A study that involved 49 couples, carried out by psychologist Terri Apter for her book, “What Do You Want From Me?” indicates while 75 percent of the study couples had problems with an in-law, just 15 percent of those problems were between husbands and their mothers-in-law; the majority of problems were between the wives and their mothers-in-law. Apter notes that this is because a husband's mother and her daughter-in-law strive to hold the position of primary woman in the family. Due to this struggle for position, disagreements can easily arise and escalate. If you have a falling out with your daughter-in-law, the sad news is that she might prevent you from seeing your grandchild. Keeping communication going is key to resolving the situation.
Talk to your daughter-in-law. Explain how you feel without passing judgment or laying blame. Tell her that you are sorry that your relationship with her is somewhat problematic, but you want to start fresh. Apologize if she feels you offended or upset her – even if you don’t think you have. Listen to what your daughter-in-law has to say, as perhaps you did cause problems without realizing it. If your daughter-in-law won’t speak to you, write her a letter explaining how you feel.
Don’t ask you son to take your side. According to the results of Dr. Apter's study of 49 couples, men often do choose to protect their mothers against their wives because they see their wives as stronger than their mothers and therefore, as the ones who should make allowances. However, if your son tries to defend you, it is likely to cause a conflict between him and your daughter-in-law, which ultimately won't be good for your grandchild.
Stay in touch with your grandchild. Send birthday cards and gifts at holiday times even if your daughter-in-law returns them. Tell your grandchild in these letters and cards how much you love him and miss him, but do not criticize his mom or blame her for not letting you see him.
Keep matters civil with your son and daughter-in-law. Don’t resort to insults. If you are on speaking terms with them be very careful to avoid any new conflicts. You might not realize that you are undermining your daughter-in-law, so think carefully about the things you say. For example, don't comment on her parenting or housekeeping unless you are genuinely complimenting her. You must accept your daughter-in-law’s parenting style and support her. She may well do things differently than you, but that's her decision.
Don't compete with your daughter-in-law's mother. Understand that your daughter-in-law will be closer to her own mom than she is to you and that's perfectly normal. Work instead to build your own, unique relationship with your daughter-in-law. If she will let you take her to lunch, do so. Show an interest in her interests and try to spend time with her to get to know her better.
Respect boundaries. Don't turn up at your son and daughter-in-law's house uninvited. Try to always phone ahead to make sure a visit is convenient. Adopting considerate behaviors will help restore your relationship with your daughter-in-law.
Remember that as a grandparent you don’t have the legal right to see your grandchild, but you do have the right to ask for visitation. As noted by CFR Mediation, parents have the right to decide whether or not grandparents can see their grandchildren -- and it's very unlikely that a court would grant visitation rights if parents are against this. Rather than resorting to litigation, you might want to consider mediation to help you sort out your issues with your daughter-in-law if she is not communicating with you.
- ABC News: Mending Grandmother, Daughter-in-Law Relationships
- Center for Resolution: Grandparents Rights – Visitation
- MFY Legal Services Incorporated: What Rights Do I Have to Visit with My Grandchildren?
- Grandparents Legal Support Group: Welcome Grandparents
- Psychology Today: In-law conflict and troubled marriages
- Mail Online: Why wives are programmed to fight their mothers-in-law
- Ryan McVay/Stockbyte/Getty Images