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Different Strokes for Different Folks

Creative Ways to Deal with Your Mother-In-Law

By Annabelle Gurwitch and Jeff Kahn, real life married couple and co-authors of You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up: A Love Story

He says: The most creative thing you can do to deal with your mother-in-law is to take pity on her. She had to raise your wife, which could not have been a picnic.

She says: Don't fight it: You will have issues with your mother-in-law. Even if she was your best friend before you married her son, once she becomes your mother-in-law, all bets are off.

He says: Never treat your mother-in-law like your own mother. Some people beatify their dear ole mother-in-laws, while others approach them like they have the plague. Both are bad: Treat your mother-in-law too well and your spouse will resent you for being nicer to her mom than she is. Treat your mother-in-law as if she was Angel of Death and eventually, at some point, your spouse will use it against you, perhaps during your divorce, to prove your lack of character and compassion. Stay safely between treating your mother-in-law like Queen Elizabeth and the Anti-Christ, and you'll be fine.

She says: Be prepared to overreact and develop resentments that may or may not have anything to do with reality. Say she calls you once a day — too much, she's intrusive! Say she calls you once a month — too little, she's remote! She comes over armed with a home-cooked meal for your family: What? She doesn't like your cooking? She comes over and expects you to provide dinner: Isn't she aware that you're working two jobs and don't have any time to spend in the kitchen? Plus, she never likes what you make anyway!

He says: A little goes a long way. I have found that a single, strategically-placed phone call to my mother-in-law on her birthday — one made in advance of my wife's call, during which I successfully deploy my 12-year-old to speak with her by bribing him with a new skateboard — can send her into a state of euphoric gratification.

She says: Always try to apply massive amounts of compassion on a regular basis — like staunching a wound with a very tight tourniquet. On the very few occasions when I've been able to take my own advice, it's due to conjuring an image of my mother-in-law at a younger age, talking to her girlfriends about how she's going to be the best mother-in-law, not at all like her own. I'm having the very same conversations with my friends now, knowing I'll be in the same position as my mother-in-law some day. It's like working out: I hate it while I'm on the treadmill, but I'm so happy that I've done it later.

He says: Don't be afraid to use the “L Word.” No matter what happens during visitations or family gatherings, if there was tension, a misunderstanding or a drunken knock-down brawl, ending it with “I love you” will help to cure it. I try to end all of my mother-in-law phone calls with “Love you, Shirley.” It even makes me feel good to say it, so I know it must do something constructive on the other end.

She says: Have a secret weapon in your arsenal. I happen to have a poor housekeeping habit. I'm not proud of it; however, there has been an unexpected benefit: My mother-in-law doesn't like to come visit, because our house isn't clean enough for her. Since the one time she came to our house, not long after we got married, and exhausted herself sanitizing our kitchen, she sticks to inviting us to visit her home instead.

He says: Make sure to remember to include your mother-in-law on Mother's Day. It's just one freakin' day. Send a card, some flowers, go out to brunch — just text her for gosh sakes. My mother-in-law lives over 3000 miles away, so brunch at some over-priced egg joint that serves Mimosas, egg-white omelets and turkey bacon is not an option.

And I know what you're thinking with that 3000 miles away part: “Dude, you have it easy.” And you know what? You're right. I do.

For more of Annabelle and Jeff, please visit their website, here.

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  • Relationships with your in-laws can be tricky, but it's important to find ways to bond with them.

    Toby Corney/Getty Images
Different Strokes for Different Folks
Creative Ways to Deal with Your Mother-In-Law
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