Modern Etiquette: Being a Gracious Host & Guest

Illustration by Anna Emilia

Today I’m absolutely thrilled to be launching a column that has been in the works and kicking around my mind for years now. Growing up in the South, the importance of etiquette was instilled in me pretty early on. What was proper, polite and appropriate varied from family to family, but the general concept seemed to exist in every household. Etiquette often gets a bad rap as some sort of right/wrong, holier-than-thou rulebook that exists to make people feel bad. But for me, etiquette has been just the opposite. I didn’t learn to appreciate this until I was much older, but the guidelines I got growing up gave me a sense of comfort and confidence that allowed me to feel at ease in almost any social situation and taught me how to do the same for others. For me, etiquette is all about learning simple tools and tips for making the people in your life (and your home) feel welcome, loved and comfortable. It is with that spirit that I’m launching Modern Etiquette, where we’ll be sharing ideas and having discussions about what the modern interpretation of any given situation will be. From polite email and blogging techniques to clever and inexpensive ways to host a dinner party, I’ll be delving into these subjects with the goal of making all of us feel more confident about our day-to-day exchanges and our abilities to comfort, welcome and care for the people in our lives.

After polling our editors and readers on Facebook and Twitter, the question that popped up the most revolved around house guests — how to welcome them and how to be a good one. So today I’m tackling this topic by sharing what I’ve learned (and experienced) so far and hoping that you’ll share your tips, too. This column is really about sharing perspectives, so I hope you’ll join me after the jump to offer your feedback. Whether it’s a horrible guest experience or little things you noticed after a particularly welcoming stay at someone’s home, I hope you’ll share your insight so we can all learn from each other. xo, grace

*If you have requests for column topics/quandaries, please leave them in the comment section below and I’ll get to them asap!

Read on for gracious host and house guest ideas (including products to give for hosts + guests) after the jump . . .

Being a Gracious Host & Guest

If there’s one thing I appreciate most and strive for in my traveling life, it’s feeling welcome in a friend’s home. During the D*S Book Tour, when we felt the most run down, it was our friends and family in other states who took care of us and made us feel relaxed and comforted. What they did wasn’t expensive and didn’t take much time, but it made all the difference in the world. The goal was to add small touches that let us know they cared, while striking a balance between alone time and connecting time that made us feel comfortable. Let’s break down the basics:

Being a Gracious Host

The goal is to make your guests feel welcomed and comforted and like they have space to be on their own as well as ways to connect and be involved with your household. Here are go-to’s for welcoming any guest:

  • Pre-visit: Two days before a visit, I like to do a deep clean around the house, do laundry and stock up on essentials like toilet paper, paper towels and tissues. The extra day ahead of their arrival allows time for laundry delays, etc.
  • Basic Information: I always email and text my address, phone number, transportation information and my Wifi network and password two days before someone arrives. That way they have two ways to find their way to your home without getting lost.
  • Key Copies: Having a copy of the keys for your guest is always nice. It allows them to come and go as they please. I like to attach a little card with suggestions for places in the area to get coffee, shop, find transportation and eat.
  • Where to Sleep: I don’t have a guest room in my home, so my rule of thumb is to always let guests have my bedroom. For a night or two, I don’t mind taking the couch, so when in doubt, open up your (cleaned, with fresh linens) bedroom to guests if possible.
  • Bedside: Nothing makes guests feel more welcomed than having a few creature comforts. In addition to freshly changed sheets (which I like to spray with a mild scented linen spray) I like to provide: books/magazines, a carafe/bottle of water, a candle and matches, tissues, a tiny plant or flower arrangement, travel lotion and lip balm, a little snack (I like something location specific like Brooklyn-made chocolates or mints) and an extra blanket.
  • Bathroom: In addition to a freshly cleaned bathroom, I like to provide a stack of clean towels, washcloths and a toothbrush for guests. I put the toothbrush and a travel-sized toothpaste in a clean glass on the counter so they have a little landing space for their toiletries. (Amy’s sister keeps a drawer full of travel-sized beauty products and disposable razors for guests.)
  • Food: As much as I like to cook, I hate having to dirty the kitchen with a ton of dishes when someone’s visiting. So to cut down on cooking/cleaning stress, I like to make some simple recipes ahead of time that keep well in the fridge. Slow cooker chili and pasta salad are my faves. You can easily label and serve them (or let your guests have them when they want) as an easy meal.
  • Saying Goodbye: As polite as it is for them to offer, I always make sure I change the bed sheets and towels after they leave. (Though it’s nice for guests to stack their dirty sheets or towels if they have the time so it makes cleanup easier.)
  • After They’re Gone: I think it’s nice to follow up with an email, letter or text to let your guest know how much you enjoyed having them.


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Being a Gracious Guest

Being a gracious guest is all about cleaning up after yourself and helping your host whenever possible. While the southerner in me insists on doing everything for a guest, it’s always appreciated when a guest offers to help out when they can. The main thing to remember is to be as tidy as you can and follow up with a thank you.

