Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Love Your Mother-in-Law

Enquirer Contributor

The joke: What's the definition of mixed emotions?

The punch line: Watching your mother-in-law back off a cliff in your new Mercedes.

Mother-in-laws have been the brunt of jokes since the beginning of, well, since the beginning of marriage. And some of them deserve a little ribbing (backing off a cliff is a bit harsh, however).

All jokes aside, becoming a mother-in-law is no easy task. In her book How to Be the Perfect Mother-in-Law (Andrews McMeel), Camille Russo likens the transition to “feeling as if you've been strapped to a chair with a sock stuck in your mouth.”

• Joan Maier, mother-in-law, Park Hills. “Never give any advice twice.”
• Agnes Cronin, mother-in-law, Springfield Township. “Don't interfere or tell them how to raise their children.”
• Joan Harpring, mother-in-law, Anderson Township. “Don't just drop in. Call first.”
• Denise Harpring, daughter-in-law, Anderson Township. “If you're not getting along, stay open for an opportunity to make amends. Never give up, persevere and pray a lot.”
• Melinda Maier, daughter-in-law, Lakeside Park. “Treat all of your grandchildren equally. Don't favor one or two over the others.”
• Mike Scholl, son-in-law, Fairfield. “Be ready to adapt old traditions, like holiday dinners, to accommodate the traditions of the spouse and the new couple. Religion and finances are touchy subjects. Best leave the new couple to find their own path. Offer support but don't push.”
Suddenly, your well-meaning advice is no longer accepted as well-meaning. The child you so lovingly nurtured into adulthood suddenly has a spouse ready to scrutinize your every word and action.

Mike Scholl's relationship with the woman he now describes as “the perfect mother-in-law,” had a sour beginning. Before Mike married Kathleen Cronin, her parents invited Mike and his parents to dinner. Here's where things turned sour. As mother-in-law- to-be Agnes Cronin describes it, “we always drink skim milk at our house. But Mike only likes whole milk.”

Wanting to accommodate her future son-in-law, Agnes bought whole milk especially for Mike. Unfortunately, the milk was sour. Not wanting to offend Agnes' kind gesture, Mike drank it anyway without saying a word.

Today, 24 years later, Mike and Agnes get along famously. “She's always there when we need her, but never in the way or interfering,” the Fairfield man says. “She's just a neat lady.” And, according to Mike, she's a great cook. But, he brings his own milk.

Joan Maier of Park Hills knew that giving advice to the newly-married couple was something to be avoided. So when she became a mother-in-law for the first time she decided she would never give advice. It sounded like a good idea, “but I couldn't do it,” she admits. “It's hard to keep quiet!”

Instead she decided she would never give the same advice twice. Today, with six daughters and sons-in-laws, she's found the rule works well. Do they heed her advice? “They hear it, but they don't necessarily follow it,” she admits.

Apparently her tactic is working. Her daughter-in-law, Melinda Maier of Lakeside Park, reports, “She only gives advice when asked or when it will really help, but not all the time. She lets us discover the best ways to do things on our own, like burp babies and potty train them, but will gladly tell us how she did it if we want to know.”

Like many newly formed relationships, Joan Harpring had an uncomfortable start with new daughter-in-law, Denise. For nearly a year the two did not communicate, although neither can remember why. Denise guesses it had something to do with the fact that she married Joan's only son. “It was tough for me and tough for her. Joan wanted to know that her son was going to be happy. And even though he was, time had to prove that to her.

“Sometimes people say things meant to be taken one way, and the other person takes it completely different,” Denise adds.

Both women persevered in their desire to make amends.

“I didn't want to have children that couldn't have a close relationship with their grandparents. And it was difficult for my husband, too,” Denise says.

Today, Joan and Denise have a close relationship based on mutual respect. And while some would shudder at the thought of living close to their in-laws, Denise is happy hers decided to move just a mile and a half away.

For the mother-in-law who refuses to make amends with her daughter-in-law, author Camille Russo shares this important reminder: Your daughter-in-law may have the final say on which nursing home you'll be sent to!



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