*This article is a work of nonfiction based on actual events recounted to me by a friend who witnessed them firsthand; used with permission
Living with your in-laws can make for a complicated relationship, and when unusual attitudes show up, you might get confused as to who's right and how to make things work again. Would you be willing to let your mother-in-law decide when you wake up and even be on the point of going into your room if it meant you could stay there without paying rent or any bills?
How far would be too far when it comes to interfering in your relationship, and what can you compromise on to be able to afford other things instead of house payments?
My friend Sam, who lives in Phoenix, Arizona, has been married to Tom, her husband, for two years. They had a short engagement and were very excited to tie the knot, even if they couldn't afford to buy a home or even rent a place at the time.
"We were both in our first year of college, and we just liked each other so much we didn't want to wait any longer. I know getting a good job and earning enough to buy a house in Phoenix will take time, but our relationship matters a lot to both of us, and we can make it work. We were lucky enough to have our parents close, so we didn't have to worry so much about money," Sam said.
Her parents paid for the wedding ceremony, and Tom's parents offered to have the couple live with them since Tom was their oldest son and all his sisters were married already.
"They had the space, and we got along well. I even knew how to cook, and his mom was so pleased with that. I thought it would be great to be able to live there and keep studying while making our relationship a permanent one," Sam said.
Tom also needed to borrow money for the engagement ring from his dad, but his proposal was very nice, and his mom prepared a special dinner at home for the two of them.
"It felt like both families were happy about our relationship, and that was great. Most of my friends told me how their in-laws were so easily offended or completely ignored them. I could actually talk to Gina, my mother-in-law, and I laughed a lot with Tom's dad too. They were friendly and open, and I felt like I could share anything that troubled me with them," Sam said.
Once they got married, Sam and Tom started living in the largest bedroom in their in-laws' home. Sam usually cooked dinner with Tom's mom and also helped her make breakfast when she had time before leaving for college in the mornings. They all shared house chores, and that included Tom and his dad.
"It was generally ok, and we didn't argue or shout at all. But still, something started bothering me after a few months of staying there. Being close to Tom and having some time just for us was quite difficult at times. And since he had a job and I didn't, his mom also felt she needed to remind him when to leave so he wouldn't be late. She was helpful, but it got to the point where she was stressing me out by interfering," Sam said.
Tom is studying and working full-time so he can contribute to the bills and help his parents look after their house in Phoenix. And he starts early, at 7 a.m. That's why his mom felt she needed to make sure he got there on time.
So, she began knocking on the bedroom door every morning, about half an hour before he had to leave.
"She knocks on our bedroom door to tell him to go to work. I kept thinking she'll come in and check on what we were doing. Not to mention she wakes me up, and I can't fall asleep again. I told her we set out phones for the right hour, but Gina still wanted to be sure. And she hasn't given up on it in so many months. I don't know how to tell Gina she has to stop without offending her. But it's stressful. I want some private time without worrying about who knocks on the door. And it's not like she does it discreetly., She also speaks loudly and expects an answer. And she'll knock again if we don't say something right away," Sam said.
She talked about it to her parents, but they don't think she should be worried about her mother-in-law at all. They told her she'd have to wake up very early when she gets a job in Phoenix, too, so maybe Gina could be doing her a favor by getting her used to that.
What do you think about this situation? Is it fair for Gina to keep knocking on the couple's door and make them feel she could come in any time? Should Sam see this habit as something positive in her relationship with her mother-in-law and realize she's just trying to support them to earn well and have good careers in the future?