How important is it to get on with your in-laws? That's probably something bride-to-be Heidi Withers is asking herself right now, after the email she received from her future mother-in-law went viral when she forwarded it on to some friends.
For those who have not already seen the cringe-inducing-read-it-from-behind-a-cushion message, here it is in all its glory (and, to recap, the message came from Carolyn Bourne - stepmother of Heidi's husband to be, Freddie):
"It is high time someone explained to you about good manners. Yours are obvious by their absence and I feel sorry for you.
Unfortunately for Freddie, he has fallen in love with you and Freddie being Freddie, I gather it is not easy to reason with him or yet encourage him to consider how he might be able to help you. It may just be possible to get through to you though. I do hope so.
If you want to be accepted by the wider Bourne family I suggest you take some guidance from experts with utmost haste. There are plenty of finishing schools around.
Please, for your own good, for Freddie's sake and for your future involvement with the Bourne family, do something as soon as possible.
Here are a few examples of your lack of manners:
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. You do not remark that you do not have enough food. You do not start before everyone else. You do not take additional helpings without being invited to by your host.
When a guest in another's house, you do not lie in bed until late morning in households that rise early – you fall in line with house norms.
You should never ever insult the family you are about to join at any time and most definitely not in public. I gather you passed this off as a joke but the reaction in the pub was one of shock, not laughter.
You should have hand-written a card to me. You have never written to thank me when you have stayed.
You regularly draw attention to yourself. Perhaps you should ask yourself why.
No one gets married in a castle unless they own it. It is brash, celebrity style behaviour.
I understand your parents are unable to contribute very much towards the cost of your wedding. (There is nothing wrong with that except that convention is such that one might presume they would have saved over the years for their daughters' marriages.)
If this is the case, it would be most ladylike and gracious to lower your sights and have a modest wedding as befits both your incomes."
Phew. Now, I have always been lucky enough to get on very well with my in-laws, or, as they are now, post-separation, my outlaws. This is simply because they are nice people, I enjoy their company, and like spending time with them, even now. But, 'getting on' aside, the other reason it works is because we all understand the boundaries: I know there are certain things I might do at home (sleep in, lay the length of the sofa, eat from a saucepan, let the dog on the bed, burp at the dinner table) that would not be socially acceptable in front of them (er, or indeed anyone else). I know where the 'line' is, particularly when it comes to the impenetrable mother-son bond, and I do not cross it.
But the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship must be one of the most fraught in a family set up, even if on the surface, all is well. At best you have two women who will always walk on eggshells around each other to a certain extent. At worst, you have warring females both competing for the attention of the same person, both feeling they know best, one feeling she's lost her child to another woman, one desperate to lay down her own house and life rules. One very aware of her advancing years, one desperate to be treated like an adult...
It's going to be an interesting wedding day for Heidi and Freddie; how things are quite going to work out on the top table is anyone's guess, and as for the speeches - well, it'd be a best man with a will of steel who'd be able to resist the opportunity to bang on about this episode.
But the real fun is going to come when the new Mrs and Mrs Bourne welcome the patter of tiny feet - because if there's one thing that a daughter-in-law can never do right in the eyes of her partner's mother is raise children: and when that does happen, DO forward the Carolyn Bourne Guide to Child-rearing emails, Heidi, we're certain she's going to have LOTS to say.
What do you think about Carolyn's email to Heidi? Do you have an awkward relationship with your mother-in-law? Or have you maintained contact and friendship post-separation or divorce?