can think of ways of removing yourself from the scene.
    Of course, a good part of “re-educating” MIL is in making her son ACCEPT, not necessarily UNDERSTAND your position. Perhaps some neutral third party might chime in on this. No, not a counselor, religious minister or such. I’m shooting for peer pressure: HIS own pals and closest cronies will do. Just host a “guys get-together” and run this by them. I almost guarantee that hilarity will ensue.
    * MIL’s insistence on “familial closeness” makes me think that she’s quite self-centered in her need to demonstrate she’s close to you, that she’s family. Y’know, a bit like the “for show” mourners…

  • AnaMaria September 11, 2014, 3:25 pm

    Ugh, the classic MIL stories!

    Bedrooms are off limits unless a) you share the bedroom with a roommate b) you are under 18 and it is your parent/guardian entering the room, and even then there needs to be reason- a teenager should be able to change clothes without worrying about a parent walking in on them, or c) you have been invited into the bedroom by the owner(s). This is especially true for a married couple- that’s your sacred space where the two of you get away from the rest of the world, and no one belongs in there without your consent, whether they are snooping or not. Like the admin said, it sounds like you need to be firm and direct and not negotiate with your MIL.

    And the food thing is outright disgusting. I’d expect that from a cat or a toddler- so I guess I’d react to her the same way I’d react to either of them. Push her away gently but firmly and tell her no. At least cats and toddlers have the excuse that they can’t get their own food, but what excuse does she have??

  • froyo September 11, 2014, 3:28 pm

    Maybe hubbie isn’t speaking up to MIL about the bedroom cause he doesn’t care? I know my husband regularly takes people into our bedroom to show them things (he keeps some of his personal items in there and likes to share them with others) I have told him over and over NOT to do that, but he still does. So maybe OP’s husband doesn’t speak up cause he simply doesn’t care or agree?

    • Vicki Cole September 11, 2014, 7:09 pm

      That’s very possibly true – however, if it’s that bothersome to his wife, he needs to start taking it more seriously. Might be something that the OP needs to have a serious conversation about with DH. I had to do this when I was married. My MIL thought nothing of just dropping by our house unannounced, with no consideration for what we might be doing or what plans we might have – and she used the same “But we’re family!” reasoning. I’m one of those people who doesn’t like others just dropping in without at least a phone call first, unless it’s very unusual circumstances (such as the time friends of mine came by with a mutual friend who was in town unexpectedly and they wanted to surprise me – but even then they called first!). My ex-husband didn’t have a problem with her actions, and I finally had to sit down with him and tell him that it bothered ME a great deal, and that if he didn’t talk to her, I would – and it might not be a pleasant conversation. (Just as an aside: it isn’t as though his parents never saw us. We went to church with them EVERY SUNDAY, went out to have brunch after church, and often spent time at their house after we ate.)

    • hakayama September 11, 2014, 7:52 pm

      The old European aristocracy had quarters with his and hers bedrooms. The old American plutocracy copied the custom. In one of their lovely residences along the Hudson River, now open to the public, I recall seeing a discreet communicating door between the chambers.
      Could you perhaps copy the arrangement, so that Monsieur can show his man cave to his heart’s content? Could he be persuaded to place his trophies in the common areas? Could you time your need to be in the bedroom, tending to your own intimate rituals, to make it impossible for DuH to bring in his cronies?
      Could/would you consider practicing tantrum fits of such magnitude that DuH would be willing to do anything to avoid another?
      I know that this is not an EHell approved method, but you have tried the ladylike approach…
      Then there’s the PA way: you know what your guy hates with a passion. Knowledge IS POWER. Use it wisely and effectively.

    • NostalgicGal September 12, 2014, 12:44 am

      Sounds like your DH needs his own mancave then. Carve out something that he can shut the door to, shovel if he wants, and it’s his. The bedroom that you share is YOURS not the world’s. We have a large master suite and two tiny bedrooms in this place, and we each have one of those closetlike bedroom as our own private ‘lair’. I don’t go in his if I can at all avoid it, and he doesn’t set foot in mine. If there is a stray pin on my floor and he hits it; his problem not mine. If I step on a cord end to something in his room in the dark, my problem. Then he would have no reason to be dragging people in YOUR bedroom…

  • Shalamar September 11, 2014, 3:50 pm

    Some posters have said “Get a lock for your bedroom door”, which I completely agree with … unless you have a dad like mine. I’ve posted this story before. There was one time when he and Mum were visiting my house, and he and I had a huge fight. I went to my bedroom to cool off, and I locked the door to ensure privacy. My dad took a metal skewer and poked the hole in the middle of the doorknob so that it would release the lock, then he came into my bedroom to continue the fight. I couldn’t believe it.

    • ALM September 11, 2014, 4:48 pm

      My mother used to try that with my younger sister with a hanger and it was amusing as heck to watch her not be able to do it because she was too mad. (I didn’t have a lock on my door, the only person who didn’t, so I had to either hold the door bodily while she continued to yell through the door or let her in). Yet if my sister and I got into an argument we were supposed to walk away until we cooled off. If we argued, we were not supposed to fight. If we argued with Mom, we were wrong and we were supposed to stay and take it until she was done venting her anger. Charming.

      I suppose I should be grateful my mother will never be a mother-in-law, because she was a piece of work.

      • Anonymous September 12, 2014, 10:16 am

        ALM……I could have written that. No locks on bedroom doors (so they had to be held shut), and arguments with my mom were never finished until SHE was ready to be finished. Sometimes, I’d be holding the door shut, and she’d be trying to push her way in, and these arguments could go on for hours. Sometimes, they happened right before I had to go do something else (school, work, rehearsal, meeting friends, etc.),, and it’d ruin the next activity, and sometimes my whole day as well.

    • hakayama September 11, 2014, 7:37 pm

      A rather stubborn, aggressive and destructive character, isn’t he? I surely do hope he has plenty of redeeming virtues, but just that one episode would be enough to test the patience of a saint. Did you impose any consequences on his /mis/behavior?
      How do we find the original story? Is it on this site?

    • Catherine September 11, 2014, 7:56 pm

      That is terrible! Was he ever invited to your house again?

    • Anonymous September 11, 2014, 8:47 pm

      So, Shalamar, if you don’t mind me asking, what did you do after that? Did the metal skewer actually damage the lock, or just release it? Either way, I think that kind of behaviour would warrant a Cut Direct for some time.

    • Cat September 11, 2014, 9:26 pm

      Perhaps a dead bolt would help or one of those devices hotels use to keep the door from being opened more than an inch once you are in your room.
      The fact that your father would break into your room to continue a fight makes me think that you should either improve your lock or get some pepper spray to keep in your night stand. He sounds as if he is far too aggressive against an adult daughter.

    • NostalgicGal September 12, 2014, 12:57 am

      Anybody that follows me through a locked door would regret it. I do hope that he has never done it again and you didn’t have to explain to your mom repeatedly why she and dad are no longer being invited over….

    • Cecilia September 12, 2014, 8:55 am

      Yikes! That was super aggressive. Your own father basically breaking into your room to continue a fight? What did your Mom say/do?