“If we weren’t family, I would never speak to her. We would never be friends.” I have heard these words more times than I can count. The truth is, I’ve said them myself. Marriage should bring joy and happiness as two people join their lives. But it’s not just about the bride and groom, is it? Two families are being joined together as well. When I think of my son, I both welcome and dread the day he finally gets married. What if she’s beautiful but horrible? What if she hates me or I hate her?
Boy moms from all over the world say that when some boys get married, they forget about their mamas. Your new daughter-in-law becomes the gatekeeper to a relationship with your son and your grandchildren. I wish I could change that, but I can’t. What I can do is tell you about the many women who have successfully improved the relationship they have with their daughters-in-law. My goal here is to maintain the relationship while keeping your sanity intact. While you cannot change her, you can change your participation and reaction for the better. Keep reading to learn six ways to steer the relationship you have with your daughter-in-law.
1. It Takes Two
Like the old song, it does take two to make a relationship work. In this case, you are responsible for fifty percent. You can choose to engage or choose to disengage. Yes, she is the mother of your grandchildren, but you are their grandmother and just as irreplaceable. You are both important. It’s a correlation, not a competition.
Do not feel forced, pressured, or allow fear to creep into your decision-making. Every question does not need an immediate answer. When she asks for a favor, sleep on it. Tell her you’ll let her know tomorrow. If she demands an immediate response, say, “I wish I could, but I’m tied up at that time.” Don’t go into details. The less you say, the better.
I have watched too many friends turn their lives upside-down trying to accommodate last-minute invitations. You are allowed to have a life, and if you consistently say yes to eleventh-hour requests, you will always get them.
2. Stay Positive
What if she criticizes you? Says that your cooking is horrible or speaks ill of you to your grandkids? She’s got some nerve! The best and most effective way to deal with this is to stay positive: do not fight fire with fire, and rise above it. Just because you have many insults to hurl does not mean you should use them because doing so will just worsen the situation.
If your daughter-in-law is negative, simply limit the time you spend with her. Pick up the grandkids with little time before your event. Cut your visits to an hour or less. And always say something positive about her to your son. One time it took an entire afternoon for my friend and me to come up with a compliment for her daughter-in-law. After several margaritas, we finally decided on how well her daughter-in-law dressed her grandkids. We then planned how she would no longer join her son when he complained about his wife. Instead, she will say something about how normal it is to disagree, ‘but you know how much she loves the kids and puts so much effort into making sure they look great.’
Never ever let your son know that you disapprove of his choice. In an argument, do not ask him to side with you against her. Better yet, get out of the argument. Keep your parenting advice to yourself unless it is specifically requested. Let them solve their problems together because your son will take your negative words as a criticism of him and his life.
Worse, he might tell his wife all about your comments once they have reconciled. It’s just best for everyone if you steer clear of any negativity.
3. Don’t Judge
Sometimes there are specific behaviors that you may find unappealing. These behaviors might hurt your eyes and break your heart for your grandkids. In this case, you might judge her as a woman and a mom. She will never win here because her life right now is different from your life back then. Perhaps you worked but still managed to provide home-cooked meals every day. Maybe you were a stay-at-home mom who could do all the cooking, cleaning, and laundry. You might have even had a maid. What a paragon of a mother you were! While this is great, it is not her reality right now.
Your daughter-in-law might work. She might hate cooking, cleaning, and doing the laundry. She might detest the very skills that you employed to raise your wonderful son. This is the time to take a deep breath and recognize that your son does not value these skills. How do I know this? Because he chose someone who does not have them. He chose her for a different set of characteristics that suited him just fine. She is his choice, and that’s ok.
4. Solve It or Stay Silent
So how can you get over this? I say, solve it or stay silent. If you can help her or help them in some non-judgmental way, then do it. Otherwise, mum’s the word. In one of my many margarita meetings with my friends, we came up with the following solutions.
- If your daughter-in-law is a horrible housekeeper, gift them a house cleaning service because she “shouldn’t have to clean the house on top of everything else that she’s doing.”
- If she never provides your grandkids with a home-cooked meal, then make sure you cook them a meal when they are at your house. Ask her if you can bring food over. Perhaps she can help you with all the “extra food you always have because you just cannot cook for one.” If she says no, at least you offered, and she might accept your offer later.
- What if she drinks a lot? Ask her to call you if she needs a break from the kids. You don’t mind taking them so she can relax, unwind, and stay out later. This ensures that your grandkids are not in the house or the car with an intoxicated mother.
I could go on and on about navigating any obnoxious, unattractive, or even irresponsible behavior that your daughter-in-law might have. But the point here is to try to be a part of the solution instead of one of her many critics. Your son will love you for it, and they will tell you more because they do not feel judged.
5. Respect Their Home
If you truly dislike your daughter-in-law and disapprove of her parenting skills, you might be tempted to step in and help them. Please don’t. Just because you see a problem doesn’t mean they have one. They might like things just the way they are. In cases like this, the old military policy of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is best. If you stay available, positive, and unbiased, they will come to you on their own.
Never drop by without a specific invitation. If and when you are invited inside, stay positive. Do not comment on the mess, the piles of laundry, or repairs that have yet to be completed. They will feel like the school principal came by to scold them., and you don’t want them to regret inviting you in.
When it comes to birthdays and holidays, ask them about their plans, and don’t assume they will spend them with you. Your son now has a family of his own and two sets of parents to contend with. He is receiving pressure from all sides, and it’s best to be a place of peace for him and not add to his stress.
6. Create Your Own Life
Finally, if you are not getting along with your daughter-in-law, my best advice for you is to build a new life for yourself. I mean it. Get busy and stay busy. If you have other kids at home, focus on launching them. If you are an empty nester, now is the time to have your own renaissance. Join a club, learn a new skill or go on that trip you’ve always wanted to take.
The more you have in your life, the less time you have available to be affected by your daughter-in-law. If you are active and busy, your schedule will create a necessary boundary. Do not get involved unless things are seriously derailing with your son and his family. Remember how you learned to be a better parent: think of the meals you burned and the clothes that were ruined in the wash. Your son and his wife are making similar mistakes; if all goes well, it will bind them together. If you stay busy, positive, and helpful, they will tell you about these epic failures. They will laugh as you share your own missteps as a new mom.
When I got married, the stories that gave me hope were the mom fails. I wanted to hear about how grandma broke the oven and burned the Thanksgiving turkey. I loved these stories because they reminded me that I was not the only mother with no idea what she was doing; I was figuring it out just like all the women before me. Your daughter-in-law is developing parenting skills while on the job. Give her some grace. And if you still feel like she’s doing a horrible job, give her some space.