I am 70 years old and I have two sons. The eldest is married and has two children aged four and two. From the beginning, when we met my daughter-in-law, I tried to have a good relationship with her. I kept my distance and let her have the first word on whether and when my husband and I would see them. At first, everything was fine – she was very happy and kind and she always said how lucky she is to have such great in-laws. When she gave birth to my grandson, I babysat him for the first two years so she could work. In the meantime, however, there was a problem with my husband's health, and my grandson is also a very active child and I was very tired, and we decided to tell them that we cannot babysit the child anymore. We invited them for dinner and before I could talk to her they told us that my daughter-in-law was pregnant with their second child. When I told her that she should stop working or find a new babysitter, because I was exhausted, instead of showing understanding, she got upset and reacted strongly.
Since then the problems started. She started saying left and right that she had no help from anyone, telling my son that I was interfering with the children and that I spoke badly to her and that she was trying in every way to keep us away from their family. Every time I call her, to visit them, my daughter-in-law always has work to do and avoids me with various excuses. I feel very frustrated and angry with her, because I really treated her very well and I do not deserve this treatment. I want to talk to my son and ask him to come and see me alone with the children. I miss them, but I'm afraid that might make things worse. What do you say?
The mother and daughter-in-law relationship is one of the most difficult relationships and that is perfectly understandable, if we consider that two women who come from different backgrounds, who have different priorities and different experiences, who are in different parts of their life cycle, are supposed to socialize with each other and even to love one another. But this is not always possible. Misunderstandings often arise between them, especially if there are obstacles in their communication, one of which may be the attitude of the son on the one hand and that of the spouse on the other.
Something similar might be happening in your case. The fact that your daughter-in-law reacted negatively the moment you told her you could not look after your grandchild for a longer period of time may indicate ingratitude on her part since she did not feel grateful for the help you gave for so long and reacted selfishly when things did not turn out the way she wanted or expected.
But it may seem that she did not understand your limits from the beginning. And she may not be the only one responsible for this. If she expected that she could count on you to watch her second child, and while she is already pregnant she realizes that she cannot, this may have panicked her more than she could handle at the time and she reacted badly. I am not justifying her behavior, but I must note that no one is obliged to contribute – they do it from their heart. However, at that moment your daughter-in-law did not recognize your worth, and maybe you, too, felt pressure with the fear that the arrival of your second grandchild will make you even more tired, and from there it was not difficult for misunderstandings to start and for complaints and bitterness on both sides to begin to accumulate.
But I feel the need to ask you what your son's reaction was when you announced that you were tired and your daughter-in-law got angry. Did he understand you and encourage you to take your time and rest by reassuring his wife that another solution would be found? Was he also angry or was he uninvolved?
And what is his attitude as time passes and you have not seen your grandchildren? Does he not feel the need to keep you in touch with his children? If so, why are you only angry with your daughter-in-law and not with your son?
I do not know if it will make things better or worse if you ask your son to leave his wife out of the relationship with your family, but you can suggest to both of them that you babysit the children for a few days so they can rest or go out. And it may help a lot to have an honest conversation with your son, to tell him exactly how you feel, without blaming his wife. Maybe together you will find some ways to improve your relationship with your daughter-in-law, if, of course, you also want the relationship to improve.