  • Pre-arrival: Sending your host your arrival information is always helpful. That way they can track your train/plane if you’re delayed and can’t update them. It also gives them a good idea of when to prepare for your arrival.
  • To Bring with You: I think a host/hostess gift of some sort is a must. It can be something as simple as flowers, a small house plant or a bottle of wine or, if you don’t want to carry something, an offer to take them out for a meal or activity. If these are too costly, simply cooking a meal at home and doing the dishes is a good option.
  • Around the House: Tidying up after yourself is a must. Doing your own dishes, making your bed and wiping down the counter or mirror after using the shower is always helpful.
  • Can’t Find It? This is the easiest way to avoid awkwardness. If you can’t find something or need something, just ASK. Poking around someone’s home looking for something can lead to all sorts of uncomfortable situations, so when in doubt, just ask your host.
  • Visitors: I personally don’t love having a ton of people at my home if I already have one guest there (my space is TEENY). But if you plan on having people join you — even for a bit — give your guest a head’s up to see if it’s ok. I think it’s most polite to meet others outside of your host’s home when possible, especially if they’re not a mutual friend.
  • Making Plans: If you have a schedule while you’re in town, let your host know. It helps them plan around your needs and know if they need to cook/provide for you or others.
  • When You Leave: When possible, it’s always a huge help when a guest starts the cleanup process. Stripping your bed sheets, stacking dirty towels and consolidating them in one space (or dropping them in a hamper or washer) is great. Just ask your host what’s most helpful for them.
  • Once You’re Home: A thank you note, call or email is a must. Letting someone know you appreciate their hospitality always goes far in being welcomed back again and again.


Image above: 1. Succulent Garden $19.99 | 2. Brooklyn Wines $29 | 3. Rifle Co. Thank You Card $4.50

These are the tips I’ve always followed, but what are your favorite musts, do’s and don’ts? I’m dying to hear both ends of the spectrum: nightmare visits and trips where you felt as welcomed as family.

  1. Sam says:

    Towels. Always let guests know where spare towels are or put spares out for them. Also if it’s a shared bathroom, let guests know if your household hangs towels up for repeated use, and where they can hang theirs (or give them something to do this on in their sleeping area), or if towels go straight for laundering after one use.

    I grew up in a family who had lots of guests, and I figured out early on that guests who never do anything to help, especially if they are there more than a couple of days and aren’t using your place as mainly for sleeping, is a pain. For my family, it was rude, given my mum had 4 kids and a billion things to do everyday. Try not to be a ‘drain’ on the energy of your hosts and give them some space.

    With hosts/guests from different cultures, I think if a host or guest is unfamiliar with the culture, it’s useful to find out about etiquette of that culture beforehand, so you at least have a general idea of what they’re used to at home. It can help avoid big social faux pas, like wearing outdoor shoes inside or turning down food (it’s considered rude in many cultures – unless you’re allergic, just eat a little if you are not hungry).

  2. Izzy says:

    What a great idea for a column! One thing that I would like to add – I always like it if there is a digital clock in the guest room, it means that if I wake up in the night I can check the time without having to fumble around for my phone/watch/iPod/whatever. I can’t wait to see what else you write about, really looking forward to it! :)

  3. This is an excellent column idea Grace and I love all of the comments that add value to it. What an informative read! I have several suggestions to add –
    1. Power Strip with surge suppression. I have put one the the guest spaces in our home because everyone comes with a bizillion things needing charging. I don’t want them on my kitchen counters! I also pack one in my bag because even hotel rooms don’t seem to have enough convenient plugs for both my husband and me.
    2. Soup! When entertaining overnight guests I always make a big pot of savory soup and have it available in the fridge. I tell the guests that it is their for them to help themselves whenever they are hungry. We generally eat around 8 PM and that is too late for many. They might have a bowl of soup at 5:30, or for lunch, or a late night snack. some have even chosen it as their breakfast. Here is a link to my post on one soup for company (with recipe!).

    And weighing in on the changing of sheets – My opinion is based entirely on who the company is. I was visiting the ski home of my son-in-law’s family. Clearly, during the ski season this beautiful home is filled with revolving guests. The hostess put the next change of sheets in every bedroom and on your last day it was the guests’ responsibility to change the bed and bring the dirty linens to the laundry room. Such a smart solution for providing a way for everyone to help. Now, in my house, when the kids come home, I do the same thing. When they leave, there are clean sheets on the beds. It depends on each guest as to weather they get the sheets or not. As with all good rules, they are applied with consideration!

  4. I can’t wait to see what else you write about for this column. We host on a regular basis, but thanks for a few hostess/guest tips that I hadn’t thought about!

  5. Heidi says:

    The other thing I like to do as a host is to give my guests a little snack bag as they leave. Not many people like airport food, or fast food if they are driving. So, if they are on a road trip, I send them off with scones, fruit, maybe some cheese & crackers if they have a little cooler. For people heading to the airport — some nuts, dried fruit, and maybe a fancy PB&J to hold them through the flight.

  6. Lost_Wanderings says:

    I really enjoyed this column. I hope some day you compile a book.

