Parenting Styles: How to Approach a Struggling Daughter-in-law

By Greg Baer M.D.

January 19, 2024

I received the following letter:

"My granddaughter Megan is eight years old, and we've always been quite close.

We visit her family every month or so. Over the past several years, though, I've watched her mother, Claire, my daughter-in-law, become more and more angry and critical toward her.

Now the two of them fight pretty often, and as a result, Megan is becoming more rebellious and unhappy.

I want so much to tell Claire that being critical and yelling at Megan is not the way to go, that Megan needs to be loved, but I also don't want to intrude. How should I handle this?"

The Law of Choice and Your Daughter-in-Law

You already have good instincts. You sense that intruding could cause problems because the most important principle in all relationships is the Law of Choice.

No matter how badly Claire is handling things with her daughter, she is Megan's mother, and she has the right to make those choices, even the less wise ones.

You are Megan's grandparent, not her parent, so you're pretty much out of the decision-making loop when it comes to raising Megan.

Daughter-in-Law Gets to Make Mistakes

The second principle you need to understand is that other people's mistakes are none of your business. If you dive into a confrontation with Claire or try to tell her what to do, she'll feel threatened and will defend herself.

She'll feel more empty and afraid and might react with even worse behavior towards Megan, which is not what you want.

Even with your understanding of the Law of Choice and your desire to stay out of Claire's business, Claire is still married to your son, making her part of your family. You have an opportunity to offer her the gift of Real Love®, but remember your goal is not to get Claire to change her parenting style. Instead, you'll be LovingandTeaching her, which is the other half of Real Love®.

LovingandTeaching Your Daughter-in-Law

LovingandTeaching in this context means offering Claire support and guidance without trying to control her decisions. During your next visit, arrange a time to talk with her privately.

  1. Express your affection for her and Megan and gently mention that you've noticed conflicts between them.
  2. Give her an opportunity to share her frustrations.
  3. If she's open to it, you can offer some insights you've gained about parenting and the value of Real Love®.
  4. Emphasize that you're not criticizing her and that it's entirely her choice whether to explore these ideas.
  5. Encourage her to read the Real Love and Parenting book series by Greg Baer, M.D. throughout your conversation.
  6. Make sure to validate her and emphasize that she hasn't made any intentional mistakes with Megan.

The goal is to make her feel good about herself and open to learning. Your willingness to offer guidance is a precious gift that demonstrates your love and courage. I wish you well in this endeavor.

Want to learn more?

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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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