Dealing with difficult daughters-in-law

They’re the gatekeepers to your sons and grandkids, so do your best to keep that relationship strong

Special to The TribuneAugust 31, 2012 

JENNIFER WRIGHT — The Tribune Buy Photo

‘Our daughter-in-law is incredibly difficult,” a reader recently wrote to me. “She ignores us and pretends that nothing is wrong. She even posted negative comments about us on Facebook. We’ve gone out of our way to be helpful. But she interferes with our seeing our grandchildren.”

Unfortunately, problems with in-laws are common. Blending folks from different families and backgrounds is inherently fraught with pitfalls.

Difficult daughters-in-law make life particularly dicey because they’re the gateway to our relationships with our sons and grandchildren. If they become disgruntled, they create heartbreak that has far-reaching effects.

Our sons (their husbands) are often helpless to inter fere. They’re seldom able to reverse an unhappy wife’s opinion about his folks. And because his primary allegiance is to his spouse, he’s best advised to abide by her wishes rather than going behind her back.

In many instances, a husband will take the kids to visit Grandma and Grandpa, even if his wife chooses to stay home. But I have also known daughters-in-law who were so spiteful that they refused any contact with his parents.

The causes of such behavior can be incredibly puzzling. Of course it’s possible that the husband’s family is so dysfunctional that any contact would be detrimental to her and the children. The vast majority of instances, however, involve perfectly delightful in-laws who want nothing more than a close bond with their grown son and his wife. In fact, most couples bend over backward to be supportive of their grown children’s mates.

Usually signs are apparent from the earliest stages. Daughters-in-law from rude families are very likely to follow their parents’ examples. So are women who are unnecessarily hostile or moody before they walk down the aisle. It’s also a good bet that a woman who’s at odds with her own family will create conflict with her husband’s parents.

To make matters worse, these surly wives tend to marry gentle, passive husbands who are reluctant to take a stand against their antics. When she refuses to play nice with his family, he meekly acquiesces to her demands.

Regardless of the cause, the end result is, sadly, the same. Loving, well-meaning parents are denied contact with their sons and grandchildren through no fault of their own.

Follow these tips to improve your relationship with your hard-to-handle daughter-in-law

Recognize her role in your family. Your daughter-in-law is the co-leader of her household. And she holds the cards regarding her kids. Infringing on her authority will quickly backfire and hurt everyone involved. Accept her as the queen bee that she is.

Never compare children. Avoid any comparisons with other daughters or daughters-in-law. This one is doing the best she can and doesn’t need to worry about how she stacks up.

Heal rifts quickly. Rough patches inevitably happen. Work to mend them ASAP. Let your daughter-in-law know how much you adore and respect her and that you’ll do anything to make things right.

Be a pleasant force in her life. Discuss amicable topics when you’re together. Help her out in any ways that you can. Be supportive of her stresses and struggles. Your ongoing efforts to be congenial will make you easier to be around and increase the likelihood of a positive bond.

Accept her unconditionally. Your job is to love and cherish her as the honored wife of your son. Overlook any flaws and shortcomings, no matter how glaring you think they are.

Problem-solve difficulties. If a problem arises between the two of you, express your concern, then say “Let me know how we can resolve this. I love you too much to have either us be unhappy.”

Keep the door open. Should your daughter-in-law turn a cold shoulder, you must wait patiently until she’s changed her mind. Continue calling, sending cards and buying gifts. Hopefully, she’ll come around.

Avoid any hint of criticism. Never judge her parenting decisions or make a negative comment about her lifestyle. She’s rightfully apt to feel picked on and resent your intrusion into her family.

Find pleasant activities you can share with her. Develop a repertoire of common interests that are mutually enjoyable and strengthen your bond. Baking bread or getting pedicures gives you constructive time together and happy moments to share.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit

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