My father in law refuses to listen to our requests not to work in/on our house during weekdays.

So, there's a bit of a backstory here. We bought a house 8 months ago, started renovating and during that period we were invited to live at my in-laws. My father in law is already retired and is bored all day. He has the key to our house in case of emergencies etc. When we didn't live in the house yet he was free to work on things whenever he liked. 2 months ago we moved in, but he still comes and goes whenever he likes.

We talked about him discussing coming over first, but he gets angry whenever we try. He throws the 'You should be thankful I'm helping' argument everywhere. He now sends a message to his son (my partner) only, but he's often working or can't respond soon enough and then he'll go without having an answer anyway.

This resulted in him showing up in many unfortunate situations. While typing this now I'm working at home due to some circumstances and he just came marching through the door. 'Oh I messaged X but he didn't respond.' and is now working very loud equipment. When I asked him to stop he said it was important he does this today. Perfect working conditions...

Next to this he is quite clumsy when we're not around, perhaps because he is getting old. He has broken or damaged multiple things already.

Every time we discuss this issue it ends in a fight or him being offended. We need his help to finish the house, but we'd prefer he comes here only on the weekends. He says he needs his rest on the weekends so he doesn't want to work then.

Is the only option we have left asking him no to come at all anymore? I'm afraid even asking that will offend him. Normally I'm quite good with turning things my way but however I put it, he finds something to be offended about and will make a whole drama over it.

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    @alephzero Please don't write answers in the comments. That's not what the're for. If you have a solution, write an answer so that the community can vote on it.
    – Catija
    Jul 28, 2017 at 21:07
  • <comments removed> Please resist the temptation to turn this into a free-form discussion and answering in comments. My apologies for any apt comment that were removed in the mess. Aug 7, 2017 at 17:17

7 Answers 7


From an outsider's perspective:

  • It's your house, so you get to say who can be there when and who gets a key.
  • It's his time, so he gets to say when and if he wants to do work for you.

If you're really still depending on his free work you will have to find a compromise on when he works - or in the worst case accept his behaviour. If he doesn't want to work on weekends then you can't make him (and you shouldn't even make him justify why he doesn't want to; it's his time!). Having to suck up to him will be the price you pay for the "free" work he does.

Maybe Anketam's solid advice works for you. Maybe you can rope in a relative (mother in law?) to request fil's help for something else (which he likes) in order to keep him busy during the week? Maybe your nephew really needs that treefort built by grandad?

If that all comes to nothing and if you're willing and able to pay for someone else to do the work (or find someone else who helps for free) then you can discuss with him one last time (ideally your partner does this) and make it clear that he's only welcome under certain conditions. If he doesn't accept the conditions take away the key or exchange the lock. Yes, of course that's going to be painful. If you set and enforce boundaries with someone who clearly has no concept of (your) boundaries someone's going to be upset. I don't see a way around this, to be honest. If you enforce boundaries, keep interactions short, neutral, and consistent. "Sorry, we've talked about this before: you can't come in and do work today. If you want to work please come back on Saturday." Then ignore all the drama he throws at you and look as bored as you can.

edited to add

You write in your comments that

We needed, wanted and appreciated his help when we and other family members were collectively working on the house. All other people stopped coming when we moved in, because we requested they did. My FIL is the only person who still feels as if he needs to finish certain things even though we have no rush or do not care about them.

Maybe you can try throwing an official "house renovation is over, yay!" party/dinner/whatever, as a ritual to officially signify that, well, the work phase is over now. Most important guest: father in law. Thank him profusely for his great support (because it sounds like he was really quite supportive) and repeatedly mention "Wow, we're so glad the hot phase is over and we can now relax in the new home you helped us build!". It shows your gratitude, it gives him attention and appreciation, celebrating together is (should be) a joyful activity, and it serves as an official announcement that from now on work on the house will not be norm but the exception.

Of course, after the party you have to enforce the boundary - but maybe it sweetens the pill.

