Dear Aunt Dara,
When I was in the hospital for four days in October, I gave a copy of my house key to my mother so she could feed my cat and change the litter box. When I returned home, I thought that it might be a good idea for her to keep the key in case there is an emergency. However, whenever she comes over she has been using the key to let herself inside. I have told her that I don’t like for her to let herself in and that the key is to be used only for emergencies, but she hasn’t stopped letting herself in. Yesterday she let herself in while I was in the shower, and it nearly scared me to death when I realized someone was in my house and I was in the shower! When I told her that the key was just for emergencies, she said she thought it was an emergency because I didn’t answer the door. Had I been expecting company, I would not have been in the shower, but she never calls before she comes over. I don’t know how to get her to stop coming in on me like that without hurting her feelings. My friend suggested that I tell her to give the key back and change the lock if she doesn’t. I don’t want to do that because I think it would be disrespectful. What should I do?
No Privacy in Montana
Dear No Privacy,
You should pray that God will guide you in doing the right thing, then give this situation some prayerful thought. Have you had any past experiences with your mother that were similar to this one? If so, how did you resolve them? Based on your letter, it appears that you have tried to set a boundary with her regarding the use of the key. Have you given her specific examples of what may constitute an emergency? Does she know how many minutes to give you to answer the door before she comes in? Does she know that you would appreciate a call from her before she comes over so that you will be expecting her? Make sure that she understands all these things, and you should be very specific about your wishes.
If you have explained all these things to her and she still has not changed her behavior, that’s another issue. Does your mother typically understand your feelings and honor your wishes? Does she understand how much her behavior bothers you? Does she understand how frightened you were when she came into your home when you were in the shower? Try to explain to her how this affects you by saying something similar to this: “Mom, I really appreciate your looking out for me and being concerned about me. I felt scared to death, though, when you let yourself in while I was in the shower because I thought an intruder was in the house. I would like for you to call me before you come over so that never happens again.” (This is an example of assertive communication, and it is not disrespectful to use assertive communication with a parent.) If your mother continues to disregard your wishes and continues to use the key inappropriately, you have the right to tell her to return the key. However, I do not recommend that you change the lock if she refuses to give the key back. Changing the lock would be harmful to the relationship because it would be passive-aggressive, contrary to the love of Christ, and would show dishonor to your parent.