The politics of mothers in law

By June 30, 2011Uncategorized

Having just been to stay with the in-laws myself (and very much enjoyed their fine hospitality, I might add), I have a degree of sympathy with Heidi Withers. Ms Withers was the unfortunate recipient of an email from the stepmother of her fiancé that listed a long series of social transgressions and faux pas after a weekend visit. 

So incensed was ‘mother-in-law from hell’, Carolyn Bourne over her son’s bride-to-be’s “lack of manners”, that she sent a list of ‘rules’ for normal etiquette when staying over, including injunctions not to lie in too late, be fussy about the food served or be rude about the host’s family. 

There was also a dig about the cost of the forthcoming wedding which should keep the guests quietly giggling through the vows and into the canapés at least.

And now the angry missive is all over the press and internet after its recipient took umbrage at being told she acted “like a brash celebrity” and forwarded the correspondence to a wide and similarly indiscreet selection of friends and acquaintances.

I mentioned that I had sympathy with Ms Withers. This was flagrant, condescending character-assassination. We all have issues with the in-laws from time to time, but it’s the un-written rule that if relations get strained then family harmony is best maintained with stoicism, forbearance and – if push comes to shove – a polite smile. Presenting a written list of grievances seems a tad extreme.

But then again, things must have been fairly beyond the pale for the daunting Mrs Bourne to write the offending article in the first place. All yours’ truly knows is that if his own mum-in-law caught him acting like Heidi Withers, she’d have his guts for garters.

There are two lessons from all this. First, if someone takes the time to write you an angry email, don’t forward it to all your friends and acquaintances without at least having a strongly worded rebuttal to hand.

Second, never fall out with your mother in law. Chances are you will come off worse.