Tensions were soon bubbling, and Mel recites a catalogue of complaints. Her mother-in-law feeds her daughter too much, too often. She leaves her in front of the TV for hours, or lets her nap too long, so that by bedtime her daughter is either bored and fractious, or wide awake.
But modern life has taken in-law tensions to a whole new level. Two thirds now look after grandchildren while the parents work. Meanwhile, grandmothers are sacrificing their own lives to look after grandchildren and often believe their own tried-and-tested child-rearing methods are best.
Add to this maelstrom the tricky relationship between mother- and daughter-in-law and you have a recipe for disaster. These rifts fill online parenting forums and often spill into mainstream media.
Grandmothers, meanwhile, are sacrificing their own lives to look after grandchildren and often believe their own tried-and-tested child-rearing methods are best Numerous other fallouts have made national headlines: When first-time grandparent Carol Ball launched her website yummyglamma.
Many grandparents have contacted her directly or through social media. If you don't get on, it affects everyone Cambridge psychologist Terri Apter has conducted extensive research into the relationship between mother- and daughter-in-law, set out in What do You Want From Me? Learning to Get Along With In-laws. Dr Deanna Brann, psychotherapist and author of Reluctantly Related: Women are the kin keepers — they tend to organise the calendar, invite or not invite family for the holidays, nurture bonds, create family traditions.
The father-in-law sees his wife being upset and that impacts how he feels about his son and daughter-in-law. The siblings take sides. Ask her about her life, her job, her interests — and ask follow-up questions the next time you see her. Show her she matters. If she is good at something, let her teach you. Also, try very hard not to take everything personally. Is she really being rude, or does she have a clipped manner with everyone?
Maybe your daughter-in-law is tired and stressed and feels ambivalent about going to work? Maybe your mother-in-law is also stressed and tired by the childcare. Every last detail needs to be discussed before problems arise — and there needs to be flexibility. A granny is not the same as a nanny paid to carry out orders. Your mother- or daughter-in-law is likely to have plenty going on that you know little about, so avoid jumping to conclusions to explain their behaviour.
If one person changes their behaviour, the other will likely change theirs. It spreads the destruction. You love the same people and want the best for them. Use this as a basis to see the best in each other. Childcare, adds Dr Brann, is particularly difficult. When you become a caregiver, you take on the parental role and are expected to enforce boundaries, structure and discipline. How do you do that and still retain the special grandparent relationship?
To an extent, you feel ownership. The granny really needs to sit down and discuss what is wanted, what she can give.
At the same time, there must be areas that the mother is not going to stress about, where the mother-in-law can take the lead. The mother- or daughter-in-law takes an issue and posts it with a barbed comment somewhere all the family can see it. If you use it carefully, it can actually smooth relations. You can share news and photos with your in-laws without having to do it individually.
Suzie, 48, can attest to this. For four years, she and her mother-in-law could barely be in the same room. My response was to find ways to keep her away. I should have been pleased, but actually it felt horrible. I picked up the phone and invited her round — and made every effort to smile. The easiest way to change a relationship, to get a different outcome, is to start doing things differently and change your own behaviour.
Look for solutions to problems instead of finding faults. One extensive study by the Australian Unity Wellbeing index found that women close to both their mothers and mothers-in-law reported far greater happiness levels than those with just one set of support.