DEAR ABBY: After reading your column about outrageous mothers-in-law, I had to write. When I was 17, I married my high school sweetheart. He was only 20. We were entirely too young to get married. However, his mother never said a negative word about it. In fact, she was our most ardent supporter.
The following year, we had a baby boy. We were too immature to have children, but my mother-in-law never said an unkind word. She was extremely kind and generous to my son and to me as well. She never once criticized the way I took care of the baby. When she came to visit, she asked me nicely what I wanted her to do, and then she did it. When I think of this now, it brings a smile. I was only 19 and knew nothing about babies, but still she respected my wishes as the mother of this child. If she had a negative opinion about me, she kept it to herself.
After a few years, the marriage fell apart. The subsequent divorce and custody battle got very ugly. My mother-in-law never took sides.
I am now happily remarried and live about 3,000 miles away from my former mother-in-law. My former husband has also remarried. Neither of us has had any more children, so my 12-year-old son is my former mother-in-law's only grandchild. He visits her every summer, and I keep her up-to-date as much as possible about his activities via e-mail and pictures.
Sometimes people are curious about why I work so hard to keep this connection to my ex-husband's family. After all, according to the world's expectations, we're supposed to "hate" each other, right? Wrong! This lady is a gem. She's a sterling example of how people should treat each other.
She and I had a long talk this summer about this very subject. I told her that I do not "own" my son. He's part of her, too. And I would be doing a grave disservice as a parent to deny my child the gift of knowing this wonderful grandma. I only hope that someday I will be as terrific a mother-in-law and grandmother as she is. -- RACHAEL IN CALIFORNIA
DEAR RACHAEL: I'm sure you will be -- because you fully appreciate the maturity, generosity and diplomacy that are required to fulfill those roles. Many people could take a lesson from your former mother-in-law.