Help for family conflict resolution?
July 12, 2007 10:28 AM   Subscribe

ConflictResolutionFilter: We have a family friend who is an 85 year old woman and has been having problems with her two grown sons. They are both married with children, but classic daughter-in-law conflicts have led her sons to not have contact with her.

Since the last incident, she has not been invited to her grandchildren's birthday parties, holidays, etc. Not even a call for Mother's Day. At this age, she's very lonely without this contact and we're worried. She's been to therapists and no one ever seems to be of any help. The sons are willing to talk with her therapist, but not with her present - and her therapist is not allowed to share the findings. In the end, it's a lot of money and time wasted - both of which she doesn't have.

She seems willing to change her ways as her daughter-in-laws have dictated, but there is no communication at this point.

Does anyone have any suggestions on getting her sons and their wives into counseling or some conflict resolution situation?
posted by steve.wdc to Human Relations (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
this is kind of scant on important details. answers might range from "maybe they shouldn't. the grandmother is rude and nasty" to "tell them to grow up and call gramma". specifics might also help craft a compelling argument.
posted by nihlton at 10:53 AM on July 12, 2007

The face that your family friend shows you might be a completely different face that she shows to her sons and their wives. The sons might even be justified with their reasons not to contact your friend.

It's sweet that you want to help her and the fact that you are friends with her and concerned for her is helping her, but that's about all you can and should do.
posted by spec80 at 10:59 AM on July 12, 2007

Man, I don't have a great relationship with my mom, and there is nothing, nothing, nothing worse than my mom's friends coming to me and telling me what a wonderful person my mom is and how I should contact her more often and realize all she's done for me.

Having been in the position of her sons, and being as you don't reveal any important details that would enable us to figure out why they don't want to contact her and whether those reasons are silly, I would say just continue to be friends with your friends but keep out of the situation.
posted by Anonymous at 11:52 AM on July 12, 2007

I think all you and your family can do is to continue to show this woman kindness, and to invite her into your family gatherings as much as is appropriate. The farthest out on a limb I'd go is asking the sons' families if they wanted to drop the kids off with your family, and then have their grandmother visit with the kids there (of course you would include that info when you offered to host the kids).

It would be great to do what you can to make this woman feel welcome in your family, but you can't really control what other people do. Nor should you really try.
posted by occhiblu at 12:08 PM on July 12, 2007

does "classic daughter-in-law conflicts" mean that she was a complete monster to her sons wives?
if so,
They probably put up with as much of her as they are willing to take and she should have thought about the fact that nobody will be around who cares enough to put flowers on her grave in 10 years, before she pushed them too far.

At least thats what I think "Classic daughter-in-law conflict" means.
posted by Megafly at 12:20 PM on July 12, 2007

nthing spec80 and schroedinger.

Forgive my biases, but it's possible you are being manipulated here. Sometimes people, especially as they get older- start having regrets about what shitty parents they've been, and try to wring sympathy from people.

My mother would use her friends- (and mine!) to guilt me and my sister into 'being better daughters', since she was such a great martyr . Funny, her friends never saw her abusive side. I was also in your position with my ex's mom. We got along great, but she attempted to use me as a pawn in the rocky relationship between her and daughter- (whom I also got along with quite well). Either way, it was uncomfortable.

However, you are doing your best to be a concerned friend, and that's wonderful. But, this situation is quite likely an emotional tar baby.

P.S. Keep in mind that there may be money (inheritance, or lack thereof) /end-of-life-care issues here.
posted by solongxenon at 12:21 PM on July 12, 2007

Response by poster: We don't know too much about the situation other than there seem to be a lot of small issues (e.g. she brought a bottle of red wine over when visiting her son's home and it was interpreted by the daughter-in-law as a mean gesture given that the DIL has migraines).

Everyone's points are well taken and we don't doubt that there's some need for sympathy and attention, and that she's likely not giving us the whole story.

At the same time, she seems to have tried mending the situation and seems genuinely willing to change whatever habits annoy them just to be able to spend time with her grandchildren.

We're not looking to get directly involved in any way, but she's come to us for help and we're hoping to offer suggestions on possible paths to take in this.
posted by steve.wdc at 12:48 PM on July 12, 2007

If you are also family friends with the sons, you could chat with them just to say that you are worried about their mother and ask if there is anything you can do.

However, if you don't know them, there really isn't much you can do that is appropriate, other than alleviating your friend's loneliness by being there for her and inviting her to participate in your family's celebrations.
posted by tastybrains at 12:55 PM on July 12, 2007

Also, maybe you can suggest that she asks her therapist for a recommendation for a family mediator. Perhaps her sons would be willing to speak with her in that kind of setting?

Also, maybe she should try calling up her DIL's and apologizing for whatever she has done. She could also try & send a letter to them if they refuse to talk to her.
posted by tastybrains at 12:57 PM on July 12, 2007

There aren't many details here, so it's hard to know what to say. One consideration is that the (modern) daughter-in-law may not feel it's her responsibility to make the son call on Mother's Day, extend invitations and the like. It may also be that she is not particularly nice to her DILs (or even her sons). Does the MIL make efforts to call to ask about birthday plans, offer to come visit or anything like that?

I know someone who has limited contact with his mother because he's sick of the attacks on his wife (not to mention on himself). He doesn't like to go visit because his mother attacks them the entire weekend. He doesn't invite the mother to birthday parties because she arrives and spend the entire time telling people how terrible and materialistic birthdays are. He doesn't go to visit at holiday times because his mother doesn't celebrate any holidays because they conflict with the religlious views she has adopted since his teen years. He doesn't like to go stay with his mother because she serves mouldy bread, rotten tomatoes and whatever else was in the 99c rack and flips out if he refuses to eat it (even though he does so simply by not eating it, as opposed to saying something). She probably comes off as a very sweet woman to her friends, though.
posted by acoutu at 2:10 PM on July 12, 2007

Both sons/daughters-in-law won't talk to her? Not just the in-laws, but her own kids? Grandma has seriously and repeatedly screwed up. It's doubtful that both sons and both daughter-in-laws would all be over-sensitive or something; it takes more than trivial irritations for the average person to cut a parent/grandparent relationship like that.

I think all you can -- and probably all you should -- do is tell her that time heals all wounds, &c. Time may not be on her side at 85, but.
posted by kmennie at 4:09 PM on July 12, 2007

Seconding Kmennie. The fact that both sons are willing to cut her off speaks volumes. She needs to back off and send polite holiday and birthday cards out and have no other contact until they forgive her (which they probably won't and shouldn't). If you want to offer to proofread her correspondence for (un)intentional snideness, that might help.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:23 PM on July 12, 2007

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