  7. I wish you column was read by one of my boyfriend’s cousins from New Zealand.She stayed with a friend , at my boyfriend’s mum’s house for more than 2 weeks, and as it was around Christmas, and sort of my turn that year, I cooked the Christmas dinner and had my boyfriend’s parents around, I invited the girls to the Christmas dinner as well ( AND bought them a present).
    This is two years ago- and neither my boyfriend’s mum or me have ever heard from them again!! Not even to say they are still alive ( we know they are !! ).So just a note with thank you and we are OK and back home would just be nice… and they weren’t even teenagers but girls in their twenties..O boy! This column should be required reading, hahaha!

  8. Southern lady says:

    Wonderful column! Southern lady

  9. levitra says:

    Everyone loves it when people get together and share ideas.
    Great blog, stick with it!

  10. Jennifer Navarro says:

    I have a question about family coming over and bringing someone who is on their in law side. However, I know this person very little. Is it wrong to feel uncomfortable to have this other guest in my home alone if they decide not to partake in the family outside activities?

  11. GA Peachy says:

    No one ever discusses this, but bathroom situations can and have been nightmarish. Nothing is worse than realizing too late that there is no more toilet tissue around. It’s always nice to have some extra rolls and some air freshener in plain sight.

    I have also been to houses with what I call “trick toilets.” Ones that require a handle jiggle or a slow flushing one that takes a certain amount of time to hold down the handle. I don’t care how friendly you are with the host or hostess, you do not want to have to ask for a plunger during your visit.

    I’d say the #1 rule (and usually implied rule) is make sure your bathroom is in shipshape before guests arrive! :) If I wouldn’t want to be in a certain situation, I don’t put my guests in that situation.

  12. William says:

    Should a guest who stays in your house for multiple days offer to buy you dinner. Or should they just pay for their own expenses equally. For example, groceries for a cookout where the guest goes to the grocery store with you. Should you expect a guest to at least buy you a drink as a show of appreciation. Or should you expect no monetary show of appreciation on a verbal one?

  13. Gus says:

    I don’t care if he is my husband; I really don’t like the phrase dieting to lose fat.

  14. Jo says:

    I love this web site and it helped to settle a few issues in our home. I do have a question….is it polite for a guest to leave $$ on your kitchen counter and then follow it up with an e-mail that says it is for groceries or perhaps a new yard game? The guest was a relative.

  15. Cheryl says:

    Do you have any creative gift ideas for a cousin i stayed with in California for 9 weeks? He took 2 weeks off work and toured around with me along with several other days. It was the first time i had met him and we got along extremely well. I just wanted to thank him and his family with meaningful but grand gifts to let them know how much i appreciated their hospitality. I wanted to give the family something like a beach getaway weekend with his wife and 2 kids. I was also looking for other creative ideas. They are just starting to spend time together as husband and wife, and as a family so i thought of sending staggered gifts in the mail like a picnic basket, then candles for date night etc..

  16. Paola says:

    This is such a great post! Thank you! Love etiquette tips, keep them coming!

  17. enagic says:

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  18. LeAnn Davidson says:

    I was recently a guest at my brother and sister in law home, along with my 83 years old mother and her 87 year old friend. My brother and husband went golfing, and the other 4 of us went to the casino. We had an early breakfast of scrambled eggs and a piece of toast, and when we arrived home from the casino, it had been over 5 hours since we had eaten. The boys were not back from playing golf. My sister in law wanted to wait to have lunch when the they arrived home, at least another hour, but I was hungry (so was my mother). My sister in law believes I was a rude house guests because we did not wait for the boys to eat a sit down meal together. I believe a hostess should feed her guests when they are hungry – Can you tell me what the proper etiquette is in this situation?

    1. Grace Bonney says:


      I agree- I think it’s best to feed your guests when they are hungry. That said, if she was planning a larger meal in only an hour, she could have provided a small snack to tide you over until the main meal, too.


  19. Vanessa GILLISPIE says:

    I’d like to offer an idea for Cheryl who’s cousin indeed showed himself to be a very gracious host who has also recently married. This might take some extra effort to find but to my mind a thoughtful and unique offering. A compass. Not just any compass found at any sporting shop. A compass that is of art and workmanship. I found a beautiful one at a boutique that offered a selection of nautical type items. I gave one to my husband on our 24th anniversary as my gift to him as our family has traveled though out our beautiful country. If you find this to be unsuitable to your idea…maybe a small collectable globe. This will show your travels with your cousin will forever be a memorable time for all. Many thanks, Vanessa

  20. Edwin says:

    Pretty! This was an incredbly wonderful article. Thanks
    for supplying these details.

  21. Barbara says:

    I was recently a houseguest. She mentioned at breakfast that they were having some
    friends in for lunch. I offered to come down early and help. However, I was told I wasn’t
    invited, and it was suggested that I go out for a walk – hardly comfortable for me with two
    bone on bone knees – very painful to walk – which was why I was there in the first place
    prior to surgery. Am I right to feel offended?

  22. Teresa says:

    @Barbara Wow, I would be completely offended. That was incredibly rude and insensitive. Regarding sheets and towels, I don’t like when guests take it upon themselves to strip the sheets or gather the (usually still wet) towels. I say leave them be. Chances are that I’m a little tired after hosting and may not feel like starting a bunch of laundry. I would much rather do it at my own pace.

