Be patient and persistent with a controlling daughter-in-law
Q: My son is married and has two kids, 8 and 3. They live several states away. My daughter-in-law dictates the rules by which my husband and I are allowed to spend time with the kids. Her mother watches them while she works, and her parents have unlimited access to them.
When my granddaughter was 7 months old, I was visiting for a week and wanted to care for her. I received a two-page e-mail from my DIL outlining all the reasons that wouldn't happen — e.g., "If I call the house and hear her crying, I'll have to leave work and come home"; and, "My mother knows every single thing there is to know about her and you don't."
I have only recently been permitted to watch the kids by myself, and only once permitted to drive them anywhere. On my last visit, I wanted to take them to breakfast. My DIL agreed, to my face. However, she badgered my son over the phone, raising such a stink about it that he called and asked me to cancel. I did. She came home early that day, and I just left. I couldn't even look at her.
I am sick to death of this control freak dictating my time with my grandchildren. My son is in the middle and always fights these situations when they occur. It means a lot to him for us to have a close relationship with his children. I'm at a loss.
A: Controlling people are dangerous, especially to children, because they block the flow of natural information to their victims — which then gives victims a distorted emotional view. To oversimplify it: Mommy limits her kids' exposure to love from other sources, so they become dependent on Mommy, so they grow up uniquely ill-equipped to view Mommy objectively, so they enter the world (as friends, colleagues, spouses, parents) not only stunted, but unable to recognize how stunted they are and why.
Your leaving in a huff, while understandable, hurt your grandkids more than it did their mother. They need love from other sources. And since your DIL has barred the doors, you need to gain access through her.
Understanding her motives might help. What pushes someone's protectiveness sooo far outside the norm? It's right there in your narrative. Fear.
The solution is right there, too. You mention "only recently" watching the kids solo, meaning she has budged a micron in your favor.
You note the micron, but I suggest you note the favor. You made progress. Maybe she budged only to retain control of your son — but budge she did. So, keep playing by those crazy-making rules, and keep chipping away at her resistance. Visit more, not less. Summon otherworldly patience.
This is not to suggest, however, that you fashion yourself into a threadbare, grandmotherly doormat. You can take control of . . . well, your lack of control, by addressing it openly. Ahem:
"Of course you're protective and feel more comfortable with your own mother since she raised you and sees the children daily. However, I raised the man you chose to marry. I will work with you for as long as it takes to earn your trust."
It may not look like a gauntlet, but that's the beauty of throwing it down.