Some context: my girlfriend and I have been dating for a year, and we've decided to move in together now that she has graduated and found a job in her chosen career. We're both financially independent, and made this decision after a lot of communication on the subject. This will be her first time moving out of her parents' house (she is in her mid 20's, oldest of many children) but I've been living on my own for several years (due to university being in a separate city than my hometown, and we met shortly after I moved across the country for my first career position).

Her mother is, in a word, nosy. To her, there are to be no boundaries between parent and child. It irritates my girlfriend, as she is now an adult with the freedom of a teenager, and we've been using my existing apartment as a 'safe haven' from her mother. Her mother has in turn, been driving past my house every day on her work, covering it up as it being on the way to work, but it is a significant deviation of what should be her normal path. She has also frequently stated that she would like to see the inside of my house, however I know this is because:

  • She has expressed disbelief that I am capable of living on my own without help
  • She knows that her daughter spends quite a lot of time here, which frustrates her 'no privacy' policy
  • She is quick to judge peoples' financial and personal situations based upon superficial details. People with more than one pair of earrings or a tattoo are either deviants or potential criminals.

She masks this nosiness as a 'parents care' mentality. She just wants her daughter to be 'safe'.

This nosiness has been extending to myself as well. She wants to know more and more about past relationships, work, circle of friends, etc. I'm willing to share most, but not all details, and what I don't share she tries to pry out of my girlfriend.

With our recent decision to move in together, her attitudes have ramped up exponentially. While supportive of her daughter's decision to proceed into adulthood, she has expressed multiple times that she should have the ability to show up whenever she wants. This is obviously unwelcome, and a flagrant admission to potential trespassing. However, I have yet to find a way to express my own distaste beyond brushing it aside as: "we won't often be home anyway, due to the nature of our careers".

I would like to resolve this in a way that does not result in cut contact, due to the fact that the rest of the family is on good terms, and since my girlfriend and I don't have any reasons to break up, so there will be interaction with the family for years to come.

UPDATE: Since this appears to have gotten way bigger than I could have expected (my personal IPS profile now exceeds my professional developer SO profile lol) I'll let you know how this all worked out. Moving in was easy-peasy. However, after a few days of settling in, GF's mother did come in unnanounced, and simply walked in. I was working at the computer with my headphones on, and was very startled when GF_Mom walked in. GF however took immediate control of this situation and laid out the boundary that we both discussed. Since then GF and I have had a very workable relationship with her mother. Boundary setting was the major key, and informing GF_MOM that the house her daughter and I live in is private property, even if the occupant is her daughter, really hit the right note.

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    Very related: How to ask my father in law to stop entering our house unannounced?
    – David K
    Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 13:21
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    Wait, you have an apartment and a house and your girlfriend's mother has never seen the inside of the house? You should clarify.
    – user1982
    Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 19:30
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    One thing to keep in mind is that "dropping by unannounced" has been the norm for 99.99% of human history. I live pretty far from my parents at the moment, but when I was living in the same city as them, I would have thought it weird if they did call and ask permission to come over. That being said, there's nothing that says you have to answer the door when someone knocks.
    – Kevin
    Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 20:50
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    @Kevin "One thing to keep in mind is that "dropping by unannounced" has been the norm for 99.99% of human history" That seems rather irrelevant. For 99.9% of human history it wasn't considered rude to use your cell phone in a movie theater, because we didn't have either. But now we have these things called phones, and asking others to call before they stop by isn't that unusual.
    – Andy
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 15:50
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    @Kevin This isn't a recent norm; the telephone has been around for over 100 years, and at least in the US has been common place probably for around 50 years now. Helicopter parents are much more recent.
    – Andy
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 18:14

7 Answers 7


Like most boundary related issues, this is one of those "set a boundary and stick to it" situations.

If the boundary you set says that it isn't ok to drop by unannounced, then that's the boundary. Don't answer the door when she just drops by.

Her reasons for feeling that it's ok to violate boundaries are really irrelevant, because dealing with it ends up being the same regardless. You and your girlfriend set boundaries for your time and space and you stick to them whether her mother kicks and screams or not. Eventually she'll start calling before she visits or she'll stop visiting. (Most likely she'll just start calling first)

Respect is a two way street, often helicopter parents have a really hard time dealing with that fact when their kids grow into early adulthood... Keep in mind that you're not asking the mother for a favor, you're drawing a simple line in the sand and reminding her that this is how adult people treat each other. It isn't, or rather shouldn't be, a big deal to extend a little mutual respect.

