What sparked your interest to study the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship?

It began at home.  My mother-in-law is in many ways beyond reproach.  She tries to like me, and tries to be nice, but in her presence I feel as though I'm being smothered.  Unable to understand my own situation, I took the psychologist's way out: I decided to study in-law relationships.

Can you tell us what the focus of the study was, and how your efforts progressed?

I wanted to look at a variety of in-law relationships, and to get away from the image of the mother-in-law as a troublesome figure.  I interviewed all the mothers-in-law and sons-in-law and daughters-in-law and fathers-in-law in twenty families, and then I observed family gatherings in twelve families.  It soon became apparent that the relationship most prone to conflict was that between the daughter-in-law and mother-in-law - so I then began to concentrate on that and to see what was going on there.

Based on your research, what would you say are the major and/or common areas of friction between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law?

One common problem (and a major one) centers around the mother's-in-law failure to recognize aspects of a daughter-in-law she herself values highly.  In this theme are complaints that the mother-in-law showed preference for the son's career, and expected the daughter-in-law to sacrifice her career to that of her husband.
One twenty-nine year old woman said, "I love [my mother-in-law], but I can't depend on her support. She'll always be biased towards [my husband's] career.  If she were my mother, I'd fight back.  But fighting a mother-in-law over this is something I can't win.  She may be a feminist, but she's a mother first.  She wants [her son] to be happy.  And, let's face it - he'd be happier if I worked less, and looked after him more."
A twenty-six-year old woman says that her mother-in-law (a professional woman herself) was generally supportive of women and on the...