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October 17, 2013 by nooffensebut

You think your mother-in-law is bad?

An email sent from an English woman to her stepdaughter-in-law-to-be went viral last week, prompting an outpouring of responses.

Carolyn Bourne, 60, a florist, sent a scathing email to her stepson’s fiancee, Heidi Withers, 29, disparaging her manners, or lack thereof, and accusing her of “uncouthness” and “lack of grace.”

Some of the offenses Miss Withers committed, according to the email, included calling attention to herself, specifically to her struggles with diabetes, poor table manners and having high expectations for her wedding.

“No-one gets married in a castle unless they own it,” Mrs. Bourne wrote. “It is brash, celebrity style behaviour.”

The email ends with the line: “One could be accused of thinking that Heidi Withers must be patting herself on the back for having caught a most eligible young man. I pity Freddie.”

Mrs. Bourne might not be wrong. It’s ever so possible that Heidi has the etiquette of a banana slug and is desperately in need of such guidance, but there’s a way to offer it and a way not to.

Personally, I place a lot of the blame on the guy. He ought to have enough awareness, both of his fiancee and of his stepmother, to prepare each equally. This isn’t excusing the behavior of either woman, but when bringing a new person into the family, it is often the job of the bringer to act as liaison of sorts, at least until an open relationship is established between the spouse and the parent-in-law.

“When you are a guest in another’s house, you do not declare what you will and will not eat — unless you are positively allergic to something,” Mrs. Bourne wrote.

Couldn’t Freddie Bourne have approached his stepmother before the visit and told her privately, “If you don’t mind, Heidi has an aversion to pickled beets?” That way, the guest wouldn’t be in the position to have to decline a dish, and the hostess wouldn’t be insulted.

“When a guest in another’s house, you do not lie in bed until late morning in households that rise early,” the email read. “You fall in line with house norms.”

And it’s really very easy to say, before arriving, “Darling, my stepmother likes to begin the day at 9 a.m. We need to be ready to go by then.”

Mark my words, that boy is toast. If the marriage works, or happens at all, he’ll be forced into constant battle between his wife and stepmother. It’ll mar his relationship with his father and his siblings. And if he chooses to take his stepmother’s side, or not to leap to his wife-to-be’s defense, he’ll spend more nights than not sleeping on the sofa.

The lessons to be learned here? Mind your manners, and choose your battles.

Any good in-law stories to share? Good, bad, ludicrous — let us know.

Originally published July 8, 2011 in the Chattanooga Times Free Press

Reader Note:


I both loved and hated your article this morning. It brought out my greatest

fear in life! Lol. But I loved it! – J.L. 

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