An Uncaring Daughter-in-Law

She seems completely oblivious to the needs of her children, my grandchildren!

By Susan Stiffelman

What should I do about my daughter-in-law, who seems oblivious to the needs of her three children? She doesn't work outside the home and has a very busy social life. A nanny or the grown-up at an after-school playdate always seem to be taking care of the children. It pains me to see her spend so little time with her own kids.

Life would be so much easier if we could persuade other people to see things the way we do, but each of us marches to the beat of our own drum. While I empathize with your frustration about your daughter-in-law's parenting approach, there's nothing you can do to change it.

However, this doesn't mean you can't influence her to be more involved. I can offer suggestions that might be helpful, but you cannot change anyone, especially daughters-in-law.

We have a knee-jerk reaction to resisting someone's input when we feel that person is judging us. It's a rare person who can openly receive criticism or who willingly acts on unsolicited advice. Chances are, if you're feeling your daughter-in-law isn't doing a good job of parenting, she's picking up the vibe and will be unlikely to act on your suggestions. 

This might be a stretch, but hang in there as I attempt to help you be less judgmental so you can approach your daughter-in-law in a way that encourages her to be receptive.

Think of a few sensible reasons why she spends so little time with her children. Perhaps they're based on her upbringing, temperament, or perspective.

If someone other than her mother primarily took care of her, the way she approaches her children will feel familiar to her. If she's not intuitively good with little ones, she may feel she's doing the best for her kids — and herself — farming out parenting tasks to someone else. If she has a short fuse or an impatient nature, she may simply feel unable to be the playtime companion her children need.

As difficult as it may be for you to understand, your daughter-in-law may feel inadequate to care for her kids full-time; just because a woman gives birth doesn't necessarily endow her with patience, resilience, and the ability to nurture.

I am not suggesting that her children are being shortchanged. She, on the other hand, is missing out on sweet moments with her children if she is primarily leaving their care to others. But the fact is, you cannot compel a mother to want to be with her kids, and you certainly can't shame her into it. It has to come from within.

If you can accept her as she is, you may find ways to orchestrate outings with your grandchildren and their mother that give them special time together while you help out in the background. Movies, trips to the park, or miniature golf are just a few of the many activities you could invite them to share with you. If your daughter-in-law is very social, she may prefer kid-friendly activities that involve her friends and their children, as well. You'll find even more ideas on the Activities section of our site.

Convey that you love her as she is, and you may become the sounding board she needs to help her come to terms with those aspects of parenting she finds difficult. Perhaps you can help your daughter-in-law find her way toward spending more time with your beautiful grandchildren. Whether or not things change, let go of your judgment and make a point of finding things you do appreciate about her, noticing whatever little things she does with her kids that suggest she does love and care for them.


Read more on getting along with your daughter-in-law, see intergenerational ideas on child-rearing, and get a handle on family attitudes. 


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