  23. Mary says:

    Any etiquette rules on time zone changes/people being on different internal clocks? I live on the west coast and pretty much all of my guests are at least two hours ahead of me (central or eastern time zones). On top of that, I wake at arund 8 AM, while they might wake as early as 5 AM (their time). So I have guests going to bed at 6 PM my time, and waking at 3:30 AM my time. I feel badly, like they are waiting around, bored, while I sleep for hours. Then, when I wake up, they ate showers, ate breakfast, and are more than ready to go and I’m still in PJs and feel I need to wake earlier or hurry way up. And they are typically hungry for dinner mid afternoon. It’s steady, like I have to change schedules and have double the meals to make (ones for those of us west coasters, and those for visitors). What is the best way to handle this? I live in a vacation friendly area with year round nice weather, but live too far from attractions to walk or do much of anyrhing. I have frequent guests but this time zone thing is killing me and I have a toddler, who is difficult to keep quiet while guests are turning in at 6 PM ( and guests wake the baby and dog when they get up). What’s the best way to handle this? I being made to feel “lazy.”

    1. Grace Bonney says:

      hi mary

      i think guests have the obligation to entertain themselves if they’re not on their host’s time. that said, it is incredibly kind and good host etiquette to think ahead and provide them with options like:

      1. if you have an auto coffee machine, either show them how to use it the night before or set it’s timer so it’s ready for them at 5am when they’re up. the same with breakfast- either show them where to find food in the pantry to make or leave out things that are easy for them to eat, like a basket of muffins, bread, etc.

      2. the attractions in your area are in your time zone, too- so they shouldn’t expect to enter those earlier or later than normal. i think it’s nice to not, say, sleep in until 10am when you have guests waking up at 5am, but it’s not too much to expect them to wait until 10am to leave and drive to whatever attractions they have planned.

      in summary- just leave out things to make it easier for them to entertain themselves a bit. newspapers, magazines and books to read (or just explain how to turn the tv on, etc.) and leave food and coffee accessible for the morning.


      1. Linda says:

        How about the other way around. If your guests are on a later schedule than you? If the host goes to bed at 10 pm and the guest is not tired yet, should they go to bed at same time as the host and get up around the same time? Or is it perfectly acceptable to stay up later watching a movie quietly till midnight as not to disturb the host and sleeping in a bit later than the host as long as it doesn’t affect the plans for the next day?

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  26. Marina says:

    So many great comments and love the column! I am stymied on this issue though and could use some advice. My cousin is stopping by for a few days from overseas. Normally I would put everything on hold but we just saw him over New Year’s at his house. My husband and I have tickets to a Broadway play one of the three nights he is visiting. The show is sold out and we are going with another couple. Do we give up our tickets to be good hosts or leave him at home with the kids? Do I tell him in advance so he can make alternate plans? I am afraid it will make him feel unwelcome… help!

    1. Grace Bonney says:

      hi marina!

      did you buy the tickets before knowing your cousin was visiting? if so, i think you’re fine to attend the show. but perhaps invite your cousin to meet up for dinner or drinks after the show? if not, it might be nice to gift (or sell) the tickets to someone else.

      grace :)

  27. sherry says:

    I have a situation with my boyfriend. I usually spen the weekends with him and I showed up while his best friend wad there as they both did some clean up at my bf’s home. They were proud of themselves and showed me all that they accomplished.
    However, my bf and I had plans to go get pizza and come back and relax. On our way out, his friend who is btw very high strung was having problems with his headlights going out on his truck. My bf looked for a possible cause and couldn’t find any. We decided to go get the puzza and come back since the pizza pave was getting ready to close.
    Long story short, we came back and my bf offered his friend some pizza and we were all talking. However his friend is a talker and I was being polite and engaging in the conversation. I noticed my bf left the conversation and got on the computer, then went and took a shower. When he came back to us he asked his friend about looking at tge headlights and his friend asked for a ride home which my bf obliged.
    Niw after droppung his friend off and I asked if we coud go to my house to let the dogs out, he mentioned it was already after midnight (I haf an oblugation at 7:00am) and he says ” well if you hadn’t talked to Les for 2 1/2 hours, we could have spent a few extra hours together. Needless to say, I am livid with him as I thought I was being polite as a guest and my argument is this is your housr, your friend, you should have interrupted us and suggest something.
    He doesn’t see it tht way. He continues to blame me. This is Sunday as I write this and haven’tseen him since after midnight on Friday because I was offended and went home.
    My question here is who is at fault here and whose responsibility is it to say something when its getting late?
    Please advise.

    1. Grace Bonney says:


      I think if you visit him every weekend and this happened once, I would let it go. It sounds like the friend was helpful to him, although it would have been nice for your bf to acknowledge the experience wasn’t what either of you expected.


  28. Ro says:

    I have a situation. We had guests stay with us this weekend and when I went to “close-up” the house I noticed a HUGE stain on the coverlet of the bed they slept in. It went through all the way to the sheets and then they covered it up with the comforter so I wouldn’t notice. I want to ask my friend what the stain is so that I can get it cleaned but I think this may not be proper etiquette. What are your thoughts on this?