So... Have a sit-down discussion with your girlfriend. Come to some agreement about what boundaries you two are comfortable setting, and then relay those to her mother. Expect to get some push back, but hold your ground and wait for the fit to pass. After a turbulent adjustment period things should work out just fine.

If you and your girlfriend feel like being generous, you might invite the mother over for dinner once in a while to put her mind at ease, just do it on you and your gf's terms.

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    often helicopter parents have a really hard time dealing with that fact when their kids grow into early adulthood This is my interpretation of the situation so far. She's shown some very offside behaviour, but it seems to stem from being overbearing in general. If you and your girlfriend feel like being generous, you might invite the mother over for dinner once in a while to put her mind at ease, just do it on you and your gf's terms. This is our current plan on dealing with the situation. I wish I had enough rep to upvote based on this alone.
    – Cork
    Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 22:15
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    +1 for Come to some agreement about what boundaries you two are comfortable setting. If one of you sticks strictly to the boundary and the other one not as strict, the mother will probably know to use this, e.g. visiting only, when just the one following the weaker boundaries is home. This might lead to conflicts between you and your girlfriend, so it's really important to be on the same page with her about your boundaries and how strictly to stick to them!
    – Christoph
    Commented Dec 3, 2017 at 12:45
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    That last line, "...do it on you and your girlfriend's terms." That is very important.
    – SQB
    Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 7:43
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    @QuakeWallis I find this an extremely interesting topic and it would be terrific if you could update your question on how the topic folded up and how her mother reacted to your set boundries :) Because in the past i was dealing with kinda the same situation too, where i and my ex moved in 5 minutes away from her parents (because of a very cheap and big apartment) and as you can guess, i saw them 5 times a week and i really did NOT like that.
    – MansNotHot
    Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 14:09
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    @SQB absolutely GF and I have discussed it. This question was more or less myself ratifying my stance on the subject matter before pitching it to her, and she had the same opinion.
    – Cork
    Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 5:04

When we were training our dog, in the section under barking, the book claimed that you can't teach a dog not to bark until you have first taught the dog to bark. This establishes that the barking is something you control, not the dog. So, in the case of your mother-in-law (or as we called it when we lived together, mother-in-sin) to-be, you take control of her presence in your home by inviting her over. Really.

First, dinner with her and of course her daughter. Have light conversation. Show off your place: you're proud of it, right? Allay her fears; the girl isn't moving into some rat-infested slum. Have a pleasant evening and then say "well, it's been lovely spending some time together and getting to know each other a little more. I look forward to having you over again."

Then repeat. Whether you have her over once a week, once a month, or once a year, invite her over and set a date in plenty of time in advance. Then there is no need for her to drop by, stop in, etc. She has a date already set for the next time she will come over. How often you see her will probably depend on your girlfriend's comfort level, but don't try to drive it to zero. If she calls and wants to come over, you can say "we're looking forward to seeing you on the 13th (or Thursday, or whatever) and we're jammed up busy between now and then." You can even elaborate "we had to decline an invitation to XYZ because we wanted to keep that night free to see you." (Always go for the more flattering wording when you do this, never "because you were coming over", for example.)

This does two things. It gives her some of what she wants: a chance to see where her daughter is living (the thought of my child moving from my house to a place I had never even seen is a little scary) and to know more about you. An assurance that she will still be in her daughter's life. A sense of a widening family circle that includes both you and her, rather than her daughter changing circles. Yet it gives you and your girlfriend what you want: privacy and control over who comes to your home when.

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    All I can hear while I read this... is Ceaser Millan talking about how to be the pack leader.
    – WernerCD
    Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 17:13
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    You can learn a lot from training a dog :-) Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 17:35

This is a real challenge for you. I've had to deal with nosy, interfering parents as well.

A couple of things:

  1. You cannot make your significant other choose between you and her family. Well, you can, but you won't like the outcome.
  2. The parents don't see that they're doing anything wrong.
  3. This has the potential to be a real source of strife between your girlfriend and you.

