Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Mother-in-Law and Daughter-in-Law Discord

Grandmother and daughter fighting
Photo by fizkes/Shutterstock

Dear Dr. Gramma Karen,

I am a mother-in-law who is feeling rejected by my daughter-in-law.

My son, Garland, 34, and his wife, Chandra, 27, met in a club seven years ago when Garland was dating another woman (someone we would have preferred he marry). When they first moved in together into a beautiful home that my husband and I helped Garland purchase, Chandra decided that we needed to “make an appointment” when we wanted to visit. She said that people just don’t stop by unannounced.

Anyway, after they married and honeymooned in Europe, when they got back, Chandra’s family held a brunch to which family members on our side, whom Chandra did not like, were not invited. This put a huge thorn in everyone’s side, the result being that Garland’s time with us became limited and restricted.

Even so, I have always reached out to her. I wish her happy birthday, happy Mother’s Day, and any holiday that’s coming up I’m always the first one to text. I send gifts, I do everything that I know to do to be a loving person, that’s just how I am. When we chat, she is friendly and says “I love you” back to me.

Then they decided to move several states away, with their two absolutely adorable sons, Donald, 3, and Robin, 1. When we travel to visit them, we are not allowed to stay at their house, even though her parents and siblings do. We have to stay at a condo because she hates Garland’s father. During this current visit, where I am now with my other two teenage sons (my husband is not with us on this trip), she has flipped out and says she does not want us coming to her house. She says, “we are all toxic and she is doing what is best for her and her family.”

Now I learn that she wants a divorce. She is saying that my son is physically, emotionally, and verbally abusive toward her, and honestly, in my heart of hearts, I do not think he’s any of those things. She also claimed that Garland’s two brothers and I drove to their house and were peering in the windows. We were nowhere near their home; we were out to dinner at the time she said this happened. So now she is making up events that have not happened and is lying telling Garland I’m stalking his wife and sons while he’s at work!

Chandra once confided in me about her very troubled upbringing, including how her dad was a raging alcoholic and would lock her in her room when she was young so he would not have to deal with her and how she would scream and cry and vomit because she was so upset. I know she is currently seeing a therapist.

I don’t know what to do. I’m confused because I’ve never done anything mean to this girl, my other two sons want to get to know their nephews, I want to spend time with my grandsons, and Garland is stuck in the middle.

Garland says I need to keep reaching out to her and to tell her that I love her. Well, I don’t want a relationship. I have told her many times before I am glad that she and I have a good relationship and that I want it to grow into what I have with my mother-in-law: we are basically best friends. So, Chandra tells Garland that I need to quit talking to her about her and my relationship with my mother-in-law because she could “give two sh–s about it.” She also has said I should remember that she is the gatekeeper to my grandsons.

What do I do?!!  I’m not kissing her butt. She has never ever tried to be a part of this family. She says we are fake, but I feel she is.

Dr. Gramma Karen’s Response

Although the situation you describe is complex and your hurt and frustration are understandable, how you handle it can be very straightforward once you answer this question: Do you want to have at least a chance of seeing your grandchildren?

If the answer is No, then you are at liberty to speak your mind and unload on Chandra all your negative feelings about her behavior. This may give you the satisfaction that you didn’t “kiss her butt,” but then you will most likely have to pay the price of being denied all access to your grandchildren.

However, if your answer is Yes, that you do want to have access to your grandsons, then your go-forward plan is quite simple. It has been spelled out mostly by your son and DIL:

  • Accept that Chandra is indeed the gatekeeper to your grandsons and to keep that gate open, you may have to be subservient in ways you’d rather not be, that is, tolerate without comment what you consider to be her unfair and inexplicable behavior.
  • This means accepting without comment pretty much whatever Chandra decrees. For example, if she says you need to rent a condo, rent one. If she says you need to make an appointment to come into her home, do so. Politely. E.g., “Would it be convenient …?” or “How can we fit into your schedule …?”
  • Keep reaching out to Chandra. Find things she says and does that you can tell her you admire or respect.
  • Do not share with Garland or Chandra any negative feelings and emotions you may be feeling about either of them.
  • Stop talking about your relationship with your MIL and how you want a similar relationship for you and Chandra. What you have with your MIL sounds lovely, but it may sound to Chandra that you’re telling her she doesn’t measure up.

In closing, from what you describe, Garland and Chandra are dealing with a boatload of issues and challenges, both as individuals, and in their relationship. It seems that turmoil and change are in their current and future family dynamics. In the midst of all this, you get to pick your role. You can add to the potential problems by throwing you own hurt feelings into the mix, or you can decide to do whatever is necessary so you can be a port in the storm for your son, his wife, and your two grandchildren.

For the sake of your grandchildren, I hope you pick the latter.

Read Next | Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: A Case For Neutrality In An Inter-Family Feud

Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.

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Dr. Rancourt’s most recent book is,

It’s All About Relationships: New Ways to Make Them Healthy and Fulfilling, at Home and at Work

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