The Mother-In-Law

How many mothers-in-law does it take to ruin a marriage?  Just one!  Then there’s the other mother-in-law saying:  The best mother-in-law is the one that lives far away.  Mothers-in-law, have been the subject of jokes for as long as people have been married.


In 2005 Jane Fonda took on the controlling, vicious, and nasty character of the mother-in-law in the romantic comedy Monster-in-Law. Her actions in that movie didn’t provide any lessons on how to be a perfect one either.  In fact, it was quite the opposite.


Sunday night, I was reminded by my wife that my mother-in-law’s birthday is today.  Of course I didn’t remember, but it did spark a conversation about how mothers-in-law really get lots of grief.  Sometimes it is really not their fault and other times I think they bring it on themselves.  Relationship problems with in-laws are among the most common issues people raise when talking about family.  I’m sure issues with in-laws have eventually landed many people in divorce  court.


Take for instance the mother-in-law who constantly criticizes her daughter-in-law for not raising the children as she would, not keeping the house clean enough for her son, or one who oversteps her boundaries in every possible manner.


As a wedding photographer, I often hear the new mother-in-law tell the bride something like, “You better take care of my son!”  or “He may be your husband now, but he’ll always be my son!”


I did a quick Google search and found dozens of books dealing with the subject of difficult mothers-in-law.  Some of the tips include:


Avoiding pointless bickering!  If there’s anything I’ve learned over the years, no amount of arguing will change someone’s perspective on religion, politics, or any other controversial subject.


One of the more unique approaches to dealing with mothers-in-law is to live in accordance with your own values.  That means if you know your own values, and live accordingly, people’s remarks don’t sting nearly as much and eventually they back off.  So when she wants your child to wear certain clothes or participate in certain activities, if you know your values and where you stand on such issues, you can politely tell her, “that’s not for my family”.


Trusted television psychologist Dr. Phil also has an entire section on his website to help people manage their in-laws.  He says if you’re planning to stick with your spouse, then you have to agree to stick with the in-laws too.  He goes on to suggest a laundry list of “rules to live by”.


  • Good fences make good neighbors. Your in-laws need to be your neighbors and there needs to be really good fences up. Set boundaries about when they are and are not invited into your lives.


  • Try not to criticize your spouse for his/her relationship with his/her parents. It may only lead to more clinginess or complications.


  • Keep in mind that your parents only know what you tell them. If you go to them every time you’re angry, and frustrated and having problems in your marriage, they hear that, but they don’t hear when you make up.


And my personal favorite, “The other woman in every man’s life is his mother. If your husband starts in with: “Well, my mother does it this way …” then tell him to go over and live with her.


Some of these make us all chuckle, but its reality.  Love them or hate them, they’re part of our lives if we want to remain married.


I’m happy to say my mother-in-law is one of my biggest fans.  She’s proof that all those jokes are totally untrue.  I know I forgot her birthday this year.  Heck, I did manage to write an entire column about you, that should give me a few extra brownie points.  Perhaps these kind words could count as your present too?







My Commencement Address

Finish this statement:  Success is….  In just a few days, students across our area will don the traditional robe, mortar board, and tassel and make their way across the stage to receive their high school diplomas.  Graduation is a joyous time to celebrate the milestone of academic achievement.  It’s also a time for family and friends to gather to show the graduates how proud they are of what they’ve accomplished.  Of course no graduation is complete without a great speech.  Commencement speeches are meant to be inspiring and empower the graduate to run out of the door and chase their dreams.  Many of them are filled with clichés and lies too.


I remember my high school graduation speaker referring to us as a  “silver spoon generation”.  She said we wouldn’t have to work as hard as those before us with the addition of computers and other technological advances.   It’s been nearly 25 years since I graduated high school.  I agree my generation probably didn’t have to work as hard as baby boomers and those generations before us, but I don’t recall any silver spoons being tossed about either.  


Sure its a different world today than it was even 25 years ago.  My advice to the Class of 2014 is best summed up in Charles Sykes’ book Dumbing Down our Kids. In the book Sykes discusses how feel-good teaching has created a generation of kids with no concept of reality.  Which is why he believes many of them fail after high school.  He lists several rules which I believe are guidelines for anyone entering the “real world.”  I added a few of my own comments to his rules.   


  1. Life is not fair.  


My mother always said fair is how you describe a woman’s complexion or the weather…not life!


2.  The world won’t care about your self-esteem.  The world will expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself.  


3.  You will not make 40-thousand dollars a year right out of high school.  


Only well-diggers start at the top.  Start at the bottom, pay your dues, and work your way up.  If you don’t make it, its OK.  Bloom where you’re planted!


4.  If you think your teachers are tough, wait til you get a boss. 


My first boss didn’t seem to care about my lack of sleep, family obligations, or other personal issues like my teachers did.  He believed everyone should give a full days work in order to receive a paycheck.     


5.  Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity.  Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping, they called it “opportunity”.  


Taking chances is crucial.  Too many people are afraid to take a chance or get out of their comfort zone.  Successful people take action on the opportunities they’re given.   




6.  If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes, learn from them.  


Listen to people’s stories.  Everyone has a story.  You may learn something if you take time to listen.   


7. Life is not divided into semesters.  You don’t get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you “find yourself”.  Do that on your own time.  


8.  Be nice to nerds, chances are you’ll end up working for one.  


So to the Class of 2014, I say work hard, don’t expect lots of compliments either.  Give 100% to anything you set your hands to.  If you’re passionate about waiting on people, be the best waiter at the restaurant.  Lastly, success is overrated.  Fame and money won’t make you happy.  Whether you’re an entrepreneur, an employee, or even unemployed, discipline, hard work, and being kind to those around you will give you a level of satisfaction like no other.  Congratulations, enjoy the journey!