Someone recently wrote in to Captain Awkward with a question about how to handle her parents’ insistence that she and her partner (who live together) not sleep in the same bed under the parents’ roof during holiday visits because the couple are not married. In fact, on a previous visit, the letter writer’s boyfriend had to sleep outside in a tent.
Captain Awkward’s advice is great, as always, and the commenters have expanded on that advice. But this kind of thing infuriates me, especially the whole “my house, my rules” thing (which is being debated in the comments as well). I don’t know how coherent I can even be about this, but let me just try to list some of my objections:
What do the parents think is happening when the letter writer (LW) and her boyfriend are at home? It’s beyond hypocritical to insist on separate sleeping arrangements during a visit.
Bodily integrity and autonomy are real things. These parents are policing their grown daughter’s body–which is not even as bad as the idea that they have the right to do so.
The sex-shaming here is really ridiculous. Sex happens. By the time your kids are grown, you’d better have tried to educate them about–if not actively model–what consent, protection, and mutual respect are. Abstinence-only education is emotional abuse.
A parent’s job is to prepare their child to live as independently as possible and be as self-sufficient as possible. When grown children come “home” to visit, you don’t get to pretend that their independence and individuation isn’t a thing just so you don’t have to deal with your discomfort at the idea that your adult children are having sex with someone.
The imposition of the parents’ morals and values on adult children is also really inappropriate. You get to believe what you believe, but you have no right whatsoever to insist that others behave in ways they’d prefer not to just in order to conform to your beliefs. Not even under your own roof.
Let your kids grow up.
There’s a whole power dynamic about this “my house, my rules” thing. The idea that you get to invite over a guest but place restrictions on how that guest behaves is ridiculous. No, I’m not saying your guests can do whatever they want to your property or your self, but as long as they aren’t actively destroying anything or hurting anyone, you kind of have to shut up. The “my house, my rules” thing is very much a hierarchical, authoritarian dynamic that crops up primarily between parents and their children. I can’t imagine most people behaving that way with their peers (“Come and visit! But you can’t say grace before meals because this isn’t a religious household. My house, my rules.”)
As one commenter pointed out, house rules are rules for the house – not an excuse to impose one’s moral framework onto the behaviour of others.
Also, the implicit threat is the cancellation of Christmas (the holiday in question for the LW above). Come here because we have to celebrate the holiday together. But you can’t share a bed with your committed live-in partner. But if you object, you’re the one spoiling Christmas.
Might does not make right. Just because it’s your house doesn’t mean you get to control how people behave. This is a total abuse of power. You get to make requests, you get to state preferences, and you get to have feelings and opinions, and you get to set appropriate boundaries (No lighting the towels on fire. No abusive behaviour. No teasing the cat) . But you don’t get to dictate sleeping arrangements for committed couples. (Or whether or not someone eats with their fingers, or what outings they go on, etc.).
Look, if someone was a dinner guest at my house and wanted to say grace, I’d be uncomfortable. I would not participate, but I would not stop them from doing it. It would be uncomfortable for everyone, but at least we’d all have done what was right for us, rather than one person submitting to the will / values / expectations of the other. A bit of discomfort isn’t the end of the world. It’s to be expected when we come into contact with difference. It’s something from which we can learn.
If someone was a dinner guest in my house and they brought along meat to eat, I’d surprised and rather disgusted, but I would show them the microwave / stove / whatever, and only ask that I not have to do the washing up. I wouldn’t eat the meat, I wouldn’t lecture them about eating meat, and I wouldn’t try to shame or embarrass them. I might reconsider whether I wanted them back as dinner guests if they had to have meat at every meal, but I would not dictate to them how to behave. Just like the LW’s parents have a choice about whether or not to accept their daughter the way she is or not have her sleep at their house with her partner.
It is absolutely and completely unacceptable to invite people be houseguests but then impose value-laden restrictions on their behaviour. My house, my rules is a mantra we are so used to hearing and obeying as children and adolescents that we don’t necessarily examine it critically once we reach adulthood. The fact that it is used at all is a way to negate the budding individuality and opinions of children and adolescents. It’s a power play. A cruel and lazy way of parenting. A sign that you can’t handle difference or dissent. When this continues to be used once the children are actually adults, it’s a way for parents to cling to an authority that is inappropriate and controlling.
You do get to tell guests not to trash your house. But you don’t get to tell them not to sleep with their partner. Just because the guest in question is your adult child doesn’t change this a bit.
Here endeth the rant.