Dear Neil: My son has been married to a drama queen for ten years. I see them and my two granddaughters (aged 7 and 4) infrequently, despite the fact that they live only an hour away. When we meet, I get along well with my son, and my granddaughters are a delight. My daughter-in-law tends to stay in the background or absence herself from the group. But afterwords, my daughter-in-law finds a reason to convince my son that a dramatic misadventure has taken place, that I am not a responsible person and that their children should have nothing to do with me.
I believe my daughter-in-law has a deep insecurity and needs to be in control. I have also been made aware that she harbors grudges and can be spiteful. My desire is to enjoy quality time with my son and granddaughters without the destructive efforts of my daughter-in-law. I am worried that any attempt to address the problem with my son may have an adverse effect. I am also concerned that my two grandchildren may become drama queens themselves. I need help in identifying what to do.
Worried Granddad in Wellington, New Zealand
Dear Granddad: Why don’t you invite your daughter-in-law out to lunch—or something similar. Just you and her, telling her you would love to get to know her better. If she agrees to meet you, go to her if you can rather than asking her to come to you.
Very diplomatically, tell her that you sense tension between the two of you, that you would like to understand what you’re doing to generate discomfort, and that you would very much like to clear that tension up. If she is willing to talk about how she feels, listen very closely. Do not get defensive or reactive, no matter what she says. Your goal is to help her feel safe and comfortable around you—and to clear up the problems—not to defend yourself.
Then see if you can diffuse her issues or concerns. You can even ask her what she would prefer you do, or what she would need in order to feel better when her daughters are around you. (You can also ask your son for his imput on how you might best diffuse the situation, what you can do differently or any suggestions he may have in order for you to improve your relationship with her.)
She is your son’s wife and your granddaughter’s mom. She has all the power in the world over her husband and her children, and you cannot succeed by trying to take her on. You have no control over the girls becoming dramatic—all you can do is be the very best father/grandfather/father-in-law you can be, and offer those girls the best healthy adult male loving role model you can.
If she refuses to meet with you, or refuses to talk about what’s in her way, do not burn any bridges with her. Be as conciliatory and as gracious as you can be. If you can, tell her what you think she’s doing right and how you see her being a great mother, and tell her you would like a closer relationship with her whenever she would be receptive to it.
The next time you get together with them, call ahead of time and ask what activity you might bring (or provide) that all five of you could do together. Sometimes the best way to help others be at ease is to find a way for all of you to play—or otherwise have fun together.
Dear Neil: I have been married for 16 years. 2 years ago, I reunited with my college sweetheart. He says that we can’t get married until the following occurs: he will have to create issues in his happy marriage because there are no conflicts he has with his wife, and he wants to start a new career and become rich before he marries me. So he has given me a choice: either wait 3 to 4 years, or we won’t marry at all. I don’t love my husband and I can’t get this other man off my mind. Please help.
Undecided in India
Dear India: Let me get this straight. You’re married to one man, but you want to marry another man—who is also married? And that other man claims he is happily married, and he wants you to wait until he becomes rich in a different career that he hasn’t started yet? Do you have any idea how far-fetched all that sounds?
My advice is to clean up the relationship with your husband. The other guy is not going to marry you.