Fun Times With Mom-In-Law?

The Early Show, Carrie and Linda Halford
CBS/The Early Show
If you ever doubted the complexity of the mother and daughter-in-law relationship, just ask "Dear Abby."

"I receive in-law problems in every single batch of mail that comes in," says Jeanne Phillips, a.k.a. "Dear Abby." She is the daughter of the column's founder, Pauline Phillips, and shares her mother's pen name, Abigail Van Buren.

Phillips gets all sorts of questions, ranging from how to get the mother-in-law to stay away and respect privacy, to how to get her to draw closer and be involved.

Of course there are the extreme cases such as the struggles Marie and Debra Barone have on "Everybody Loves Raymond."

But on the other end of the spectrum, there is the case of the Halford family.

Carrie Halford and her husband, Neil, live in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska with their two kids. And right next door? Neil's parents. Just like the Barone family.

But that's where the similarities end. This mother-in-law, daughter-in-law combo are actually very good friends. "We love to shop together, we go to movies. We always eat together as friends. We go out to lunch, we take the kids out to lunch," says Carrie Halford.

Why is the mother-in-law, daughter-in-law relationship so often a dicey one? Pauline Wallin, a Pennsylvania psychologist, says, "The relationship becomes strained because the emotional stakes are very high. The higher the emotional stakes, the stronger our emotional reaction."

But whether they know it or not, Carrie and Linda Halford make most of the right choices when it comes to their relationship.

"If you are a mother-in-law, the first thing you need to realize is that your daughter-in-law is a person in her own right, she is more than the wife of your son or the mother of your grandchildren," says Dr. Wallin.

Linda Halford says she enjoys being with her daughter-in-law not because she's the kind of woman she envisioned for her son, but because of who she is.

"Carrie is just very down to earth and she's a remarkable individual," Linda Halford says.

For her part, Carrie Halford avoids one of the biggest in-law problems: taking everything as a criticism.

"For daughters-in-law, the greatest problem they have is they take things too personally," says Dr. Wallin.

Carrie Halford says, "If my daughter's hair is not quite perfect and she goes over to grandma's and grandma fixes her hair, well, that's fine, I'm not going to get angry about that. I look at it as she's helping me out."

And there's the importance of picking your battles...

"We make such a big deal over little things, and we let these little things get to us and we overreact," says Dr. Wallin.

Linda Halford says, "Put it in perspective. If you want your family to be close, sometimes it's better to just walk away, or just shrug your shoulders and say they've got to learn themselves!"

As for Neil Halford, the man in the middle, he couldn't be happier. "I have two very wonderful women that are very much a part of my life and it's just a bonus that they get along," he says.

If your family's not fortunate enough to live in harmony like the Halfords, you can always turn to "Dear Abby," who shared a classic response to an in-law complaint with The Early Show.

Abby: "Honey, if your mother and I were in a canoe and the canoe tipped over and we were both drowning and you could only save one of us, which one would you save?"

Arlene: "He had the nerve to say, I think I'd save my mother because I owe her more. I'm so hurt, what should I do?"

Abby: "Arlene, learn to swim."