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Difficult Daughter-in-Law: Alienated Grandparents

This guest post by Barbara Greenleaf of Parents of Grown Offspring takes another look at the Difficult Daughter-in-Law (DDIL) from a different angle because the DDIL is the number one sore spot in today’s adult family. This post explains how the DDIL alienates grandparents.

Whenever Barbara Greenleaf posts an article about this tragic situation, thousands of people search it out on the Internet and on Facebook. She’s learning that the DDIL is not only creating unspeakable heartache for her in-laws, the DDIL is causing serious psychological harm to her children, collateral damage that is just now being recognized.

I get many heartbreaking emails detailing the callous treatment of a grandparent by a difficult daughter-in-law (DDIL). Here is a typical message from a Texas woman I’ll call Doreen. Doreen wrote:

“I had a loving relationship with my granddaughters for a decade, although their mother was putting more and more restrictions on my interactions with them. She kept piling up the do’s and don’ts—I eventually counted fifty of them—and they became more and more bizarre. At first I could visit and bring gifts. Over time she nixed the visits, but I could call and Skype. Then I couldn’t call but I could write. Then I couldn’t visit and couldn’t write but could send gifts. Then I had to stop wrapping the gifts so she could see what was inside, then the gifts had to be sent to her so she could approve them first, and then I wasn’t allowed to send gifts at all. Never was a reason given for these humiliations or finally shutting me out altogether.
“I don’t live near the children, but I made the effort to get to their home two to three times a year. I existed for these visits, our phone calls, and our Skype sessions. We had a loving relationship and now, after ten years of being a grandma, I have nothing. This is not estrangement, it is alienation. It’s a form of elder abuse and child abuse.

“It’s also a form of spousal abuse. My daughter-in-law has turned my kind, loving son against me. He was an Eagle Scout, for goodness sakes! But over time he bought into her lies and now he won’t have anything to do with me. When I tried to meet him at a coffee shop recently, he turned me down cold. ‘What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?’ he said. “And if you try to come here again, I’ll get a restraining order against you,” which he did. It’s a nightmare that never ends. Does this younger generation have no feelings for anyone but themselves?”

A Grandparent Fights Back

Given this kind of treatment, most grandparents give up. The constant rejection is just too painful. But Doreen says grandchildren are worth fighting for, both for your sake and theirs. Here’s what this feisty lady recommends:

Send postcards. This way the parents can see what you’re saying. The message should be neutral, something along the lines of “Grandma is thinking of you.” The kids have got to be able to trust love, she says, even if the parents are setting a terrible example.

Keep trying to communicate. Your phone calls may go unanswered, but one day there may be a breakthrough. And, if you get to leave a message, the kids may hear your voice.

Keep trying to visit. Doreen urges other grandparents to go in person, but she says to take someone with you to witness the exchange. Also, it may be less threatening—and the parents may behave better– if there are two or three of you.

Visit the police. If, God forbid, the parents put a restraining order on you as Doreen’s did, she says you should go to the police yourself to explain what’s going on. When they hear your side of the story, they may be able to help. In her case, they agreed that dropping off a gift for the kids was not harassment but a domestic dispute, and they recommended that she see them first if she tries to visit again. Then they thanked her for coming in. “We drive by these beautiful homes,” one told her, “but we don’t really know what’s going on inside.”

Reach out to their minister. Speak with your son and daughter-in-law’s minister to apprise him or her of what’s happening. Clergy may be able to help effect a reconciliation or at least try to get you invited to your grandchildren’s milestone occasions from which you might otherwise be excluded.

Join a support group. Whether online or in-person, these groups can provide moral support, information, and expert advice. Doreen found it comforting to learn that hers was not a unique situation.

Advocate on a larger scale. Doreen alerted me to Alienated Grandparents Anonymous, which lobbies locally, nationally, and internationally for greater awareness and legal protection for grandparents. See Barbara’s post for a fuller explanation of what AGA does.

3 thoughts on “Difficult Daughter-in-Law: Alienated Grandparents”

  1. I’m sorry, but this is really horrible advice.

    1. If someone has successfully filed a restraining order against you, I can’t help but wonder if we’re not getting the whole story here. Restraining orders aren’t just handed out like coupons. There’s usually a valid reason for why they are granted.

    2. Reaching out, trying to visit more, and involving their clergy is only going to make you look insane and, honestly, verify why there’s a restraining order.

    3. The advice to work on YOURSELF is good advice and the only advice I would take from this article. You can’t control other people’s behavior, but you can work on yourself. Join the support group, go to therapy, and maybe consider that you might have some fault in this dynamic. Usually there are many sides to a story.

  2. In my case also there were endlessly accumulating rules. Many times the new rule was the opposite of last week’s new rule. I was often not informed of a rule change until the rule had been broken. One week, when I took care of the kids it was critical that they get dressed and not stay in pajamas. The next week I was berated for bothering them about getting dressed when it would be perfectly okay to stay in pajamas.

    When I told my son that I cannot keep up with the ever-changing rules, he told me I should expect that the rules would keep changing. But if these things were so important that a hard line had to be drawn, why would they change from week to week?

    The control game aspect, the rule-making and the setting one up to fail should be part of the diagnosis of whatever this disorder or process is.

  3. So many boundaries and so many strange ones at that!! This sounds like mental illness on the DIL’s side….and the son????There is no excuse for his behavior . As long as a grandmother KNOWS she has abided by rules that were reasonable, she has to understand this: the DIL has complete control over her family but one day the grandchildren will see the light. If they have fond memories of their grandmother, they may reach out to her at age 18 when the mother has no control. And the DIL may simply enjoy showing power over the grandmother who keeps trying.

    Instead, write letters to the grands, DATED, and all about positive things they are doing in their life and the memories they share with the grands, into a festive box. Tuck a b-day present in each year they do not get to see them….and at age 18, show them this ” LOVE BOX ” .

    I have no words for this because mental illness is cruel.

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