"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
November 6, 2014
Can I Clean My Mother-In-Law's House?
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


My mother-in-law’s house is filthy. When I go and stay with her this Thanksgiving, can I clean it?


Sure, as long as she doesn’t mind, and as long as you don’t make your disgust obvious.

The thing you must remember, above all, is that her feelings are more important than your standards. She is your mother-in-law. You are members of the same family, and family members should look out for each other and care for each other. This includes ignoring each other’s weaknesses, appreciating each other’s strengths, and taking pains not to wound, embarrass or insult each other.

Putting her feelings first is also wise from a strategic point of view. If you really want more latitude to interfere in the way she runs her household (that is, if you really want to clean her house), you need to have a strong and affectionate relationship with her.

If she feels judged and insulted every time you dig out the bucket and Comet, she will hate you for cleaning her house. But if she knows you love and appreciate her, she is more likely to see your cleaning as a kind and helpful service.

With that in mind, here are five suggestions.

First, starting today, build up your relationship with your mother-in-law. True, she may not be a good housekeeper. However, there are certainly things you like and admire about her. She may be kind, loyal, generous, fun, musical, interesting or clever. She may be insightful, hard working, frugal, devout, patient, forgiving or willing to serve.

Maybe she makes delicious meals, is content with what she has, or has a gift for throwing fabulous parties. Whatever her gifts, you need to find them and appreciate them.

So call her. Write to her. Text her pictures. Invite her to visit you. Keep her up to date on what your children are doing. Show concern when she is sick. Send her a birthday card. Ask her advice. Don’t let your opinion of her housekeeping skills overwhelm your relationship or define her in your mind.

(Note: If she is married, let’s not forget the role your father-in-law plays in household maintenance and cleanliness. All members of a household are responsible for its upkeep and condition.)

Second, be gracious. When you are a guest in your mother-in-law’s home, it is your duty to graciously accept the accommodations she offers you. If you have a problem with the cleanliness of her home, you must pretend not to mind. If your problem becomes obvious, you must pretend you are the one with a funny quirk. You must respect her way of doing things and be sensitive to her budget and habits.

Third, plan your trip wisely. The point of visiting family is to build relationships. To accomplish this, you should not overstay your welcome or your ability to be pleasant. So decide how long you will stay and stick to it, even if his parents insist you stay longer. “I wish we could, but we just can’t,” is the line you can repeat.

You also — brace yourselves — should consider staying in a hotel when you visit. It might be awkward at first if the idea of not bunking with family is new. And if you think your in-laws will be devastated, you probably shouldn’t do it. But you and your in-laws might be surprised to find that your visit is more enjoyable for everyone when you are only at their house during waking hours.

If, after careful consideration, you decide to stay in a hotel, just do it. Don’t ask permission. Your husband should call his folks and say, “Hi Dad. Listen, we are going to stay at The Stag when we come for Thanksgiving.”

Dad might surprise you and say, “That’s a great idea.” But he will more likely ask why. And giving no reason at all is, unfortunately, probably not an option with his parents. So you will have to come up with a simple reason that is entirely about your family, not his parents or their house.

You will have to tread lightly and think carefully before you attempt this. Ideas are, “Bill and Jodie will be there with their families, so we thought we’d clear out and let them have more space.” Or, “Teddy is potty training right now, and he won’t be able to handle the basement stairs at night.”

Or, “Oh, we just thought it would be easier.” If Dad pushes back with, “Your mother will be so disappointed,” your husband can respond, “Oh, dear. I thought we’d be making things easier for her.” But stick to your plan and stay at the hotel.

Fourth, at their home, choose your cleaning projects based on what you have personally dirtied. That way, your reason for cleaning is, “I messed it up,” not, “You have a messy house.” You are restoring order you destroyed, not imposing order where your in-laws have chosen not to have it.

Under this rationale, if your children track in dirt, you can vacuum the room. If you spill some juice, you can clean the counter. After you eat, you are free to wash the dishes, clean the kitchen and sweep the floor. You can dust and vacuum your bedroom area, clean the bathroom you are using, wash your sheets, make the bed, wash the towels (with vinegar if necessary) and hang them up.

A similar approach is to “clear a workspace” before you prepare food or do a project. If you are going to make a cake for your father-in-law or sew curtains for your mother-in-law, for example, you’ll need to clear your workspace. This can include cleaning your work surfaces.

The situation may seem tricky if there are no cleaning supplies. But all you have to do is pick some up at the store when you are there to buy milk, cereal, potatoes or that thing you forgot at home. A pack of cleaning cloths and some cleanser are not expensive. Just make sure the surface you are cleaning can tolerate the cleanser you buy.

Fifth, don’t make a big deal of cleaning. There’s no need to announce what you are doing or publicize what you have done. Just go ahead and clean up after yourselves. And if that means cleaning up the dirt that was under your dirt, all the better.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!

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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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