Dear Mrs. Ditter: My wife has a child who drives her (and me) nuts. Whenever we go to her daughter's house, my wife spends the first few hours picking up, cleaning, doing dishes, washing and folding laundry and generally trying to help out. Her daughter doesn't say thanks but instead gripes about my wife's "meddling" and is generally negative about attempts to make her life easier. Is this a mother/daughter thing? My wife is at the end of her rope and doesn't know whether to just quit trying or to risk a fight by bringing up the issue--Supportive Husband
Dear Supportive Husband: Wow! Lots of potential for mother/daughter drama here.
The first thing I would point out is that the daughter is sending extremely clear messages that she DOES NOT welcome your wife's help. So how about your wife immediately stops all housekeeping activities at her daughter's house? This would respect her daughters' unspoken (yet very strongly stated) desire about how she wants your wife to behave while in her house. Key words here: HER house.
Second: Yeah, I know, some women would be thrilled to have this sort of assistance from their moms. Others, and apparently your wife's daughter is one of them, view this as intrusive behavior. She may perceive the "help" as a negative comment on her ability to do laundry, clean the house, be a responsible adult, blah blah blah. Your wife's intention is not the point here; the point is how her daughter interprets it.
Third: You don't specify that the daughter has kids, but I'm assuming she does. If grandkids exist, would you and your wife consider taking them out to a movie, or to a playground, or even around the block several times on their bikes or in their strollers? When my kids were young, I was incredibly grateful when relatives took the kids on an outing, even a short one. Time alone is precious, and it may be that this is the best way to help.
Fourth: Just how long are these visits? If your wife spends the "first few hours" of each visit picking up, cleaning, etc., then maybe you're staying too long if you live in the same town. Try cutting down the length of the visits.
Finally, as to whether or not your wife should talk with her daughter about it, well...do they usually talk about things openly? Based on your reporting of the situation, that seems unlikely.
If your wife wants to talk about it, she could approach it this way: "Honey, is there anything we can do? We'd be happy to take Little X and Baby Y out for a walk, or I can fold that basket of laundry. I don't want to intrude, but I do want to help. Let me know what you'd like from us."
And then if the daughter says, "What I'd like from you is for you to sit down and relax/realize I don't keep house the same way you did/take my children out for the afternoon," bingo. You have the start of a real conversation.
Thanks for asking, and I hope this helps.