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Why do some in-laws treat their sons' wives like outlaws?



Jennifer and Angelina. Betty and Veronica. Krystle and Alexis. Whether real or imagined, catfights have sold countless magazines, inspired movies, and made runaway hits out of more than one TV series. But I've recently become convinced that America's most vicious female rivalries aren't happening in Hollywood — instead, they're taking place in your own town. Your own neighborhood. Possibly even in your own home. I'm talking about the age-old grudge match between a married woman and her mother-in-law.I've never had a problem with my own mother-in-law. (The fact that she lives in California severely limits interference, intentional or otherwise.) But I learned about the constant tension between many MILs and their sons' wives the hard way, after writing on my blog a tongue-in-cheek letter to my own future daughter-in-law.

"There's one thing you should always, always remember if you and I are to have a successful relationship," I wrote. "He loved me first."

I thought it was hilarious. Some of my readers begged to differ.

"I wish for Bruiser a healthy future relationship where his wife comes first and foremost in his life," one wrote, "and that you have healthy boundaries with letting Bruiser go."

"To me, it's written under the guise of being funny," sniped another, "but it's one of those things where the part of you that actually really means this, deep down, is shining straight through the facade of trying to make it sound funny."

That was all well and good except for the fact that Bruiser wasn't 26 and engaged — he was 2. And I'm pretty sure that once he hits puberty, I'll have far less trouble getting used to the idea of letting go. I suspect I'll even embrace it.

Wondering whether these women were projecting their own mother-in-law drama on me, I asked them to email me their stories of MIL woe — and that's when the floodgates opened. Scores of women sent me their horror stories, each worse than the last.

Katie wrote about her future mother-in-law's reaction to the news of her engagement. "His mother started talking about how it was just too bad that my [future] husband had a fiancée, because he really should've been (and I quote) 'sleeping with as many women as he could, because after all he's going to be a doctor and he really should settle down with the trophy wife he deserves.' She then went on to accuse me of only dating and planning to marry him for his money. You know, the $200,000 in student debt IS sexy. after all."

Julie kept it short and sweet. "My MIL once asked me if I had an STD," she wrote. "Need I say more about that one?"

Samantha's visiting MIL decided her daughter-in-law's hostess skills weren't quite up to par. Maybe it was because Samantha had given birth only the day before. "After our first sleepless night with our first baby," she lamented, "my MIL decided she wasn't getting breakfast fast enough and actually had the nerve to say to us, 'Umm, are we going to have breakfast or what? I'm getting hungry'!!!!"

Melissa's MIL story came in the form of a short play.

Me: Hello?

MIL: I'm sorry to call you at work, are you busy?

Me: No, it's okay. What's up?

MIL: Well, I went to the doctor today and I didn't get very good news.

Me: Oh no, what's wrong?

MIL: My vagina is falling out.

Stephanie's email contained a helpful guide on what not to do if you're a brand-new MIL. "Throw a huge tantrum right before the bride and groom leave for their honeymoon," she wrote. "Cry and wail until they agree to stay and 'talk things out' with you until 1 in the morning."

Christina still grimly recalls the time her mother-in-law came to visit them while they were living in a rented house containing rented furniture. "Mother-In-Law had decided that our furniture looked worn and grungy. So she had surprised us!" she wrote. "She spent the entire day RECOVERING our sofa and love seat. In huge MAUVE AND SEA FOAM green floral print! And making curtains! And throw pillows! And she had run out of the hideous mauve and sea foam green fabric halfway through covering the sofa, so she had pieced it together with an attractive coordinating PLAID! Surprise!!" 

But Kelly's story had to be the worst of the lot. It took place at the end of her in-laws' first visit. "Before they left, she gave us a box with strict instructions not to open it until they had gone," she recounted. "In the box was 2+ years worth of unpaid bills, late notices and notices from collection agencies. My fabulous in-laws had been using my husband's SSN to get credit in his name since he left for the Army at age 18 ... and they never paid for any of it! We began our marriage broke and with threats of being taken to court and my husband's career in jeopardy!"

I've learned from these stories to count my blessings. Apparently, a good mother-in-law is hard to find. And I suspect the same is true of daughters-in-law. Will there be a follow-up column here, containing stories of daughters-in-law from hell? Only time — and my inbox — will tell.

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