DEAR AMY: I got married a month ago, and I am having trouble adjusting to my husband's mother. She's a peach when we get together -- all smiles, hugs and homemade treats. But when she talks to my mother (typically when she's been drinking), the story is different. Recently she called my husband a "sack of s---" because he didn't mow the lawn before we went on honeymoon. Then she told my mother that we "have too much stuff." My mom thinks this is a dig because she generously provided us with furniture when we bought our house, so that, you know, we'd have something to sit on. Mom tries to avoid these conversations by getting off the phone in a hurry. I have to drag this stuff out of her. But I am sick of it. This woman has created drama with my family since she's met them, and now that we're married, I know I can look forward to years of this. I don't know how to tell my husband. He is close to his mom. Letting him in on these jabs would crush him. --Fed Up Newlywed
DEAR FED UP: The first rule of a happy in-law relationship is to diminish the opportunities for discord. Don't actively look for trouble from a foul-mouthed and negative person.
According to you, you had to drag these unkind observations out of your own mother. Why? You cannot guarantee changing your mother-in-law's attitude or behavior. Do not pump your mother for gossip, and if she offers to pass something along, you should cut her off at the pass. I cannot imagine why your mother would engage in this, but you should encourage her to establish some very firm boundaries of her own (hanging up the phone when she receives a drunken call, for instance).
Be cordial and polite with your MIL. Assume that she will find things about you or your household to criticize. If she does this to your face, then deal with her politely, firmly and directly (and involve your husband). Otherwise, avoid!