Mending Grandmother, Daughter-in-Law Relationships

"Blame never got anyone anywhere," says one embattled grandmother.

Dec. 24, 2009— -- Anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote that "of all the peoples whom I have studied, from city dwellers to cliff dwellers, I always find that at least 50 percent would prefer to have at least one jungle between themselves and their mothers-in-law."

Those words might ring especially true during the holiday season, which can be fraught with tension. And in some cases, conflicts between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law can tear families apart.

In her Texas home, Barbara has a room full of toys meant for her 3-year-old granddaughter who, according to grandma, may never get the chance to play with them again.

Barbara said that what was once a close and loving relationship with her son changed dramatically when her daughter-in-law entered the picture, and then went from bad to worse after her granddaughter was born.

Her daughter-in-law would complain to her son about the way she cared for her granddaughter during their visits, Barbara said. Eventually, the tension escalated to a level where, Barbara and her husband Doug say, they have no contact with their son's family, although they live 10 minutes apart.

"She's the mother," Barbara said. "And she doesn't want her children here. She doesn't want her children seeing me. So, that's it. And he walked out the door."

She says she never thought it would come to this and desperately wants her family back in her life.

"I've shut down, I've cried," Barbara said. "I've thought about leaving because, basically, I felt if I was out of the picture, that my husband could have a relationship with his son again. ... I don't know how to be a half a mother, you know?"

The conflict has caused so much strife that Barbara asked "Good Morning America" not to use her last name, and her son and his wife requested complete anonymity.

Another grandmother, Barbara Graham, chronicled such pleasures and perils of being a grandmother in her book "Eye of My Heart." She says "mother-in-law/daughter relationships are the most radioactive."

She believes many times it is the mother-in-law that oversteps the bounds, especially when it comes to the grandchildren.

"Daughters-in-law feel like they have to bite their tongue when it comes to their mothers-in-law," Graham said. "By respecting the parenting style of the parents, you will go a long way."

CLICK HERE to read an excerpt from 'Eye of My Heart.'

CLICK HERE for advice from's Mother-in-Law Stories page.

Key to Successful Relationship: Respect

Barbara's daughter-in-law says she did not respect her or her parenting decisions. In an e-mail to "Good Morning America," she and her husband said Barbara often spoke negatively to her son about his wife, but they claim it was a separate argument with her son that led to the current estrangement. They insist they never said that Barbara and Doug could not see their children, but they say they want the visits to be on their terms.

"Reconciliation is the goal, and that takes time and effort from both parties," they said.

Graham said this family is hardly the only one experiencing the strain.

"People are out there bleeding, hemorrhaging, feeling really hurt, feeling left out," she said. "There is terrible communication, and incredible blame, and I can tell you blame never got anyone anywhere."

The blame game is being played out on the Internet, where countless support groups help grandmas who feel shut out or daughters-in-law who feel disrespected.

"As a daughter-in-law, you definitely have a lot of power," said mother and daughter-in-law Denise Weiss of New City, N.Y. "I run, basically, the day-to-day activities. And with that kind of power, I can very easily exclude my in-laws if I chose to. I definitely have abused [that] in the past, which has been a source of our conflict."

Weiss and her mother-in-law, Gail, had to work through some serious issues after Denise's first baby was born. Both agree that respect is critical.

"It's her home, her children, her husband and I have to give her her due," Gail Weiss said. "That is her domain and I want to be welcomed into it. In order to be welcomed into it, I have to look away at a lot of things, and she knows it, and I know it."

Denise and Gail Weiss are now close and the mother-in-law enjoys a wonderful bond with her three grandchildren.

"I think that a lot of mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law aren't willing to bend and meet each other half way or give in a little bit to make a lot of peace in a family, to make everybody happy," Denise Weiss said.

Tips for Mending Mother-in-Law, Daughter-in-Law Fences

Since her book was published earlier this year, Graham has traveled the country to talk to other grandmothers, gathering their stories, complaints and advice.

"Grandparents on the paternal side often feel disenfranchised, like second-class citizens, compared to grandparents on the maternal side, who frequently have more access to the kids and are kept more closely in the loop by their daughters," Graham said. "In many families, the grandmothers on the maternal side even act as alpha Nanas."

There are several things that can be done on both sides of the relationship, she said.

1. Respect Your Daughter-in-Law's Parenting Style

Even if you don't agree with it, Graham said, it's important to respect your daughter-in-law's parenting style.

"Much has changed since you were raising kids," she said. "More to the point, you're no longer in charge."

Graham said grandparents should act more like relief pitchers than members of the starting lineup.

2. Respect Her Relationship With Her Mom

"Don't compete, you'll lose," Graham said.

3. All Grandparents Deserve to Know Their Grandkids

Graham said that unless they are somehow harmful to the kids, it's important for grandparents to spend some time with their grandchildren to establish a relationship.

4. Talk

"Try to have an honest conversation when tensions arise," Graham said. "Try to listen to each other's points of view without judgment. This may be difficult, but it's the only way to establish, or re-establish, trust."

5. Think of the Kids

For both sides, Graham said, you should want to model the values you want the children to emulate. Don't train them in emotional sniping or backstabbing, but rather, trust and communication.

"At times, you may feel, correctly, that you're dancing on egg shells but you're not alone," Graham said. "All grandmothers, even alpha Nanas, feel this way, on both sides. If you haven't already grown up by the time you become a grandparent, this will do it."

CLICK HERE for advice from's Mother-in-Law Stories page.