Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Cold Daughter-in-Law Is Causing Problems for Grandparents

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I have two very lovely granddaughters, a son who is career military, and a daughter-in-law who drinks a lot. She did come up with a job recently, and as far as I know, she might still have it.

My son is often off somewhere in the world on a military assignment. My daughter-in-law is alone with my granddaughters and the other mothers who are alone, too, so, they drink constantly. In 11 years my daughter-in-law has never sent a drawing, a photo, or made a phone call to us. If my son didn’t send an occasional photo, we wouldn’t know what they looked like.

Last summer, we really enjoyed two weeks with our granddaughters because my son and DIL ran into a time when neither of them could be with the girls. We had a wonderful time! We took the girls swimming, to a jumping trampoline place, to the zoo, and to a local amusement park. They slept all night, would wake up early and want to go again.

We get along very well with our granddaughters and our son. It’s our DIL who is cold as ice. For example, she stays in a different room from whatever room we’re in. She spends her time thinking up bizarre things I could have done or she thinks I might do, but none of it is real because I’m not that type of person. I mean, the girl is really odd.

She grew up in a “soap opera” family with divorces everywhere and unhappy childhoods left and right. She left home at age 14 and met an abusive man. It was horrible and I don’t know the details.

I raised my sons with my loving husband and neither of us had divorces in our families. We are just typical people who want to see our granddaughters over Skype, and learn what they are doing in school. We want to spend holidays and vacation time with them as often as possible, too. We don’t know what to do with the mother.

To my way of thinking, there are two governing facts in your situation.

Fact #1: Your Daughter-in-Law Is In the Driver’s Seat

In the six years I have been writing this advice column for young parents and grandparents, many grandparents have contacted me wanting help with issues related to having access to their grandchildren. My advice in these situations is consistent: Do whatever it takes to keep in contact with your grandchildren.

As I elaborated facetiously in a recent interview to get my point across: swallow swords whole, walk barefoot on burning coals, swim across the Atlantic – do whatever it takes. I am adamant about this because, regardless of how you feel about your DIL, fairly or unfairly, she has the ultimate power to allow you, or to deny you, access to your granddaughters.

From what you describe, your DIL has decided she would rather not have you and your husband as connected and active grandparents – unless she is desperate, as when neither she nor your son was available to take care of the girls. Your DIL may sense you have low regard for her, and the one weapon of retaliation she has at her disposal is to not have you around, in effect, deny you access to your granddaughters.

Fact #2: If You Want to Have Access to Your Granddaughters, You Have to Make Some Changes

You can say all the negative things you want about your DIL, you can rant and rave endlessly about how unfair this situation is, you can even try to get your son on your side, but the reality is that he has already cast his vote with your DIL, or you would already have the access to your granddaughters that you want.

So, quite simply, do you want to try to get some regular access your granddaughters? If your answer is yes, then I suggest that you either write, or ask to speak on the phone, or ask to get together with both your son and DIL to make an apology, the gist of which is along these lines: “We have done some soul-searching, and we’ve come to realize that we have not been very understanding of how difficult it is to be military parents. It must be so hard for you to be apart from each other, to move often, and to have to re-establish yourselves. It must be especially hard on you, DIL, to have to hold down the home front and do everything by yourself when [son] is away.

“We want to apologize for not being as understanding of your challenges as we should have been. We apologize because we have not been the parents/in-laws you needed us to be. We need you to help us be better parents/in-laws, to be available to you in ways that will be helpful to you. We are committed to making the changes you need us to make.”

Then just listen, listen, listen. Don’t be defensive and try to explain why you’ve behaved in certain ways. Just listen, and ask them to tell you what they need you to do differently.

I appreciate that this kind of reaching out can be extremely difficult, and the possibility exists that you will be rebuffed. Whatever your DIL is feeling that has resulted in you not having access to your granddaughters may run too deep for her to grant you the access you seek, at least not initially. However, the current situation of you not being allowed to spend time with your granddaughters with regularity is not going to change unless you do reach out.

Another important consideration is that it is possible your DIL is turning to inappropriate and/or risky behaviors to help her deal with certain overwhelming things. If you are not allowed to spend any time with her and your granddaughters, you have zero chance of helping her, should she need a helping hand in the future.

You describe your DIL as being ice cold. I suggest some sincere niceness and empathy on your part could help create some thawing, maybe even some warmth, in the current chilly relationships.

Other Examples of Grandparents With Accessibility Problems

In closing, I share with you other columns I have written that address this issue of accessibility to grandchildren.

1. Grandmother Denied Access to Grandson
2. Grandmother Has Limited Access to Her Grandson
3. Son-in-Law Threatens to Keep Grandchildren from Mother-in-Law
4. Overprotective Daughter-in-Law Limits Grandparents’ Access
5. Grandmother Is Denied Access to Her Grandchildren

You will note that my advice is always the same: Do whatever it takes to keep in contact with your grandchildren.

Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
E-mail queries to [email protected].

Karen L. Rancourt’s most recent book is,
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen, Volume II: Savvy Advice to Soothe Parent-Grandparent Conflicts.


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