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Daughter-in-Law Acting Disrespectful
A mother-in-law seeks respect from her daughter-in-law to no avail. Dr. K. steps in with some suggestions on what she can do to help mend the wall between them.

It can be very upsetting when you feel disrespected for your efforts.

My son and daughter-in-law have been married for four years. I have tried so very hard to love her the way my son loves her. There is obviously something wonderful in her because he is a wonderful son. We have helped them financially more than we should—I've bought the baby bed, items to fix the room, many other baby items and my mother has set the date for a shower. For Christmas, we gave them a large screen TV, forgave a $1,200 loan, etc. and I wonder if that has caused them to take advantage of us.

I was excited about the baby coming and she informed me that I would not be called when she went into labor and how that would be family time for her and her husband for at least 48 hours; and she didn't need help after she went home. All I want is respect. My son gives us respect, but she doesn't respect him either. His mother-in-law knows she has the best son-in-law ever. My problem is I'm afraid of losing my son and granddaughter because I can't say anything, and my son won't. Please help!

It’s often said that being a parent is the hardest job in the world. Well, it gets a whole lot more difficult and complicated when you’re the parent-in-law! It’s very clear from your letter that you’re trying really hard to be supportive, giving, accepting and loving. So, it’s understandable that you’d feel frustrated and upset.

Through the years of working with people in conflict, I’ve learned there are always different versions of the same situation. And so, it’s quite possible that what you may see as being generous might be experienced by her as overbearing.

Of course, it’s hard to say why your daughter-in-law is acting this way since her dissatisfaction seems only to be expressed in a disrespectful manner—and she may not believe she's being disrespectful. From your vantage point, based on all you’ve done, you’re merely expecting to be treated respectfully. However, she may not be viewing your actions as gratuitous, and she may not be the kind of person who is able to express herself appropriately. This puts you in quite a bind!

What would be most helpful is your son’s involvement. I believe in the concept that blood talks to blood. By that I mean that you should be letting your son know of your concerns. Please notice that I said "concerns" and not "complaints." If you complain about his wife, he’ll likely feel that his wife has been attacked and, therefore, feel the need to defend her.

Unfortunately, you state at the end of your letter that your son won’t help. If this is the result of his style rather than you having approached him in a confrontational manner, then you might want to consider talking to your daughter-in-law, yourself. But if you proceed this way, do so in a non-attacking manner and assume responsibility. Inquire what you’ve done that is offensive or what you can do going forward that would make her more comfortable with you—that you really desire a more harmonious family.

If you’re going to attempt my suggestion of addressing your daughter-in-law, you must also be prepared that it might not work. There could be any number of reactions on her part ranging from denial that anything is wrong to really getting angry. So do not speak with her unless you are willing to deal with these potential responses.

You stated that what’s really significant to you is that you do not want to lose the relationship with your son and grandchild, which is very reasonable. Remember, that as with everything in life, you cannot control any situation or anyone. What you can control is your reaction. That being said, having this larger goal in mind, you may decide that your best path is to do nothing, rather than create any friction. Also keep sight of the fact that it is your choice to be as generous as you are. If you feel that continued giving without proper acknowledgment from your daughter-in-law is too upsetting, you can also choose to lessen how much you give.

Karen Sherman, Ph.D., (www.drkarensherman.com) is a practicing psychologist in relationships and lifestyle issues for over 20 years. She offers teleseminars and is the author of "Mindfulness and the Art of Choice: Transform Your Life" and co-author of "Marriage Magic! Find It, Keep It, and Make it Last." You can sign up for her free monthly newsletter with relationship tips at www.ChoiceRelationships.com

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