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    I really like your idea of trying something to give it some closure. We were postponing this until every little detail was finished, but it would be nice to use it in this situation.
    – Summer
    Jul 28, 2017 at 10:49
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    "ideally your partner [makes] it clear that he's only welcome under certain conditions" -> I think the partner's role in the answers is underestimated substantially. He really needs to lay things out in uncertain terms like you suggest; they are extremely grateful for his help, but he cannot keep letting himself in because it means that they aren't sure they will have personal/quiet time. Lay some (reasonable) ground rules that he has to get permission from one or the other that he can come and do the work - he has both phone numbers - and if that doesn't work, ask for the key back.
    – Dan
    Jul 28, 2017 at 15:23

Handle this situation carefully.

Ideally it would be best if your father in law has a close friend (preferably another retire) that can come in and have a talk with him. There are many reasons for this, but in particular one possible cause it could be:

If he is someone that gets their identity from their job/work then it is possible that your father in law is struggling with being retired, and using this renovation effort to help feel like he still has something to contribute. If this is the cause then a fellow retiree can give him advice that this is not a constructive way to find ones identity as a retiree and needs to find a different way.

There are many possible reasons why he is acting this way (like he subconsciously does not approve your relationship). Bringing in a third party that your father in law trusts, respects, and gives good counsel can greatly help find the root cause of this and address it. If you do not address the root cause, and simply take away his key to the house and hire a contractor to do the work, it would likely cause irreparable harm to your relationship.

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    This so much. Everything in the question practically screams 'I can still be of help and am not a retiree!'. Especially him working during the week (as if he wasn't retired) and him needing the weekend to 'recharge' (as that probably was his old routine from when he had a job). He needs to learn and understand that the routine he did for the past ~40 to 50 years needs to rest now. He can go on biking/hiking tours, help out in the community and all kinds of things. Someone just needs to show him that - who better than a (close) friend? Dec 5, 2017 at 13:47

At the moment, there is no incentive (other than politeness and pleasing you) for your FIL to do as you wish. You need to make this something that he wants to do. Ideally you would have had this conversation the day you moved out of their house. But the recent incident with you working at home can be a good catalyst too. Try saying something like this:

Dad (or whatever honorific you use for him), I want to apologize for what happened the other day when you came over to work on our house. We're so grateful that you are renovating our house for us and saving us so much money to get us all set up in the world. It must have been such a surprise to you that I was at home working, and wanting quiet when you had planned a day with the noisy tools. I guess it really disrupted your week.


I don't want to put you through that again. If I had known you were coming over I would have worked from a coffee shop. Sure, it costs me a little money and hassle, but that's nothing compared to what you're doing for us. I'll gladly do it. Maybe we could make a plan? Some number of days a week - maybe Monday, Wednesday, Thursday? - I will guarantee the house will be empty from 8 am to 6pm. You won't have to message or anything, just come on over. When we get home at night we'll see what you've done, it will be exciting for us! Tuesdays and Thursdays you will have off, you won't normally be here, so we might use the house during the day those days, and weekends of course are for relaxing. I guess if there's something you have to finish and you can't stay away, I won't refuse you, I'll tell [partner] to say "yes" when you message, but we can use those days as the usual plan. Does that sound good? I think it will be more predictable for us both.

Now he may quibble over which days it is, but if so that's great, he's accepted the premise. He may point out that your partner should respond to messages about coming over - and he has a point. You could get him to agree that if your partner doesn't respond, he'll have to wait and not come over till he gets the response. But all of this is good, because instead of arguing "don't just come over any time, weekends are better for us" "No way, I am too old to work weekends" you're now calmly working together to establish a schedule that works for both of you.

It's also in his interest to know he isn't going to let himself in and discover that you are in the shower and didn't take clothes into the bathroom with you. Or that you and your partner both took the afternoon off work for some, ahem, private time in the kitchen. In a pinch, you can refer to that.

Look, I also really need to apologize for my tone when I was surprised when you arrived. (Pause, look embarrassed, blush if you can.) You see, just an hour before that I was in the shower. And I was horrified at the thought that I might have been in the shower when you came. It got me upset a little. I spoke sharply from that.

