Daughters-in-Law as Gatekeepers to Sons and Grandchildren

Are you jealous of your grandchildren's maternal grandparents?

Posted Jul 28, 2020

Sharon called to tell me that her son Robert was getting married. "And best of all," she said, "the girl has a terrible relationship with her mother!"

"Why are you happy about that?" I asked.

"She wants to be part of our family. She's not going to be insisting on going to her mother for the holidays!"

"Mmm." I considered the advantages of that.

"Not only that, she's Christian, but she's going to let Robert bring the children up Jewish because she doesn't care what her mother thinks!"

In contrast to Sharon, my friend Sarah is miserable because her son married a woman who speaks to her mother every day.

"They live in her parents' two-family house," she said with tears flowing. "They will see my grandchildren every day and I will see them on alternating holidays!"

Sharon and Sarah may both be right. Daughters generally have closer ties to their own parents than to their in-laws, which often leads to warmer relationships between their children and the maternal grandparents. Hence, your relationship with your daughter-in-law is more strongly associated with the quality of ties to your grandchildren than your relationship with your son. Researchers exploring family affiliations refer to this phenomenon as "the matrilineal advantage."

Mother-daughter dyads engage in more frequent phone contact and more emotional support and advice than mothers do with sons or fathers with daughters. Women are more active in arranging calls and visits, sharing family news, and planning holiday gatherings. Therefore, the mother-daughter dyad involves two women working on maintaining their connection.

Walter Gadea/Unsplash
Source: Walter Gadea/Unsplash

A daughter-in-law tends to be the gatekeeper more than a son-in-law, and can cement or thwart the relationship with your grandchildren as well as your son. When there is tension between a mother and her daughter-in-law, the mother is most likely to lose out. A son/husband/father is more likely to support his wife's feelings than his mother's in order to preserve peace with his wife.

How can a mother-in-law strengthen her relationship with her daughter-in-law?

1. Express interest in her.

Asking your daughter-in-law about her work, friends or family shows that you're interested in her as a person. Questions can go a long way: "What's happening at work?" or "How's your mother doing after her bout with pneumonia?"

2. Spend time alone with your daughter-in-law.

Do you ever take your daughter-in-law out to lunch? Or on a shopping spree?

3. Show your appreciation of her mothering and never give advice unless asked.

Compliment her on her mothering, such as by saying, "That was a great way to handle that." Do you send your daughter-in-law a Mother's Day card? Or send her flowers?

4. Express your appreciation for what a good wife she is to your son.       

Telling your daughter-in-law that she makes your son happy or that she's helped him with a problem can deepen your relationship with her: "Barry is happier with you than he's ever been before!" or "Barry is much more relaxed since he's been with you."

If she's a good cook, make a point of telling her how much you like her cooking or if she's decorated the house, be sure to tell her how nice it looks.

5. Make yourself useful.

Can you pick up the children from school? Can you read to them while your daughter-in-law takes a nap? Can you babysit so that your son and daughter-in-law can have a date night?

These five simple habits can deepen your relationship with your daughter-in-law. Expressing interest and appreciation for her can create a loving bond between the two of you. You will never be her mother, but sometimes that's a good thing! (For more on issues related to aging CLICK HERE.)