I grew up in the Catskill Mountains in the “Borscht Belt” where comedians such as Alan King, Joey Bishop and, later, Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling (The Howard Stern Show) routinely got up on stage and made fun of wives and, the big prize, mothers-in-law.

While your mother-in-law might now be a doctor, lawyer or executive chief, she is still a topic of movies – Jane Fonda in “Monster-In-Law” – and reality shows “Monster In-Laws” on A & E. In the first two episodes, the “Monster” is the mother-in-law and in the 3rd, it is the sister-in-law. Is the Wicked Witch of the West always a she?

I suspect that while the situations may be similar, roles have shifted and expanded. Now, the monster might be the daughter-in-law or the father-in-law. Daughters-in-law, in an attempt to establish themselves as the alpha female, sometimes try to isolate the mother and the sister. They build wedges between brother and sister and control when mom can visit, what they can buy – no more bringing that horrible old teapot out of the closet when “Mom comes. Now, there are shower registries, wedding registries and baby registries.

And sons believe that they must switch their total allegiance to their wife, even if she has taken on the role of the wicked witch.

As people marry at an older age, having lived alone or cohabited rather than married, they are more set in their ways and not so ready to acquire another mother. It’s first names and visits are short.

Fathers-in-law also have difficulty. They forget that this is not their daughter, and they don’t have the right to make the same demands. Your daughter may be used to your requesting that she interrupt her sun bathing to make you a chicken salad sandwich, but your daughter-in-law thinks you are crossing the line.

The truth is that we don’t know which one of the piggies is the monster. Maybe the monsters are partially in all of us.


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