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Your MIL, your friend
BY REBECCA KEISTER SUN CHRONICLE STAFF

Mothers usually want to pass their wisdom down to their children, but Sally Shields has a bit of hard-earned knowledge she hopes her son never needs.

"I'll try to be nice, and I'm hoping that my future daughter-in-law won't have to be so sneaky," Shields said of her now 2-year-old's future bride and her own experience with a mother-in-law that went from tense to friendly after she published a book about her, well, complaints.

"The Daughter-in-Law Rules: 101 Surefire Ways to Manage (and Make Friends with) Your Mother-In-Law" is Shields' how-to book for new wives that she created partly out of necessity to manage her relationship with Carol Palombi, the mother-in-law she gained when she married Phil Palombi nine years ago.

The book is filled with funny - and they're funny because they're pretty dead-on accurate if you ask anyone who has ever had a mother-in-law moment - tips on how to not only survive child-rearing, holidays and home visits with someone looking over your shoulder, but also to make your now life-long relationship a pleasant one.

And just so you don't have to wonder any longer, Shields and Palombi now share a frank and happy relationship. Palombi was one of Shields' biggest supporters in publishing the book.

"It was so perfect," Shields said. "She said to me, 'I know I can be a witch, but I'm a Leo and I'm stubborn. But we're a lot a like, and you're stubborn, too. Now go write a best seller or I'll kick your butt."

Shields, 41, who is a professional jazz pianist by trade and has extensive writing experience on that subject, got the idea of "The DIL Rules" after she was married and started having some trouble with the new mom in her life.

She had read, she said, "The Rules," a guide for single gals who want to land a husband the old-fashioned way.

"I followed it to great success, and married the man of my dreams," she said. "But after a couple years, I was having a hard time getting along with (Carol Palombi.) I was scratching my head, going, where is the manual for this?"

After some thought, she contacted "The Rules" authors to see if they had any advice. They didn't, but that was because they hadn't thought of the idea.

"They said, 'This is the greatest idea I've heard,' and told me to write this. And I thought, gosh, maybe I will. I certainly had enough material," Shields said.

So she did.

"The DIL Rules" was published last May, right around Mother's Day by Outskirts Press.

She put the book together by taking each anxiety-inducing situation she'd encountered and offering herself a solution as a tongue-in-cheek coping mechanism.

"As I applied them, I noticed (Carol's) attitude started to shift," Shields said. "And I thought I could save other wives years of needless contention."

Among the pearls of wisdom is this, one of Shields' favorites:

"Call Your MIL Regularly: You can keep it short, but if you're super busy, aim for getting her machine, like when you know she'll be at Bingo."

Carol Palombi, as it would happen, is a regular bingo player.

The theory behind that rule is that, Shields said, a lot of husbands will get on the phone with their mothers and then thrust the phone at the wife toward the end of the conversation.

"He'll say, here, 'Talk to my mother.' And then you're not in the mood," Sheilds said. "I tell people, call her, even if it's just to ask her how she's feeling. But make sure your husband isn't in the house."

And how did her husband, a jazz bass player, take the book?

"It's so funny, because he's basically oblivious to the whole thing," she said. "He just notices that I'm not fighting with him about his mother anymore and he loves that."

Shields laments that she now enjoys a good relationship with her mother-in-law, who, she says, brags about her to her bingo friends.

And though she won't be giving her son, Lorenzo, the book, she will be gifting it to her daughter, Lara, 6. After she gives her "The Rules."

"One message I absolutely would love to mention is that I based my book on the 7th spiritual law of success, which is that the quickest way to get what you want is to help others get what they want," Shields said. "What I mean is that I want a loving and peaceful relationship with my husband and a loving bond between my children and their grandmother. And a peaceful relationship with my mother-in-law."

REBECCA KEISTER can be reached at 508-236-0336 or at rkeister@thesunchronicle.com.