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Dear Claire: Your Problems

Professor Claire Rabin

My eldest son married his Israeli girlfriend a year ago. At the time of their wedding she was pregnant with our first grandchild. So in a flash I became both a mother-in-law and a grandmother! All happy events but ... there is indeed a large BUT. I was overjoyed to expand our family which is not large here as all of my relatives are in the United States. I was so looking forward to happy times together with my new daughter-in-law and my new grandchild. From the time of her pregnancy I felt something strange happening. She is very close to her own mother, and she talked with her every day (and several times a day as well). She never called me, and when I called her, she was always hurrying somewhere (felt to me she like was running off to have coffee with her mom, but maybe I am exaggerating.) I talked with my son about feeling rejected, but he had no idea what to do except to talk with her. After he had a talk with her the situation just got worse. At family meetings she was cold and distant. She didn't want to let our grandson stay over with us unless she was there to supervise. I felt that she didn't trust me and also felt a lot of competition with her mother who was grandparenting our grandchild more and more. I feel more pushed out than ever. Is there any solution to all this?

Claire responds:

In some research we did at Tel Aviv University we found that 8 out of 10 daughters-in-law reported having conflictual relationships with their mothers-in-law. So I am hesitant to blame the problem here only on culture. Indeed it appears that this special dyad is uniquely problematic. The reasons are complex. Daughters generally have closer relationships with their mothers than do sons. Thus, your relationship with your son may be less intense than her relationship with her mother. So the probability that you will have that kind of intense relationship with her is low. She is used to her mother and not nearly as much to you. And if your relationship with your son is more intense, she might be jealous of his connection to you. No matter what, it appears unlikely that you can become best buddies with her. But maybe you need to also think of your own expectations. There might be cultural factors involved as well. In Israel the grandmothers often take a very active role in grandparenting. They might have one or even more days when they take charge. Some mothers are in the home daily. Whereas in the Anglo cultures this kind of massive responsibility is less common. Coming to visit and bringing a present might be all you ever really expected, whereas she might have wanted and expected much more. Sending your son to talk with her creates (or emphasizes) the triangle of you, her and your son. Triangles aren't very effective in solving problems. If you can work up the courage to have a talk with her when she is available to meet on her terms, it could make a big difference. The talk should not be a chance to complain. Adult children don't like to be blamed, as they start to feel infantilized. Many people are not assertive about dealing directly with conflict. You and she may not be used to talking things out. But it is worth a try before you give up. Start the conversation by telling her all the things you respect about the way she is mothering your grandson. She will be surprised because she might well have built up a whole story about you being critical of her. For a first meeting, just compliments are enough. Tell her about yourself and what you are up to. Try to be a real person with her and not in the role of grandparent. If the meeting goes well she will probably be happy to meet you again in a month's time. Take it slowly. People need a lot of time to change their impressions which are very stubborn. What you are doing is trying to create an adult relationship with her, and not a daughter-in-law – mother-in-law relationship. If she begins to open up about her life, do not criticize or give helpful advice. Practice your listening skills! Within half a year she might be hinting about ways you could help her. Forget what her mother is doing, and be happy to do whatever it is she wants. Gradually you will free her of the daughter-in-law stigma and will become a real resource for her. She might use the opportunity to criticize her mother, but don't fall into this trap. Remember that triangles don't work well. Just listen and offer what you can do in terms of support for her. Good luck with this project!

If you have a problem, please consult Prof. Rabin at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 



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Saturday, 20 July 2024

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