"Wear beige and keep your mouth shut."
This is what Carolyn Keleman, a grandmother of seven from Columbia, Md., says she's learned in her ten years as mother-in-law to two daughters-in-law. So if you believe this is what your daughter-in-law wants from you, you’re not alone. Feeling like you can't speak freely with your daughter-in-law can lead to resentment and prevent you from having the relationship you want with her, your son, and most important, your grandchildren. To get your relationship with your daughter-in-law on track, try the tips below. They may help you get what you really want — more positive, quality time with your family — and maybe even a stronger friendship with a fellow mother.
If you have something to say about your grandchildren or the way their mother is raising them, keep this version of the golden rule in mind: If you can't say it directly to your daughter-in-law, don't say it at all. "You have to find a way to say it directly and not through your child. That's the kiss of death," says grandmother of seven and clinical psychologist Nancy Dunn Williams, 79, of Portland, Ore. Keleman says that she raises important issues calmly, and always to both parents, and that over the years she's only grown closer to her daughters-in-law.
Drop-Ins Lead to Daughter-in-law Problems
On sitcoms, mothers-in-law routinely drop in on their families unannounced, usually at the most inconvenient times. In real life, if you want to see more of your son's family, call ahead, ask your daughter-in-law when you should visit, and schedule the time. Maybe your daughter-in-law can't arrange your visit right away; remember, you wouldn't agree to babysit if you have something else on your calendar, and you shouldn't expect her always to be able to accommodate your visits. Respect is the key. "I live nine blocks from two of my grandchildren," Williams says. "Before I moved here I promised that I would never just arrive on their doorstep. I call the parents and ask what’s going on that I can help with."
Follow the Rules
Getting enough "alone time" with grandchildren is often a point of contention between grandmothers and daughters-in-law. But if you want your daughter-in-law to trust you enough to leave you alone with her young children, it’s important to follow her rules for the kids when she's around, and when she’s not. "When you think of this from the point of view of a small child," Williams says, "there is a lot of value to him if his routine is not interrupted just because he is [away] from his mother." Your daughter-in-law is likely to back off on her demands as time goes by, Williams says, if she feels that you are working with her, instead of against her.
Be the Change You Wish to See
If it's important to you that your grandchildren learn your native language, play an instrument, or take up another interest you value, supply the tools, arrange for lessons, or teach it to the kids yourself. Don't just sit back and criticize your daughter-in-law for not doing it. Then, instead of the issue becoming a wedge between you and your daughter-in-law, it can lead to a special bond between you and your grandchildren that their mother will admire. Leonie Rohe, 56, a grandmother of one and teacher from Camden, Del., believes music is critical for child development, even for the youngest kids. So she bought her granddaughter Adelia a piano for her first birthday and continues to give the girl, now 3, music-centered gifts each year.
Speak now, or Forever Hold Your Peace
If you seek input on important decisions affecting your grandchildren, be proactive. Schedule time with your son and daughter-in-law, advises psychologist Randi Miller of Baltimore, and then "bring up one concern at a time." If you have strong feelings about a grandchild's education, for example, and want to share your opinion about the family's preschool plans, open a dialogue well in advance of any application deadlines. Be sure to listen to your daughter-in-law’s ideas before offering your own. Then you can express your own preferences — as opinions, not as demands — and your voice should be heard.
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.