The person who needs to resolve this is your girlfriend. You can support her, but in the end your girlfriend is the one who needs to set the rules for interaction with her mother. Otherwise her mother will see you as interfering, controlling, and trying to "break up the family".

The first step is to have a heart-to-heart with your GF. Find out her feelings. If she doesn't see that this is an issue, then you've got a whole other thing to deal with. If she does, then the two of you need to come up with a plan. There are two schools of thought: lay down all the rules at first and then relax them, or gradually push for more behavior changes. Both have their proponents and case. Again, how you do this depends on your GF.

If the two of you agree, I'd start by ensuring that you and only you have keys. If Mom says that she needs keys "in case of an emergency" then lay out a plan where you can get keys to her in an emergency. (A key safe is a useful thing; tell her the combo when you need her to have it.) Secondly is to manage how much time is spent on the phone with Mom. You don't need to be harsh, but after a couple minutes a good way to break it off is to say something like, "Well, I don't have much new to report so I'm going to go. Thanks for calling!"

With respect to unannounced visits - she can drive by; it's a public street. There's not much you can do to stop this. The first thing to do with visits is to chat privately. "We love seeing you, but we're pretty busy and don't always have time to entertain. If you could call first, we can save you a lot of frustration." If she stops by, meet her at the door, chat for a few minutes, and then say "Well, it's dinner/TV/Date/work time; we have to go. Thanks for stopping by!" If that doesn't work, then having a "date" where the two of you need to leave will eventually make the point work. The point is to establish that you and your GF, although you like Mom, have a lot to do and don't always have time for company.

I have a relative who has gone the opposite route - they have drastically reduced contact with her parents. She doesn't call them, doesn't visit, and makes it known that she doesn't have time when they stop by. She does get-togethers on her terms. That's a little harsh, but apparently what needed to happen with that relationship.

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    I've had the conversation with GF, she's fully aware of her mothers' behaviour. In fact, she forewarned me before I met her mom that this has been an issue previously. I really like the idea of 'we have to go, thanks for stopping by!' option. Will definitely use in practice.
    – Cork
    Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 22:08
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    The person who needs to resolve this is your girlfriend. ABSOLUTELY!!
    – MaxW
    Commented Dec 3, 2017 at 1:39
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    As I think on this, I ask myself: what need would someone have to get into your place? Unless you have pets, I haven't seen in 30 years of living on my own that anyone has needed to get into my place. I'm kind of the opinion that an emergency requiring a key to your place barely exists. Commented Dec 3, 2017 at 17:04
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    The main emergency is when you lock yourselves out, it can be useful to have someone else with a key (but there are other solutions, too). Others can be things like a leak or something detected while you're away on holidays, but again.... It's very unlikely you need someone to have a key, and to use that key without talking to you beforehand. Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 3:31
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    You have lived there for a few years now, so ought to know the neighbours. Whether you do, or whether you want to lie to to your potential mother in law, you can always say, quite correctly, that an emergency key is best left with a neighbour, for immediate access. If you are locked out, you don't want to wait for mum in law to drive over. If you are on holiday, a neighbour can handle plant & pet sitting, and, indeed, you can always claim that this has already been the case for several years and you do not want to offend the neighbour by replacing them with the dragon in law.
    – Mawg
    Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 7:51

To add to all the excellent advice above, it may be possible to seek out your girlfriend's father as a potential ally.

If he understands his daughter's point of view then you may have an ally in convincing the mother. Even if he doesn't want to get involved, he is the foremost expert on handling her, and may be able to provide excellent advice.

In addition to her father, you should consider if there are other relatives or family friends who are close to her mother but recognize the importance of your girlfriend's independence. They don't have to address the topic directly, but by sharing stories of how their own children (or others they know) became independent, they can provide a supporting base of evidence for your argument that her mother is being overprotective. (Although make sure first that they weren't similarly overprotective )

Getting her mother to listen to you will be easier if you have the support of those that her mother considers to be equals, rather than children.


If you and your girlfriend's relationship has reached the stage of you moving in together, and your girlfriend's family still haven't been invited round for a meal/drink/general-socialising, I'd be concerned, too. Friends and family do visit each other. It doesn't have to be a case of dropping in unannounced every day, but the fact that you say she hasn't even been inside your house after however many months of you and your girlfriend being together is frankly weird.