    1. Grace Bonney says:


      That is indeed unfortunate. I think I would let it ride though. It might cause embarrassment and if you can get the stain out, it may be best to just let this go. But if it’s a sign of other poor treatment of your house during their stay, perhaps the invite doesn’t get extended again.


  29. Linda Magistro says:

    Great article. I have a question. Do you know the term used when hosts and their family consciously eat less to make sure there is enough good for the guests? This usually occurs when it seems there is not enough food.

    1. Grace Bonney says:


      I’m afraid I’ve never heard of that- but I would hope everyone eats equally, guests and hosts alike.


    2. Amy Azzarito says:

      Hi Linda –
      I think you’re talking about FHB – Family Hold Back. The idea is that the family holds back so that the guests can eat their fill or have the choicest pieces of food. -Amy

  30. Sheila says:

    I was very happy to have stumbled across this blog on the Internet. I hoping to get some feed back that will help both my sister and myself.

    We are in our sixties. We live about 600 miles from our brother. He and his wife have been invited year after year to either my home or my sister’s home for Thanksgiving. We spend a lot of time preparing for the dinner that many of our friends and family attend. We prepare a special area for our brother and his wife to stay while visiting. The problem is, they show up the night before Thanksgiving and either leave the evening of Thanksgiving or early the next morning.

    We always look forward to their visit, but are hurt that they don’t stay long enough to visit with us. After dinner and dishes we now have the time to spend quality time with them, but they are packing up preparing to leave.

    This year we have tried to discuss this with them, only to be met with excuses and they have told us now a week before Thanksgiving that they will not becoming at all.

    Two very hurt and sad sisters in Florida

    1. Grace Bonney says:


      I’m so sorry that you and your sisters feel hurt and that you’re dealing with a situation that can be sticky to handle. Especially around the holidays, that is hard to handle.

      The bottom line is that you have every right to express your desire to see more of your brother and his family. I hope you’ve had a had chance to do that clearly.

      If he is not able to stay longer, unfortunately I think you’ll need to respect his choice and make the most of the time they do have. I know it’s not ideal, but we’re not always able to understand why people make the decisions they do. If he’s traveling 600 miles just to see your family for one day, I do think that expresses a lot of effort on his part to visit, too. (I know a lot of people would wouldn’t travel that far if they could only stay a day and that would be their excuse not to come at all).

      If you would like to spend more time with your brother and his family, perhaps you could discuss other times to visit or plan a trip during another time of the year? Has your side of the family gone to visit them for the holidays? It could be that perhaps he feels he is always expected to travel when they would like to stay and have time for their family at their home. I hope there’s a way you can find time to visit each other so that perhaps not as much pressure is placed on this one particular holiday. Maybe a summer visit or every other holiday?


  31. Sheila says:


    You are so kind to have responded to my post. You are correct, I do need to respect their decision. It does pain me that they are not coming at all this year as a result of my expressing my feelings. I feel I have trapped them into admitting they have come in the past out of feelings of obligation when they actually didn’t want to come at all.

    I was just at their place a week ago for my nephew’s wedding. I stayed in a hotel. I was invited to stay at their home but was encouraged to stay in the hotel that my brother and his wife paid for. Their home is large enough to accommodate my sister and I. But I believe it is my sister-in-law that may not want us to intrude in their space.

    She may also be the reason their visits are cut short.

    I would give anything if they would invite me to share a holiday at their place. I don’t see that happening.

    Again, you are correct, I need to simply respect their decision and quit trying to figure out why and not take it personal.


  32. Denise says:

    I am in a sticky situation and don’t know what to do!!
    I have been with my partner for 7 years and have hosted every holiday meal for his family during that time. I put a lot of work into my dinner parties – even more so for Christmas. I have been planning and preparing for my Christmas party for 3 weeks already to make it a fun and memorable night. My sticky situation…my partners brother has told me he is planning on proposing at my Christmas party to someone he has known for only 2 months!! Aside from holidays just being a bad time to propose I feel this will make things uncomfortable and awkward. What if the answer is no? It’s only been 2 months! I feel like my Christmas party is being hijacked and turned into his engagement party – am I being selfish or unreasonable in thinking he should do this on his own time?
    thanks in advance for any insight that can be offered, I feel horrible and don’t know what to do!

    1. Grace Bonney says:

      Hi JDR

      First, that’s so kind and generous of you to host the holidays at your home every year. I hope everyone is appreciative of all you put into that.

      As for proposals, those are the prerogative of the person doing the proposing, so I don’t think it’s kind to request they do it somewhere else. It’s entirely possible it won’t go well, but no one can know that for sure. If it does go poorly, then perhaps being with family is actually the best place for him. Your family can surround him with love and support and help him through a tough time. I think that type of bonding is exactly what the holidays are about. Sometimes it’s not our family’s job to prevent us from mistakes we (may) make, but instead to help us rebuild after them.


  33. Denise says:

    Wow! Thanks for the quick response…i’M impressed!

