I'm an adult in my late 20s (with mild symptoms of OCD, I think). I'm obsessed with keeping the house in order (to a tee) and keeping everyone around me amicable. I can't seem to be able to do both when my parents come over to visit.

The need for the house to be in perfect order probably stems from my childhood spent at my parents' - from their lack of order. Everything would lie scattered everywhere. All my attempts at straightening up the place were met with resistance. And since I was "just a kid", I couldn't do much.

Now that i have and run my own house, I pride myself in keeping it in perfect order. And it's all thrown away when my parents come to visit. There are somethings which they don't even see as dirtying/improper - like eating/cooking without spilling - they cant help it or its just not in their nature. Its really hard to do, but I let those slide; I don't nitpick. But I can't even bring up the things that are deal breakers without immensely upsetting them. Like, they'll handle spices with wet, dripping hands. They'll put those wet dripping hands into cookie jars etc. The risk of spoiling and fungus growth is real here! The bottom of their plates always have food sticking to them and they'll keep them on sofas and chairs.. upholstery and leather aren't easy to clean! All their stuff is on the dining table even though they have a room to themselves... The list goes on.

If I bring it up and tell them not to do this stuff, they'll sulk and sulk for a whole day. I don't know if they feel like they can't be themselves in my house, or that they're not welcome here.. But after the initial few times of frayed tempers, I've been careful to tell them politely. I'm the one who always tries to cheer them up later too! They still don't seem to like me saying anything at all! I really don't want to play the "my house, my rules" card, although that's how I feel! How do I get my point across without making them feel unwelcome in my house?

P.S. As I was writing this question, I felt like I am handling childlike behavior combined with adult ego!

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    How do you go about telling them not to do these things? Could you share an example of how a typical conversation like that would go? What you ask doesn't seem terribly imposing, but I have a reason to suspect it might be how you are asking. Many times how you ask is far more important than what you are asking for when someone reacts.
    – Becuzz
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 12:13
  • @Becuzz I think they may also feel like I'm being ungrateful.While they're dirtying the kitchen and the plates,its sometimes me that they're cooking for.I love their food and I appreciate their effort,and I always tell them so. But while the cooking's still in progress,I do tell them not to do this or that,so its possible they feel unappreciated.But I don't know what to do! Its not like they remember the "rules" after I've told them once,so I do end up repeating myself. And the examples that I mentioned - they have to be stopped immediately for obvious reasons. So it mostly sounds like "STOP!"
    – learner101
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 12:17
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    I suspect that your other friends may share some of these habits with your parents. How about heading them off at the pass? You prepare a meal and serve it at the dining table. You put cookies on a plate. Treat them like guest and they may act more like guests. You hang their coats. You provide house slippers -- and all with a welcoming smile. You could also invite them out to dinner -- that's an adult activity.
    – WRX
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 12:22
  • @Willow I try to wait on them as much as possible, but that would involve me watching them like a hawk! Lets say I still do that. But when I'm away at office, they do have to prepare their own meals (and dirty the kitchen in the process). They say they've cleaned up after themselves, but it means very different things to them and me. There's still oil and food stuff on the kitchen counter after their supposed "clean up". But you may be right - doing most things myself, and treating them as guests may be the way to solve most problems.
    – learner101
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 12:27
  • @Willow On a side note, my dad's table manners are a bit of an embarrassment to me. So even though I wanna show them a good time, I dread taking dad to nice places to eat! haha?
    – learner101
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 12:36

4 Answers 4


First, you are an adult and you are allowed to decide what your house rules are. You get to decide what you want to happen, what you will tolerate and what is entirely unacceptable. You also have to decide that in light of how much you want your parents to come over.

You need to decide what you are willing to compromise on / tolerate in order to have your parents visit. What are the things that don't bother you so much? What are the things that will drive you out of your mind and make these visits super stressful? Sit down and think about this. It may be helpful to write them out. Once you have a list, you can work on setting expectations with your parents.

You state that when you have your parents over and you bring up these things, but they get sullen and sulky. I would invite you to take a step back and try to see these situations from their perspective. Timing and delivery is everything.

When you bring these things up is important. If you try to talk about this after they have broken a rule, it will be hard because your are noticeably stressed. And they will feel some of that too. Try talking about these things before they come over, when everyone is calm (say, go out to lunch). They are much more likely to react better when they don't feel like they've just done something horrible (like something that makes you shout "STOP!!").

Make sure you make it easy for them. If you come up with lots of rules, it will be hard for them to remember and follow all of them. In addition, they will feel smothered by the rules (which would make anyone feel unwelcome). If you can make it simple, it will be far easier. Rather than create rules that are hyper-focused on preventing a single thing, make more general ones. If you are worried about sticky food on a plate getting on the upholstery (or spilled food, etc.) make a blanket rule that we don't eat on the couches, we eat at the kitchen table (which, incidentally, is far easier to clean).

