- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2002

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Susan Shapiro Barash loves her mother-in-law. "My mother-in-law is great," the college professor and author said. "I just visited her place in Boca. She's very supportive, and I enjoy spending time with her. My first mother-in-law was wonderful, too. I learned a lot from both."
Mrs. Barash also knows that she is the exception.
"In a study by Cambridge University, more than half of the daughters-in-law interviewed described their relationships with their mothers-in-law as anywhere from 'strained' to 'infuriating,'" said Mrs. Barash. "And 60 percent of mothers-in-law described their relationship with their daughters-in-law as 'tense' or 'uneasy.'"
Her latest book, "Mothers-in-Law and Daughters-in-Law: Love, Hate, Rivalry and Reconciliation" (New Horizon Press, $14.05), addresses the issue that affects millions of marriages and crosses demographic lines. Problems arise from unrealistic expectations, she said.
"When in-laws have the wrong expectations, that's where the clash comes," she said. "A mother-in-law who has only sons is thrilled to finally have a daughter-in-law. She can't wait to go shopping with her and do those kind of girl things. But the daughter-in-law has a mother of her own and two sisters, and doesn't need another shopping friend, so the mother-in-law's disappointment comes. It works better when each one's needs are met."
Mrs. Barash tells daughters-in-law that "it helps to establish rapport or ritual apart from family obligations. Shopping, a weekly lunch, whatever. If that doesn't work, at least be respectful."
She also advises women about to be married to "listen to how their future husband deals with his mother. Make sure all the issues are finished. Otherwise, they'll creep into marriage."
It's very important for mothers-in-law "to look at the greater good," Mrs. Barash said, "and that is that your son is choosing someone as a life mate who's going to give him things that you can't. She'll have your grandchildren and care for your son in his old age. It's time to relinquish your role and understand that he has to transfer his loyalties from the family of origin to the family of procreation."
This can be hard for mothers, especially mothers of an only son or all sons.
"Don't jump in as a mother-in-law," she said. "Take time to learn each other's ways and values, even in something as small as styles of entertaining," she said, an issue that almost invariably crops up around the holidays. "Where do you go Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Thanksgiving?"
Mrs. Barash said her best advice is directed at both wives and mothers.
"Be very respectful to the other and always understand their special place in the family," she said. "And never make him choose."

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