    Not surprised by your response either : ( thank you, I appreciate your feedback

  34. April says:

    Walking right back towards the place on a freezing December morning, I start
    vaping the shisha, preventing eye connection with passersby.

  35. Susan says:

    My son and his girlfriend ( 24 and 21 years old and been dating for 3 years) visit twice a year for 2 weeks. She does little to help and he says she is a guest so should not have to help.

    When they left now the bathroom was dirty and had not been cleaned in the 2 weeks they stayed. She verbally thanked me and had said the night before they left that she would clean the bathroom. I said that would be nice but I think she left it to make her point that she is a guest.

    My son helps a lot and cooks etc…she plays on her computer or watches TV but she does help out with drying up or laying the table when she is asked to but leaves a lot to my husband and myself by leaving the jobs half done. By the time they leave we are on our knees with tiredness.

    I do all her washing and drying and usually fold it for her too and the last time I gave her the basket to fold it herself and she jokingly asked why it wasn’t folded and then was too lazy to take the basket upstairs so she left it in the lounge until I started to take it up and then she took over from me.

    Am I expecting too much from her? Any suggestions as I don’t want her to visit any more as I cannot put up with her holidaying at our expense and treating us as a guest house when she doesn’t even respect our home…..but I don’t want to cause family problems.

    The girlfriend walks into our bedroom without being invited and treats the whole house as communal space. I was brought up and raised my children to treat the master bedroom as totally private and by invitation only. I found her looking in the drawers of my chest of drawers for my hair-dryer. I was appalled and my husband was furious but won’t say anything for fear of problems.

    One night she took the phone upstairs to call her mother and I overheard her saying that she could’t do anything right. The conversation went on for ages but when she heard me coming up the stairs she closed the door and I could hear from the tone she was still discussing the issue. That was the only call where she went to their room and closed the door. It was on a day that I was frantically doing things to get ready to go out and after doing everything she came and asked what she could do before we went out (in 5 minutes time!). I said it was all done. My tone was incredulous as she had sat and did nothing until it was all done…she does that a lot and her timing is spot on to get out of most things. So I end up feeling stressed and she feels she is being picked on.

    I feel very upset about this and cannot approach my son as he gets angry with me, I feel taken for granted and unappreciated. I do hope you have some advice. Incidentally when they arrive their room is all set up for them and cosy and the most she does is vaccuum the carpet ( or my son does sometimes if she passes the job to him) and this is when I am doing the rest of the house.

    I really hope you can help. Many thanks.

    1. Grace Bonney says:


      I’m so sorry this issue is causing you so much stress. Relationships are tough because 1/2 of the equation is your own flesh and blood, so they “get a pass” for a lot of this behavior and some similar behavior may be overlooked because they’re you’re children.

      I think the first thing to do is sit down with your son and discuss the issue. First and foremost, a guest is a guest. If they are genuinely guests in your home, expecting them to tidy up after themselves is fine, but expecting them to scour the bathroom is not. It doesn’t sound like your son is following up to clean up after her, so she’s not the only one on the hook here.

      I would sit down with him and explain the issues you have clearly and without emotion. Just explain that you’d greatly appreciate if they would be tidier about their areas (ie: cleaning up the bathroom, doing their own laundry and folding.) and then explain your request for private spaces to remain private.

      If he cannot communicate this to his girlfriend in a way that leads to changes, you have every right to politely sit down and express some concerns with his girlfriend. But if she can already sense your displeasure with her behavior (hence, her phone call home), you may be coming across as passive aggressive. I would suggest stopping her in the moment and addressing things, rather than giving her a laundry list (no pun intended) of problems.

      Perhaps if she doesn’t fold her laundry or makes jokes about you not folding it, you can stop and say, “X, can we talk for a moment? I’m so glad to have you and [your son] visiting us, we love spending time with you both. I’m happy to help out with laundry, but comments like that make me feel like you don’t appreciate this help, so I’d appreciate it if you don’t say things like that.” If she doesn’t improve, stop doing her laundry.

      I think your son should be able to discuss all of this with you though. Chances are he understands and knows the rules you raised him with and just needs to express that to his girlfriend. She wasn’t raised with the same house rules, so there’s going to be a learning curve for her, and giving her the rules, rather than expecting her to know them already, allows her to have a fair understanding of what’s expected of her behavior.

      Keep in mind though that different people were raised with different ideas about space. I was raised to be able to knock and walk in and out of my mom’s bedroom to get her hair dryer, but that’s not how every household runs. It’s a very intimidating thing to try to adjust and fit into someone else’s family, so it might be helpful to keep her feelings and fears in mind (and her age, she’s still very young) and lead with compassion. If this relationship becomes permanent for your son, finding a balance between your needs and her comfort will need to happen anyway, so starting now with a clear list of ground rules and giving her some time to digest them all will be helpful in the long run.


  36. Susan says:

    Dear Grace

    Thank you so much for your wonderful and very balanced response. I will take your advice seriously and the next time they visit I will try to have the right response to address the issues. I will say it kindly so that she doesn’t take offence but of course there will always be upset associated with any discussion we have.

