TL;DR Summary - Youngest son and DIL are keeping us from seeing the grandkids because we did something awful. They are suggesting a reconciliation, but on their terms. We're ready to set boundaries but afraid of the consequences. How to proceed?
Sorry this may be long, but I am having a really difficult dilemma right now. As I have posted before my DDIL (difficult daughter-in-law) is very troubled. I am 100% sure she is a toxic narcissist. I have done a lot of research and spoken to my therapist at length about our history. DIL's behavior checks all the boxes for this personality disorder. She has been very controlling and sometimes verbally abusive towards me for the past 12 years, while doing all the usual blame, shame, gaslighting, love-bombing, hoovering, projection and discard. At times she can act very sweet and has given me beautiful gifts. She is ALWAYS kind and caring in front of other people, but behind the scenes it's a different story. You never know what will set her off. We have never interfered in their marriage, even though we have seen signs of emotional abuse from her towards our son. We have cycled through all the phases with her/them more than once but this is the first time grandchildren have been used as pawns. Right now we are in the discard phase and it's a tough spot to be in, but really no more difficult than the other phases of catering to her, walking on eggshells and trying to be an intermediary between them and the rest of our family. It's all been hard. Currently, we haven't seen our grandchildren since late August. Once again we have done something so egregious as to require isolation from them (in her mind). My son and DDIL are doing the usual carrot and stick tactic trying to get us to fall back in line, apologize to her (yet again) and admit we're terrible people. Most communication has been via group text.
There's a lot of history over the past decade but it is a cycle of abuse that I am no longer willing to be a part of. This relationship has given me extreme anxiety and PTSD and I'm ready for it to end. However, I would like to see my grandchildren under some circumstances if at all possible. I'm not sure it is, but I haven't given up hope in that regard. It makes me very angry that they are doing this to their kids, especially the oldest granddaughter (almost 4) who was used to spending a lot of time with us.
The (most recent) story - early September my husband and I were keeping our other 2 grandchildren for a few days. We had only seen them twice all year as they live out of state and because of covid. We quarantined in advance, as did they. (There is a history of drama and jealousy between our sons and their wives, primarily because of DDIL and her antics.) The first night we had the grandkids out of the blue DDIL sends a group text announcing she and our younger son and kids will be over next day for a BBQ (which we had not planned) to see the kids. Older son lets us know he does not want DDIL around his children when he's not there and why did they even know kids were there? He doesn't trust her. Now he's mad at us. We proceed to get in an argument. Older son is now fighting with my husband and husband and I are also fighting about it. What a mess. I text younger son and DDIL to let them know it won't work out, we're not feeling up to it and let's get together another time. That's all it took. She proceeded to blow up my phone with calls and then sends me a very hateful text filled with accusations and profanity when I didn't answer. I didn't respond to the text. It sure put a damper on the time with the grandkids, which I think was her intention. Here we go again.
Three weeks go by and I text my son asking how they are doing and say that we'd like to see the kids. SHE responds with another nasty text about how disrespectful we are to reach out to son and not include her, that we don't want a relationship with her, she's not welcome at our house and blah, blah, blah. Blame and shame. Ugh. (They have been invited to our home MANY times but they rarely come.) We ask again to see the kids a few more times (to both of them) and they completely ignore us. After a few tries I give up on asking.
More time passes and now they text us to suggest a phone call to attempt a reconciliation. Weeks go by before this takes place, but we finally do. Very early on it was apparent the main reason for the call was for us to tell them why we had cancelled them coming over - blame it on older son we assume. We said it was a personal thing between us (fighting) and we didn't want to talk about it. The phone call went south within minutes and she ended the call with "I'm DONE!" and screaming F*** yous to both my husband and me. Well, that's not OK. My son sounded completely defeated. We weren't surprised at the outcome. She unfriended me on Facebook right away. (Oh well.) Halloween came and went, my grandson's 1st birthday came and went. We sent treats and gifts in the mail. No acknowledgment. Christmas came and went. I have all their gifts sitting in a corner in my house. It's just sad.
Right before Christmas she texts again now suggesting we have a meeting with a mediator. We agreed but said it needed to be a professional counselor. Weeks go by and she says it can only be done by Zoom due to covid, which she is unwilling to do (we were fine with Zoom). Now she suggests her sister mediate who she claims can be unbiased. Against my better judgment, I reluctantly agreed to her sister. If we insist on a professional it will be a year before I see my grandkids, if ever. Her sister has always been nice to us, but I don't know if she can truly be unbiased. Her whole family is part of the problem. A part of me thinks of it as an opportunity for them to see her as I do, but that's not really realistic I guess.
At this point, I am supposed to reach out to her sister. I have not. I am so torn about it all. My husband didn't want to do it in the first place. He only agreed because he misses our grandkids. He has said he can't guarantee he won't go off on DDIL if we have a meeting. In fact I think he's spoiling for it now. I don't see this ending well. DDIL can present as a calm, caring individual in front of others. In my experience if there's even a hint of criticism she is known to fly into a rage. My husband has only experienced this directly on the one phone call. Usually it's just been directed towards me but then he has had to deal with the fallout. My husband is sick and tired of her crap and how she has treated me. Angry at our son for allowing it. Our son is completely trauma-bonded and will defend her as the poor victim with his dying breath and cast us as the bad guys. Her family are all enablers and flying monkeys. Bottom line - she is a big bully and I'm ashamed to say I've been quite traumatized by her. I'm done being the target of her abuse. For the first time I am really ready to set boundaries and stick with them, but it might be at the cost of seeing my grandchildren for the foreseeable future.
I have considered just sending them an email - kind, caring, but being clear about what we want (a civil relationship and to see the kids) and what we will and will not tolerate. How honest should I be? I want to tell her she needs professional help. I'm afraid that if I try to do that in a mediation in front of her sister my position will not be clear or I won't be able to get to it before things deteriorate or I'll lose my nerve. I have to figure out how to deal with this because it is taking up way too much of my emotional energy and head space. All my efforts at distracting myself with projects or focusing on other things (as suggested in this forum) haven't really worked because this feels so unresolved. I don't know which way to turn.
I am so darn tired of all the drama, but she thrives on it. It's so bizarre. I'm so tired.
Any advice is greatly appreciated.