You've heard it before: "A son is a son until he marries his wife, but a daughter's a daughter for the rest of her life." Like most sayings, there's a touch of truth in this -- and if you have a controlling daughter-in-law, you probably know this all too well. Maybe she tries to control where the family spends each Christmas or limits your time with the grandchildren. When your son married her, you gained a daughter. Just as with any parent-child relationship, getting along is going to take work.
Talk to Your Son
Before you begin dealing with your daughter-in-law, have a talk with your son. You need to know exactly how he feels about his wife's controlling behavior. Be honest with him about how you feel but be prepared to respect his wishes. If he doesn't feel his wife is controlling, take a step back and let things go or risk your son's anger. In addition, you don't want to be the cause of marital conflict, so resist asking him to support you over his wife's wishes. If he offers his support, take it. For example, if his wife doesn't want to bring the grandchildren over for a visit, your son might be able to bring them instead.
Think of the Children
Children are the number one cause of tension in a daughter-in-law relationship, according to Terri Apter, author and psychologist at Cambridge University, quoted in the Time Magazine article, "Mother-in-Law Problems: They're Worse for Women." One common complaint among daughter-in-laws is that the parents -- usually the mother-in-law -- tend to be critical of the daughter-in-law's child-rearing skills. As hard as it may be, bite your tongue unless you think there are safety issues involved. In that case, you will need to bite the bullet instead and confront your daughter-in-law. It might be wiser to talk to your son first, as he might offer insight as to why your daughter-in-law is controlling and what might be the best way to approach the issue.
One reason a daughter-in-law might be controlling is that she is threatened by or even afraid of her in-laws. A good way to get through that issue is to get to know each other better. A mother-in-law can take her daughter-in-law out for a "girls only" trip to the spa, for example, or for a trip to the zoo with the grandchildren.
Wear Her Shoes
It is probably not hard for you to remember what it was like to be the new daughter or son-in-law. At first, you feel like an outsider, no matter how welcoming your spouse's family is. After all, you don't know their traditions, inside jokes or favorite memories. A controlling daughter-in-law might be that way because she is trying to establish her identify in the family while at the same time creating her own family -- the family she has started with her new husband. Give her time, and more importantly, appreciation. Send her a card praising her as a wife or mother. Compliment her on her meals or garden or even her personal website. Build her up and she might not let you down.
Talk to Your Daughter-in-Law
If all else fails, have a heart-to-heart with your daughter-in-law. If you've given her time, built her up, respected her wishes, talked to your son for advice and nothing has changed -- she is still controlling -- try sitting down with her and sharing your feelings with her. Tell her how you feel. When faced with the blunt evidence of the pain her actions have caused, she might back down. If she only becomes more defensive, you might consider family counseling with a professional.