Your MIL is coming! As your mother-in-law is due to arrive in a couple of hours, your hands sweat and your heart begins to palpitate as you quickly try to neaten and straighten the house to perfection. HELP! Can you possibly live up to her standards? Will anything you do be to her satisfaction? And when that bell finally rings, you open up the door with a gargantuan smile. With the most genuine welcome you can muster, you gush, "Hi MOM! How was your trip?” Without skipping a beat she barks back, "The traffic was horrible—took me two hours to get here. My neck is KILLING me, Take my bags in. You look like @#$%^*! Better take some Dayquil. Where are my little angels?"

You sigh heavily as you pick up her suitcase and purse your mouth into a tight-lipped smile. There has to be some magic technique for dealing with mothers-in-law! After all, almost every wife you know has issues with hers… EUREKA! A set of strategies! What if you had a crystal ball, and you could anticipate all of your MIL’s quirky comments in advance? What if there was a method to mitigate her faultfinding ways ahead of time? You dream of being prepared for all the curve balls that come hurtling your way—what if you could deflect the bulk of them, and be at ease when she walks through the door?

I spent many an hour on the long rides back from the Midwest trying to get my husband to feel my anger and frustration about his mother’s irritating behaviors and verbal barbs. But after several years of having the same old conversations with him about this issue, I realized the bond between a mother and her son is impenetrable and there was no way in Kalamazoo I was going to get him to take sides. I can't tell you how many times my husband said to me, "If you can't find a way to get along with my mother, then we might as well just call it quits!" There seemed to be no end to this troublesome cycle! I now know that he wasn't saying this to hurt me, but rather out of a deep fear that the two most important women in his life would not be able to get along. I eventually figured out that I had to be the one to change my viewpoint or this exasperating dynamic would continue or worsen.

I knew I had to take matters into my own hands, as I loved (and love now more than ever!) my husband dearly. So whenever a bothersome incident would pop into my head, I jotted down longhand, on the back of napkins and any other scraps of paper I could get my hands on, a new strategy for dealing with my MIL. I started writing down all the bloopers that I seemed to make over and over with her and created a rule and a solution to deal with each and every one—from household matters to beauty techniques, to handling her lovely (and oh-so-appreciated) advice about to how to deal with my children! Before long I had 101 surefire ways for how to manage (and make friends with) my mother-in-law!

Though this exercise started off as a tongue-in-cheek coping mechanism, once I began putting a few of these “affable defense mechanisms” into practice, I noticed that my MIL’s attitude started to shift. I began to see her softer, gentler, more agreeable side, and realized that she actually wanted to be quite helpful and kindly towards me. I began to really like her—a lot, in fact! I thought that if she and I could actually have a non-confrontational, even pleasant rapport, (which has now turned into a loving bond), then these ideas really have something to them, and maybe I could help to save other young wives needless contention by letting them in on my little secret!

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Author's Bio: 

Sally Shields is an award-winning pianist, composer, speaker, and author. She graduated with honors from the New England Conservatory and was a recipient of the Boston Jazz Society Award. Winner of the 17th annual Great American Jazz Piano Competition, her articles and transcriptions are featured regularly in Piano Today Magazine and her book, Modern Jazz Piano, is the standard theory manual for several music programs, including Princeton University. Her children’s song “It’s Christmastime, Once Again” was a finalist in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest and her music is currently featured on the ABC TV daytime drama All My Children. When not traveling and performing around the world—most recently with bestselling author and musician James McBride—Sally (a vegetarian) lives in New York City with her husband (not a vegetarian!) and their two children.

Note: Although the relationship with her MIL was rocky at the outset, with the implementation of the devices outlined in The Daughter-in-Law Rules, the two now enjoy a special bond—which got even better, interestingly enough—after her MIL found out she was writing this book!