Legal Eagle

27 Aug

Dear LetterBalm: I’m 28 and engaged to a wonderful man who is kind, intelligent and decent. He and I are attorneys at different law firms, and he’s 10 years older than me. I work at a small firm without a known name; he’s a partner at a prestigious firm, and he litigates high-profile cases. His mother is justifiably proud of her Harvard-graduate son, not so much of me. She doesn’t think I’m a suitable match, and has said so to her family and friends. She’ll say things like, “Well, you’re lucky to be in your firm for someone who didn’t go to Harvard” or “Our dear Sheila handles the sort of cases Ron was doing his first year out of law school.” She’s smooth and sweet on the surface, but she’s patronizing and subtly venomous. I can’t go to my fiancé, and if I accuse her outright I’ll be the crazy one. Is there anything I can say to trim her claws?

–Objection Sustained 

Think of your prospective mother-in-law as an especially difficult client. You have two things on your side: First, you have the love of her son, and, second, you can kill her venom and declaw her in the process. But it will involve rising to the challenge of being unfailingly kind and sweet, while ignoring her barbs. This will be a condition of your marriage until she dies. Is her son worth it? Can you hold the line if children arrive and their grandmother shifts into high gear? Ms. L.B. says you have some serious thinking to do because your fiancé’s mother will be the resident harpy in your married life. Can you live with this? You might adopt some disarming phrases and try them out: 

  • Oh, Margaret, you’re such a proud mom. Ron is fortunate to have you on his side, and, as his wife, I can learn from your example.
  • Yes, I do handle rather low-level cases now. But I expect my knowledge and experience to carry me through into more challenging litigations. And, who knows when I may move to a bigger firm with bigger responsibilities?
  • Ron certainly got his work ethic from you. I’ve never seen a person work harder, and I admire him for it. His energy spurs me to greater heights.
  • Ron is someone I will love all my life. He will always be your son and devoted to you. I’m committed to him and our forthcoming marriage.
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