I’ve got young houseguests who are starting to annoy me. What do I do, Elderly Aunt?

For the next three months, I am sharing my house with two younger generations.  I think that I am dealing well with the changes to my life and habits and home.  However, today I arrived home to find the mother watching TV, while the baby ran around the house, leaving a trail of toys and my things behind her all over the house.  And the high chair and other toys were outside in the pouring rain.  I asked the mother to bring in the high chair and to clean up the toys.  But I am finding myself quite annoyed…Elderly Aunt, what to do????

For the next three months, I am sharing my house with two younger generations.  I think that I am dealing well with the changes to my life and habits and home.  However, today I arrived home to find the mother watching TV, while the baby ran around the house, leaving a trail of toys and my things behind her all over the house.  And the high chair and other toys were outside in the pouring rain.  I asked the mother to bring in the high chair and to clean up the toys.  But I am finding myself quite annoyed…Elderly Aunt, what to do????

In order to address your situation, dear reader, the Elderly Aunt spent a few minutes doing as Atticus Finch advised his daughter Scout to do in To Kill a Mockingbird: She climbed inside your skin, and walked around in it. Metaphorically speaking, of course. As I’m sure Lawyer Finch intended rather than meaning one should climb into the kind of human skin suit tailored by Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs.

Now the Elderly Aunt’s house is by no means tidy, but it is her own expecteduntidiness. And so during her metaphorical traipsing around in your skin, the Elderly Aunt decided “quite annoyed” does not begin to express the level of the Elderly Aunt’s discontent after her metaphorical home inspection! Naturally, the Elderly Aunt applauds you for recognizing that sharing your space in such circumstances entails adaptation on your part, but noway does she think you should suck it up, turn the other cheek and continue to let such annoying times roll.

As to how to resolve the situation…

To begin with, the Elderly Aunt assumes that your house sharers are people of basic goodwill. It is with this assumption in mind that she suggests you use a two-step process.

Step One, dear reader, involves you being fearlessly honest with yourself—for example, admitting to yourself it truly bothers you to have the television on all the time, or that it really is important to have everyone eat supper together, or that you’d like your house guests to ask your permission before they mess with your things. Do notargue with your needs. Acknowledge and accept them. Embrace your inner Popeye the Sailor Man—the weird little cartoon guy who proudly declares, “I yam what I yam!”

Make a written list of behaviors that bug the living daylights out of you. Formulate it using “I” statements (“I need” or “I prefer”) rather than as ultimatums (You will do this!). A mindset based on “I” statements greases the wheels of your relationships other people, while thinking in ultimatums reinforces your desire to control them. 

This list is fluid and will certainly change over time, and it has two functions. The first is to buck you up when things again get blurry with your young houseguests, as—rest assured, dear reader—they will. The second is to facilitate Step Two. 

Since all of the Elderly Aunt’s dear readers are perforce delightfully perspicacious, she is certain you have guessed already that Step Two is to communicate your needs to the young home invaders. And she does use the term “home invader” advisedly, as, in the Elderly Aunt’s opinion, that is how you will intermittently experience your houseguests until you have embraced the necessity for Step Two and got on with it.

Sadly, it seems to the Elderly Aunt that many of us experience communicating our needs to others as conflict. To her, the reason for this is obvious: We feel conflicted about having needs in the first place. A small judgmental voice (our mother’s? our first husband’s? our second grade teacher’s?) tells us that having any needs at all means we have yet to become a fully evolved Good Person.

Allow the Elderly Aunt to suggest that this is nonsense of the first order. Of course, you have needs! You are a human being. So snuggle up to your inner Popeye, dear reader, get comfortable with those needs, communicate them clearly and simply to others, and you’ll find it so much easier to share space with people. The Elderly Aunt is nota fan of expecting others to intuit our needs through a bunch of passive-aggressive hints.  Nor is she a fan of accepting that other people somehow have the right to make us miserable.

Step Two will most likely take place over the entire course of your house-sharing adventure, but this is nothing to get anticipatorily het up about. Have your initial talk, then whenever something bugs you, acknowledge immediately that you are bugged, and as soon as possible communicate this to the other person. Be clear, be firm, be cheerful. Invite the mother to ask questions, raise concerns, express how her needs might conflict with yours, but do not get into a long, stressful debate. It’s your house. You can listen and acknowledge your guest’s points, without feeling compelled to abandon your inner Popeye and condemn yourself to weeks of simmering domestic disgruntlement. 

In conclusion, it is the Elderly Aunt’s experience that relationships are much like the rest of life: What we expect to work out for the best, usually does. Our responsibility is to stay true to who we are, do our best to be kind and useful and eschew telling porkies to ourselves or anyone else.

The Elderly Aunt offers her thoughtful responses to your questions about this wild ride we call life on every other Monday.  And as a general disclaimer—to quote the elves from The Lord of the Rings — “… advice is a dangerous gift, even given from the wise to the wise.”

Got a question for the Elderly Aunt? Ask her on Facebook or email your question to [email protected] with the subject line “Elderly Aunt question.” (Just please don’t ask detailed financial questions). 

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