This shouldn't be a complete and total lie, adapt it to something that actually happened (or could have happened) on a day he once came over, such as you were in the living room not wearing something you could really be seen in, or you were in the kitchen and had to remove some clothing because of a spill, or the like. Your FIL doesn't seem to know some of the things that can happen when you surprise people, so if necessary gently allude to some possibilities.

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    groveling? Really? All I propose is to refrain from treating a relative who is freely helping as though they were some workman you've hired and whose hours you get to set. I propose thinking about the feelings of your family member instead of ordering them around on the topic of giving you free help. If you think that FIL is "walking all over" the OP you haven't met many inlaws. And my suggestions are insisting on dramatic changes - not coming on certain days, not coming if a message goes unanswered, etc. Yes, phrased to sound good to FIL. Guess it worked. Jul 27, 2017 at 14:36
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    Sure, grovelling. From the question I'm getting the vibe that the OP won't be able to honestly apologise to FIL for "disturbing him at work" because she's really upset about the invasion of privacy and being disturbed at work. So I'd call it grovelling. And, yes, it's the price to pay for free work. As you say (and as I also said in my answer): you don't get to dictate what someone else does when in their free time. To me as a European the tone you suggest sounds uncomfortably servile though - and not "insisting". Jul 27, 2017 at 20:46
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    I'm a Canadian and grovelling is correct. You know you messed up when you have to grovel in your own house for privacy. Don't. Pops knows the score. The compromise is weekends or nothing. Gramps needs to realize ASAP that his boy has a partner, not a chattel, so if you say go, he gets gone. He texts both of you. The 70's are long gone, world has changed. OP needs to meditate on the cost of free, usually cheaper to pay. Not a great way to start a life together, so be strong now, and soften it over the years with the grovelling.
    – chiggsy
    Jul 27, 2017 at 23:13
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    For the first suggestion, it seems like the FIL didn't care that the OP was at home, so trying to frame it as good for him that they can avoid that situation might be a bit of a stretch. If he thinks it's unreasonable that she got annoyed at him, then to him it's going to sound like: "Good news, I've decided on a way to work around my unreasonable anger: you're going to have to change your schedule" Jul 28, 2017 at 9:51
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    Oh my, this sounds totally entertaining to me - but if I'd be the step-father, I'd likely be pissed after hearing that first block, because - to me - this comes off as totally ironic and passive-agressive, not appeasing at all. In my world it might trigger something like "Yeah sure, you sitting at the desk pushing around a few Excel tables had a huge impact on me doing some proper work, I'm psychologically damaged now, and this tiny incident, it shattered my week. Like not. Look I'm not such a SJW pussy, I went to 'Nam!" ;) So, if you want to go with such an approach I'd tone it down. Jul 28, 2017 at 15:06

From the perspective of someone who's done a bit of contractor work...

Have you considered that he may just be trying to get the project completed and be done with the situation?

Guys, particularly old guys, who've done that sort of work for a living usually like to knock it out and complete the work as quickly as possible. When I worked for a drywall company, they were hesitant to take on projects in occupied homes largely because it made scheduling everything much harder and... Well... It can be annoying to have a customer over your shoulder while you're trying to get things done.

Try to cut the old guy some slack, he's literally saving you thousands of dollars/euros and he's trying to get the thing finished.

If it helps, keep in mind that the more he's there, the closer the project gets to completion, and the sooner the project gets done the sooner life will get back to normal.

Try to see it from his perspective. He's been doing an awful lot of hard work, for free, and all he gets is hassle about when it's ok to come over and do all of this unpaid hard work.

Cranky old guys are usually cranky for a reason. He may be rough around the edges, but he really is doing an awful lot for you. Let him do it and be done with it.

If it all boils down to him not knocking before he enters, talk to him about it. Then spend the next couple mornings wrapped in a towel and look mortified if he just walks in... Mostly joking about the towel, it would probably work, but no need when a simple interior throw latch or door chain will do the trick. He may have a key, but adding an extra latch will force him to knock when you're home.

