Was The 'Mother-In-Law-From-Hell's' Email Justified?

05/07/2011 11:27 | Updated 22 May 2015

The stereotype of the crazed, controlling mother-in-law from hell has been around forever (J. Lo's even starred in a movie about it), but last week she was given a new face: 60-year-old horticulturalist Carolyn Bourne.

Bourne's missives attacking her future (step)-daughter-in-law, Heidi Withers, for her lack of "good manners" went viral after Withers and fiancé Freddie Bourne spent a weekend at his father's house in April. Withers' apparent lack of etiquette inspired her mother-in-law-to-be to send - three times in one day - a detailed email critiquing all of her faults.

Although the current media hype surrounding the incident suggests it may all have been a rather bizarre yet brilliant PR stunt for Eddie's new venture, a wedding catering company, the issue remains: Is sending an email of that nature to your future-step-daughter-in-law ever acceptable?

In a word: No.

As someone who knows how intimidating and scary being daughter-in-law is but doesn't yet have experience as a mother-in-law, I'll admit that I'm on team Heidi. Sure, some of Heidi's behaviour that weekend (and subsequently) sounds totally annoying and pretty unreasonable and isn't exactly the best foot to put forward to your future family. Like rotting in bed all morning and making in-laws pay for an unnecessary, extravagant wedding, for example.

It's appalling Heidi didn't thank her hosts afterwards and pick up on hints throughout her time there (I can certainly imagine not-so-subtle eye rolls coming from Carolyn Bourne's direction all weekend long) to tone down some of her behaviour. And of course, Heidi's greatest faux pas was forwarding that email to her friends.

While she could have made more of an effort, I also think Heidi could have been a far worse guest. She could be the type who steals some family heirloom or gets caught mid-snog with a gardener. Is it really so dreadfully awful to help yourself to seconds at supper? Surely that's even considered complimentary... by some.

It seems to me that the issue at stake for Carolyn isn't just about a few faux pas, but rather the deeper problem of feeling that her new relative-to-be is NQOCD (that's not quite our class darling for those of you who are, well, NQOCD). The problem is, sending an email outlining all of a person's defects comes across just as rude and ill-mannered as whatever poor Heidi was accused of doing wrong.

If mom-zilla felt offended by her future daughter-in-law's behaviour, the polite way to handle the situation would have been to pull her aside, have a quiet word and explain why she was upset. It seems that when it comes to manners, then Carolyn Bourne has a thing or two to learn about etiquette herself. And just because she employs the language of class in her critique of Heidi, advising her to go to "finishing school," that doesn't actually make us believe that the author of the denunciatory email has any herself.

While this is ostensibly an issue about a wedding, as we all know, marriages are never just about the two lovebirds in question. The whole wedding performance involves a complex cast of dramatis personae designed to rub each other the wrong way, which results in hilarity or terror or just needing a stiff drink (or five) in family situations. It's only if people learn to keep their peace (long after the ceremony), that some kind of harmony can exist.

I really think Carolyn Bourne should never have opened her mouth (or her laptop). She can badmouth her daughter-in-law as much as she wants to her husband, but why air out her grievances in such an offensive manner when her stepson loves the girl? Surely that relationship should come first, as should his happiness, and her insulted graces shouldn't even register on the radar.

Speaking of the fiancé, while I do think he deserves to be able to get married without the world knowing that his fiancée has weird eating habits and a mother-in-law who hates her, shouldn't he have given his poor girlfriend a crash course in how to survive a weekend with his family before all of this went down? Or maybe avoided the family house like the plague?

Some mother-in-laws are difficult, just like some daughter-in-laws are unpleasant and embarrassing. And in the same way that we can't choose our parents, we don't get to pick who we would necessarily want our sons and daughters to end up with. But we can resist letting the people our children love know we dislike them, even if we think they're marrying someone unworthy. What's the point?

Not only is this kind of tactic hurtful to both parties, it's really not going to stop the unsavoury individual from getting into the family. It will, however, massively cut into the amount of time the Bourne parents get to spend with their grandkids.


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