Also, when you bring this up, make sure you don't make the focus on what they do / have done that bothers you. For example, don't talk about how your mom spilling food stresses you (don't bring up specific examples). Explain how you feel more comfortable in a clean kitchen and how you would like them to help you keep it clean by cleaning up spills when they happen. Talking about what they've done (even if it comes across as indirectly referencing behavior) feels punitive and unwelcoming.

Ensure that when your parents come to visit that, while you expect the rules to be followed, you realize that they won't be perfect in that regard and respond appropriately (and possibly more gently than you have been). You will have to remind them from time to time about things. But consider not shouting "STOP" at the first infraction. There are some things that require that level of urgency and force, but most things do not (ex: a child about to touch a hot pot merits that kind of action, taking food over to a couch does not). Consider asking and inviting rather than sharply correcting. For example, ask "Hey, would you mind cleaning off your plate / placing it on a napkin or placemat before you set it on the couch? Those couches are kinda hard to clean." The reaction you get is likely to be much more positive than if you had shouted.

If they continue to break your rules, especially to the point that having them over becomes a source of stress, you may have to do some more explicit boundary setting. You may have to sit them down and have an adult talk about how you love having them over, but some of their behaviors are making things unenjoyable. Explain what you need them to do if they want to continue visiting. Then stick to it. It may mean that they come visit you less and you go to their house more. Hopefully it doesn't come to this, but keep this in your back pocket just in case.

Remember that your parents love you and aren't trying to cause you stress. Help them help you. I'm sure they won't have a problem doing these things so they can visit you and make it a pleasant experience for everyone.

  • Writing down what I can and cannot handle did help me. I have thought about this question before, but without putting pen to paper, I always came away with "almost everything they do annoys me". I had more structured answers once I began writing, and that's definitely a start. Thank you for the detailed answer that covered most scenarios.
    – learner101
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 19:26

Do your parents know that you believe you may have OCD? It seems the conversation starts there. Educate them on how you feel. Tell them about how anxious it makes you feel when things are not in order. These are real feelings and education and communication is the only way to deal with it. You may be surprised to hear them say, "I understand, I will do what I can to keep things in order while we are in your home."

  • Thank you, that actually helps. I believe they don't know how MUCH it gets to me. I feel awful sitting in the living room, knowing that my kitchen is a mess. I can't concentrate on anything else, and being told to calm down doesn't help. I should probably tell them all of this, never really did, not in so many words.
    – learner101
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 19:12
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    I'd second this. As a person who has a fairly, er, relaxed idea of hygiene and housekeeping, these sort of "nit-picks" would drive me nuts. It would be obvious that there was some OCD involved, to me anyway, but they are your parents and when it comes to family we often can't see clearly. You need to explain how you feel, especially how intensely you feel it. Then try to work something out. Either they can agree not to be offended if you clean up after them, or they need to learn to clean well enough to not leave you feeling anxious in your own home. Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 20:09
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    Make sure they understand that you aren't suggesting this level of cleanliness is what they ought to be doing on a regular basis, but it is necessary for you. Once they understand this, they will see that you aren't criticizing them, but instead you are asking for their help. Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 20:11

Do play the card but in a smart way: talk to them. Try this before something that upsets you happens, and when your parents are happy and relaxed. Maybe even better if you are at your parents'... And maybe it sounds stupid, but if you drink coffee, know that coffee stimulates your responsiveness to dialogues, so maybe make one for you all.
I don't believe your parents behave in the same way when they're hosts in another home, so I don't see why they should do it when they're host in yours.
I think the point is to make them understand that you are adult now, and are perfectly capable to decide for yourself, and that being their child does not mean that they can impose their lifestyle to you. The sooner they understand that, the sooner they are going to accept more set of rules from your partner, if/when he/she lives with you.

Remember that parents can make mistakes, and that you as their son have the right to make them aware.


As an adult child, you do, have to sometimes raise your parents.

My wife and I are doing this quite a bit. Our youngest is 21, with our oldest turning 27 this year. There are times when they help us be mature, and there are times when they are like little babies. Luckily we have a good relationship with all of them and often tease each other about our silliness.

On the other hand, we often provide parent like guidance to several people in our lives: my mother, her husband (who is quite a bit older), my wife's mother, and my wife's grandmother.

So in the end what you are dealing with is normal. I also think it is perfectly within your right to have your home be in order.

My solution would be to meet your parents in public. Go get a coffee or go out to dinner. Meet at a park or some other such place. As much as you do not like living in a place that is messy, they are incapable of being non-messy. They are not doing this to hurt you, although it seems to bother you greatly. Its always best to make a non-issue out of it when dealing with relationships.

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