    I guess mothers of sons hope they will chose a partner who compliments them and so, seeing my son doing the majority of the cooking and other jobs while his girlfriend does very little is very frustrating. She is young though and I hope in time she will mature and become less wrapped up in herself. I don’t see them as guests but rather as family visiting. We don’t invite them as such but we have an open door policy and my son tells us when he’s able to get leave to come and visit us…of course the girlfriend comes too as has happened with previous girlfriends. My sons girlfriends are always welcome and I have never had these problems in the past with the girlfriends of either of my sons.

    I’m unsure about speaking to my son about this as he is not open to any criticism of his girlfriend and no matter how I say it he will take offence. I’ll see if the opportunity arises as I may be going over to visit them. My son may be more open to discussion on his own turf.

    Thank you again for your very balanced advice. Fingers crossed the next visit is less fraught. I’ll keep you posted.

    1. Grace Bonney says:


      Navigating these issues is tough, no matter how you slice it. But I would tread lightly around the idea of your son not being complimented by his girlfriend. Their relationship may be built on different roles and responsibilities that are unlike yours and those roles may manifest themselves in different ways that you don’t necessarily see. We all love our family members to the moon and back, but everyone (all sons and daughters) has their quirks and issues and it’s possible that she is able to compliment your son in areas he struggles with. I’m sure both mothers here love their children and would want nothing more than for each family to give the other the benefit of the doubt and the chance to learn, grow and understand each other better.


  37. Susan says:

    Dear Grace

    Thank you…you have made another very good point. I have overlooked the ways that she does compliment him as I am so upset about the way the Christmas and New Year visit went. I will try and deal with the issues and see the positives at the same time.

    Thank you!

  38. Ara says:

    While have a birthday party for my husband with 11 friends, the following occured, shortly after cutting the cake, one of my friends began talking about his porche. Another friend that has helped him work on it suggested they go see it. Three of the guests left, and never said a word. As the others noticed they were gone, my husband mentioned they had left to see the car. My husband drove his brother in law to the same home and then they started listening to the turntable. Finally, I suggested that we all go over since they had been gone a while and then the wife and I prepared homemade pizzas and we all stayed and ate. I felt offended, and had hoped that us showing up would have sent a message to go back to my home. I had originally just wanted to have cake and hang out and when she suggested that we make pizza I was surprised. I took it all in stride but woke up the next day feeling badly about the situation.

  39. BM says:

    I have a question. I may already know the answer to the question but wanted to get another’s point of view. I don’t visit my family very often. Decided to visit them for the last holiday. This has happened before and I was a little shocked by it… Here goes… My relative seems to be either on a strict budget or just cheap. When I come to town, I have had to purchase my own food. They provided the room to sleep and provided transportation to/from the airport. I am grateful for that service. I understand times are hard. I am budgeting myself but it makes me feel a little unwelcome even though I told them of my visit months before hand. I know that whenever I visit I will have to have money for my own food. It is amazing to see a host behave in such a way but it could be financial. What is your take on providing food for your guests if you are on a fixed income or strict budget?

  40. Martha Camire says:

    I had an unfortunate situation this past weekend when my husband and I were invited to our friend’s river house for Sat night. Also, another couple we know was invited but got sick at the last minute. My friend and I had divided the food up but I felt it important to bring extra, things like cheese/crackers/cookies, a bottle of wine for her or to have with dinner. I also brought and made the salad for dinner since the other couple was to bring that. I also was responsible for providing breakfast. I am a wine drinker and also bought a bottle for myself in addition to the one I brought for my host. Our host had brought fish and potatoes and since she had extra invited her cousin and his wife who live near. She also invited a colorful man who lives next door in another house. He showed up without anything but is a really big drinker. His first couple of drinks he brought from home and then got into the wine my friend had in the refrigerator but after all of the white was gone he did not want the Rose’ so he went into the kitchen and poured the entire amount of remaining wine (decent CA Chardonnay) from my bottle. I did not see him do it and when I went to pour a glass found the bottle empty. I was really put out with him but I was the one to be made to feel bad for not “being generous” I felt that I had made sure my bases were covered and don’t know what else I could have done but think about who else might show up and bring a third bottle of wine. I am really upset about the whole experience and since we were all in various stages of having drank too much.
    How should I have handled this and do I have reason to be upset that I was made to feel like the tightwad.

  41. Deb says:

    We have lived in a popular mountain vacation area for the last 15 years. Our children and grandchildren have visited us everyone of those 15 summers and we love seeing them. For the last several of those summers however, we have begun to feel very “used”.
    Their visits are usually between 7 to 10 days and we provide almost every breakfast and dinner for their stay. I cannot think of one time when they offered to take us to dinner or to cook a dinner. Our daughter and her family have never or maybe only once invited us to do an activity with them while they are here. For instance, last year she booked a scenic river float with she and her two young sons and never asked me if I would like to go along. If she had asked me I would have loved to have gone and experienced this with my grandsons!

    They have several times invited the in-law parents also. Dad in-law was coming a day or two later than the rest of the group, flew into an airport 90 min away and used our vehicle to pick him up. Then, because they had plans the day he was leaving we had to drive him back to the airport! Wouldn’t you think that he could have rented a car? And the gas tank was not refilled either.
    The son-in-law often leaves food on the counter without putting it back in the fridge even ice cream! None of them can seem to put the lid back on the garbage can. We have to have the carpet in the family room cleaned after everyone of their visits also.