  • @StephanBranczyk a webcam would probably be a little extreme... A phone call or text message would probably be more reasonable.
    – apaul
    Oct 22, 2017 at 22:55
  • You're right of course. But I tend to go for the more extreme solutions myself. For instance, I use to have Google Latitude transmit my gps location at all times to a web page that my mom on the other side of the world would always have access to. That's another thing the OP could do herself. Not with Google Latitude because Google Latitude is gone, but there are many free family/friends tracking apps with similar functionality that will allow you to do something similar at various levels of granularity. For instance, you could transmit the city you're in, instead of your exact location. Oct 22, 2017 at 23:22
  • @StephanBranczyk Eh? Honestly that kind of solution would make me a little paranoid. Like if it works for you that's great, but I doubt it would work for a lot of people.
    – apaul
    Oct 22, 2017 at 23:26
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    What would make me paranoid is a father-in-law entering my house unannounced and whenever he feels like it. Hopefully, the party went as planned, the husband grew a spine, and he spoke seriously and unambiguously to his father. In addition to that, if I were the wife, I would have installed a chain on the door or a deadbolt (that can only be unlocked from the inside) and then I would have given the father in law an easy way to tell whenever I am out. This way, if the boundary still gets crossed after everything I did, I'd just explode. Oct 23, 2017 at 8:56

I had same situation - with my own father. I think that with the father-in-law it can be more complicated as your partner should be more involved than you.

He was working on the flat, usually loudly, without realizing what time it is.

I too appreciated his 'help', but it was creating more stress for BOTH of us than it was an asset.

When it came to moment that it was unbearable I just went full on my father so he left the flat with tears in his eyes. He needed to understand that this is my life now and that I need some privacy.

I didn't call first. When he called I was strict - I want to see him of course, but needs to be under my terms. That means that he writes at least one day in front if he wants to come for visit and he must accept if I say NO.

Since that our relationship got much better :)

Sometimes being 'strict' is better.


I am in a similar situation. After a divorce I found myself a single dad for nearly 5 years and relied a lot on my parents and also my aunt who I am very close to. They always had a key to my house for emergencies and it was not an issue. But while I relied heavily on them they did gradually start doing more and more things for me, well-meaning, but without prompting. While I was on my own, I actually didn't mind and never said anything. Now I am married again, and my wife does feel uncomfortable when they (occasionally) just let themselves in, and I do see her point of view. On the other hand they are wonderful and really help us out, something both my wife and I acknowledge. My wife loves my family too, and the issue isn't the coming in, it is the fact it is unannounced. Did you remember to tidy away anything embarrassing? Maybe you left underwear drying around the house - there are plenty of everyday things you don't want your family, especially in-laws, to see.

You need another key holder for genuine emergencies, like you get locked out, so don't take his key away.

My suggestion is install a burglar alarm and do not give him the code. Explain this to him, express that you want him to be a keyholder for emergencies, but if he wants to come and do work for you he has to give you notice, and you can leave the alarm off. Impress upon him that if he comes in the house unannounced the alarm will trip and he may have to deal with the police. Hopefully he will not feel offended because you are still trusting him with the key, but will modify his behaviour. Knowing when he is coming will help you prepare - hide breakable objects for example.

  • "You need another key holder"? Not really, there are plenty of ways to arrange this that require no third party to have access to your home. And, no, I don't mean "key under the welcome mat", you have to be a little bit smarter than that :-)
    – user10819
    Jan 2, 2018 at 7:08

In dutch there is a saying "soft doctors make stinking wounds". You'd better explain to him in a way that is not open to interpretation, you no longer want to see him in your house uninvited. If he doesn't respect your wishes, he will be stalking you (I think he already is). Stalking can lead to very ugly situations. I had this problem ages ago with a BIL, handled it that way and we got along incredibly well ever since. But in my case, my inlaw had no bad intentions.

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