Of course if you lived a long distance away, then that wouldn't be so unusual. But you say it's just a bit of a diversion from her usual route to work, so you live maybe an hour's drive apart at most? And you're consciously excluding your girlfriend's family from your home? Sorry, this is mega alarm bells, because excluding contact is the classic first step of an abusive relationship.

If you want to silence those alarm bells, start treating her parents like you'd treat any other friends. Invite them round to yours occasionally for a meal. If she calls to say she's going to be in your area, and you're both not otherwise engaged, and she hasn't been round for a while, then she can drop in for a coffee - your girlfriend can tell her you've got an hour before you need to get to work, go shopping or whatever, so the time is well bounded. Basically the same as you'd do with anyone else. You don't need to give her parents keys to your house so they can get in whenever they want, but completely refusing to allow them across the threshold is equally wrong. Of course you know she may not have "just been in the area", but it's not a problem unless she's turning up more often than you or your girlfriend would like. And the same as you'd do with your friends, her inviting herself round for a drink occasionally is normal, too.

Certainly you're describing a classic helicopter parent, and she needs boundaries setting. If you're busy, or if you simply don't want her round sometime, then "no" is a complete sentence. But fully excluding your girlfriend's family from your day-to-day life together is never going to be constructive.


I agree with most of the above, and would like to reaffirm the points I feel most strongly about, as well as add a bit of my own ideas:

"Set a boundary and stick to it" -- excellent advice. There should be no compromise with this, short of a disaster like an accident or fire.

"You [both] and only you [both] have keys" -- again excellent. But rather than a key safe, give a key to a trusted neighbor (you probably ought to do this anyway) and if she needs access and you're not there, tell her where to get the key (don't tell her where beforehand or she'll be badgering the neighbor for the key).

"Your girlfriend" "needs to resolve this" -- yes, she needs to decide what will be your common policy. But after the two of you discuss it, you have to present a united front. In other words, it's your job too to make sure to make sure what was decided gets done.

I suggest you invite her over, just the three of you, and tell her. Make a nice meal (step 1 -- good news), tell her how it's going to be from now on (step 2 -- bad news), and then say something nice (step 3 -- good news). If nothing else, it sets a precedent that she is welcome when invited.

"She wants to protect her daughter" -- gently tell her that you're her protector now.

As far as the driving by, I would suggest sheer curtains and a room light timer so she doesn't automatically know when you're home.

Good luck.

EDIT: and never any discussions about finances and things like that.

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    Discussing with the GF is critical, and being united is critical, but I would suggest that the GF lay out the rules to the mom with the BF not there. My wife and I layed ground rules out for my mother, and it took me years to convince my mom that we were, in fact united, and that I wasn't being mind controlled by my wife. If I'd had the initial talk with my mom without my wife, that probably would have been less of an issue. Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 0:07
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    For the protector thing, I doubt a mom would accept anyone else as the protector of their daughter. I would push for "The GF is strong and doesn't need either of us to protect her, but when she needs you, she will still call you." This shifts the conflict to being mother-daughter, and the mother is much more likely to back off. Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 0:09
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    "if she needs access and you're not there" Nope. She doesn't need access if I'm not there. She may want access, and even think that means she needs it. But she doesn't. Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 21:54
  • "if she needs access and you're not there" -- I was thinking in terms of emergencies. Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 6:39

It does look like your girlfriend's mother is significantly more involved in her daughter's adult life than most parents are today. But not necessarily excessively so. It's normal for parents to be concerned about their children. Sending children to be off on their own at age 18 is a mostly an American thing. I think this is more of an old and new culture clash than anything else.

So I'm looking at this the other way around. Could it also be that and you and your girlfriend have mostly shut her out of your lives? Could you be the ones who are living in a modern politically correct culture where people are too insecure for face to face communication?

If your response to her attempts to be involved in your lives means shutting her out even more, then she will attempt to invade your lives even more. How about you decide what a normal amount of parental involvement should be based on cultural norms that your girlfriend's mother would be used to. Then set the boundary there and DO NOT shut her out of your lives in retaliation for her excessive involvement. Do you want her to be on your bad side forever? Why make an enemy if you don't have to?

Your girlfriend should be grateful too. My mom knew someone who came from a Mafia family and nobody would date her because they were too afraid.

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