    1. Grace Bonney says:


      Yikes! That sounds awful. You are well within your rights to set ground rules for your home and if they can’t stick with it, they can’t visit, period. So sorry that they took advantage of your hospitality :(


  42. Deb says:

    This isn’t even half of the rudeness. This summer they decided to
    extend their visit without even asking and we had already made plans with friends. They left without saying goodbye, no thank you note, not a text, NOTHING! They left 4 days ago and we have not heard one word as yet and I doubt that we will. Is it just me? or ?? I don’t want them to come back EVER again!

  43. Gabby says:

    My significant other moved in a couple years ago. I had managed to buy a house after great personal sacrifice. Child support prevented him from being able to help out with the mortgage. His daughter turned 18 and is off to college. Whenever she comes over for dinner she ignores me when she walks in the door, only talking to her dad and our dog. It makes me really uncomfortable. She never says thank you for dinner, and usually picks it apart, refusing to eat half. I always regret the effort I put into planning, shopping, and cooking. Of course, she thinks she knows everything! Does she have bad manners?

    1. Grace Bonney says:


      Yes, those are bad manners. But it may have more to do with adjusting to a new person being with her parent than with dinner or anything like that.

      This sounds like a conversation to have with your significant other. He is her parent and should speak to her about how to behave in someone’s home. If she doesn’t comply or show some effort than you’re well within your rights to ask him to meet with her elsewhere if she can’t be respectful of your home. That said, if there’s an issue of divorce and adjustment going on, a lot of children (grown and little) need a good deal of time to process that. So this may be something that needs a little time to heal and be worked on.


  44. HJJ says:

    Hello, I have a friend who I see occasionally and we love to drink wine – often more than we should. Well when she is at my house she often breaks wine glasses, which I never complained about – I just cleaned up the mess and buy new wine glasses. However when I was at her house recently – sitting outside on the open patio, I made a mess with my rolling tobacco and she bitched me out that evening about it. Well I cleaned it up the next morning and swept her porch and she still chastised me about it in an e-mail saying that even though I cleaned it up some got tracked inside the house. I told her that I don’t give her grief about having to clean up her broken wine glass shards and sticky wine. Shit happens and when you are a host of a drinking event and things can get messy sometimes. I am offended because she often seems to be the kettle calling the coffee black and judges me for things she does in similar but different ways. Your thoughts? Thank you,

    1. Grace Bonney says:


      I think addressing these situations in the moment is the only way to handle this.

      If this happens again, apologize and clean up whatever mess you made. If it KEEPS happening every time, perhaps it’s best to a) bring your own items pre-made to consume at her house and b) offer her plastic glasses to prevent breaking. If both parties can’t consume things in either home without a huge mess, there may be a bigger issue here.

      If the griping continues back and forth, a proper sit-down discussion about the bigger issues here (respecting someone’s space and being in control of your own behavior enough to not make a huge mess that requires cleaning from the host), may be in order.


  45. Lee Murphy says:

    Hi, I am having a party at our beach house for my mother’s birthday. It is only an hour away. I have included family and my mom’s close friends – about 40 people are invited. I put a start time on the invitation but no end time. In the past we have hosted weekend parties for the 4th of July, Labor Day, birthdays – those are always family parties. My mother’s friends are all just coming for the day. Here is my problem: my sister is an out of control nightmare – she drinks too much, becomes argumentative, walks around in her lingerie (without underwear), trespasses at our neighbors’ houses..she doesn’t ever offer any help and complains about everything. She’s also had a revolving door of horrible boyfriends who show up. I finally stopped inviting her although her children still join us. This is a milestone birthday for my mom so I sent an invitation to my sister. Some family members will be staying over – how do I let her know she is not on that list. It doesn’t feel right to me as a hostess but I know it will be a horror show otherwise…how do I phrase this? Thank you for any guidance you can give!

  46. Elizabeth says:

    I think you have made the right decision by telling her she must stay in a hotel and still inviting her to the celebration. I would also take her aside before the celebration and tell her that no one will be allowed to behave in an inappropriate manner in your home and if they do they will be asked to leave. I have had this situation in my own home. I asked my husband to intervene and he told the guests that their visit was ended the next day.

  47. Clara says:

    I have to say communication is a MUST. Guests gotta have an idea of what to expect and how to behave prior to their visit, but they’ll only figure how the host house/family works once they’re there and are TOLD so.
    I recently spent some time with friends and I asked for the ‘list’ of the Family (routines, any special habits I should adapt to…) – to no avail. No one told me what to do or not to do, which made me go about what I thought was right – and what I would expect to get from my own guests when I have them .
    Cutting the long story short: I was ‘told off’ for my behaviour and said not to be adapting well to the local culture (different country)… WHAT? Haven’t I asked you how you wanted me to be FIRST thing when I arrived?

    Looking forward to be a host again… to do the exact opposite and feel proud of myself! lol :)

    Great post… gives room to a great discussion!


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