While most of us wouldn't go so far as to describe her as a fearsome, interfering dragon, chances are our relationship, even if amicable, still needs careful handling.
Chartered psychologist Dr Sheila Rossan thinks the key to this lies in the intensity of our feelings for our own mothers.
'As women, our relationship with our mums is quite distinct from any other relationship we'll ever have,' she says. 'Even if we fight, we can't avoid being close: it is our first relationship and we're so similar, yet different.
'Women who have the most problems with their mother-in-laws tend to be the same women who don't get on with their own mothers. They may resent mother figures and how they behave. If you want to get on better with your mother-in-law, it might help to first work on what's causing the problems between yourself and your own mum.'
Jealousy puts up barriers in these relationships. 'Daughters-in-law often envy the relationship between mother and son and want to replace that relationship with themselves. Meanwhile, mother-in-law wants her son looked after in the way only she can, which is of course impossible, unless the daughter in law is her clone.'
These differences can soon cause a bitter stalemate. As Relate's Denise Knowles explains: 'The main problem with the mother and daughter-in-law relationship is the feeling of inferiority it causes. If Mum won't give up mothering her son even though he's married, daughter-in-law is made to feel she's the second, not the first, woman in his life.
'Learning to get on better with your mother-in-law is about learning how to feel less of a victim, and deflecting her difficult behaviour.'
A blessing in disguise
Denise says it's worth reminding yourself that your mother-in-law can be a blessing, and it really is worth putting in some work to improve your relationship. 'Mothers-in-law can be a real source of support. Daughters-in-law need to recognise that and not automatically assume things will be difficult, which often may alienate the mother in law unnecessarily.
'If you start off with a bad relationship, and let her get away with making you feel inadequate, the less likely things are to change. The more confident you are about your position in her son's life, the easier you'll get on.
'If you let things lie, and never tackle her, it will cause problems not just between you and her, but also between you and her son.'
5 ways to stop in-law wars:
1. Keep talking. Don't clam up and simmer in silence when she says something that upsets you. It's possible to let her know what you don't like, and why, without causing major offence.
For example: 'I realise you're only trying to help, but it makes me feel immature when you give me advice I haven't asked for. There are lots of things I'd really value your advice on, but I'd find it much more helpful if I could ask you first.'
2. Appreciate her good points. Come on, even dragons have their pleasant side! Instead of fuming when she's cleaned your kitchen from top to bottom, why not thank her for being so helpful and feel pleased that you didn't have to do it for once? It's amazing how much gentler she'll be if she sees, every so often, that you do value her.
3. Ask her advice. She never approves of your cooking? Turn the situation around by asking her: 'I'd like to cook Fred a special meal. Is there anything you can think of that he'd really enjoy?' That way she'll still feel involved, by being given the chance to contribute, but you haven't let her take over.
4. Visit her. If she's in the habit of turning up at your house unannounced, it's a sign she probably feels excluded from your life, which can make her want to interfere more. It's often easily solved by calling on her instead. Pop in for a coffee every so often, which shows her you're thinking of her but takes away her need to drop in on you unexpectedly.
5. Keep it light. So what if she runs her finger through the quarter-inch of dust gathering on the windowsill? By turning it into a joke: ('Hey - I keep that there to write 'I love you' to Fred!') you're telling her that you don't have the same priorities as she does...and you're happy with that. You're making an important point in a fun way, without causing offence.
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Law, say the gardeners, is the sun,
Law is the one
All gardeners obey
To-morrow, yesterday, to-day.
Law is the wisdom of the old,
The impotent grandfathers feebly scold;
The grandchildren put out a treble tongue,
Law is the senses of the young.
Law, says the priest with a priestly look,
Expounding to an unpriestly people,
Law is the words in my priestly book,
Law is my pulpit and my steeple.
Law, says the judge as he looks down his nose,
Speaking clearly and most severely,
Law is as I’ve told you before,
Law is as you know I suppose,
Law is but let me explain it once more,
Law is The Law.
Yet law-abiding scholars write:
Law is neither wrong nor right,
Law is only crimes
Punished by places and by times,
Law is the clothes men wear
Law is Good morning and Good night.
Others say, Law is our Fate;
Others say, Law is our State;
Others say, others say
Law is no more,
Law has gone away.
And always the loud angry crowd,
Very angry and very loud,
Law is We,
And always the soft idiot softly Me.
If we, dear, know we know no more
Than they about the Law,
If I no more than you
Know what we should and should not do
Except that all agree
Gladly or miserably
That the Law is
And that all know this
If therefore thinking it absurd
To identify Law with some other word,
Unlike so many men
I cannot say Law is again,
No more than they can we suppress
The universal wish to guess
Or slip out of our own position
Into an unconcerned condition.
Although I can at least confine
Your vanity and mine
To stating timidly
A timid similarity,
We shall boast anyway:
Like love I say.
Like love we don’t know where or why,
Like love we can’t compel or fly,
Like love we often weep,
Like love we seldom keep.