My wife and I have been happily married 40 years. Our adult son is married to an ambitious, smart, very pretty, hard working woman. We have always been close with our son. The woman's family is lovely and welcoming toward us. She is indifferent, except when she is correcting or criticizing my wife. My wife is charming and funny, albeit strong minded, as is the daughter-in-law. I am more politic, but do have opinions. All of us are professionals. I bite my tongue more than I would like to in order not to make conflicts or make my son unhappy. I don't know how we can break through to the daughter-in-law. When we make inquiries about her work, she acts as though it is a state secret. They ask that we consult with them about our visits as they live in another major city. When we visit, we realize that they have work, but we are capable of taking care of ourselves with museums and such. I appreciate that there need to be boundaries, but I am concerned that these are becoming unapproachable borders. Help!
As the post title says, boundaries go both ways. As our children get older and bring new people into the family, we often have to readjust to new personalities and new ways of doing things. It may be that your daughter-in-law is insecure and that manifests itself as criticism, especially toward your wife. Daughter-in-laws often feel that they have a lot to live up to in their mothers-in-law.
That being said, you and your wife need to have boundaries as well and one of those boundaries should involve what kind of language (i.e. criticism) is acceptable in your relationship. If positive productive criticism is part of your lives, so be it. But if that criticism is a one way street, it needs to be addressed.
Given the tension that appears to be present in your relationship with you daughter-in-law, it's not surprising that the boundaries they've set about visiting are starting to feel like razor wire. That being said, asking you to consult them before visiting is a reasonable boundary UNLESS it starts impacting your ability to communicate with your son (though I will add here that marriage changes the dynamics of all family relationships so you may have to decide where you're willing to compromise).
OK, but back to the indifference and criticism. My suggestion is that you talk to your son. You frame your feelings in "when she does XYZ, it makes your mom and I feel XYZ." Stress how important it is to you that the lines of communication remain open. Reinforce the idea that you want them both to be part of your lives, but also that you need to make sure that everyone is being treated respectfully. You may suggest a get-together where you can talk (calmly and maturely) about issues that have arisen on both sides. If everyone can work together, you might be able to uncover the source of your daughter-in-law's behavior and take action on improving your relationship with her.
If either your son or his wife seem resistant to hearing your feelings, there may be a deeper issue. In that case, you might need to seek out a family counselor who can work with you and your wife (and possibly your son and his wife) on resolving those issues. But it sounds like you have a good relationship with your son and I expect he will be willing to work with you if you can lay out some parameters without letting too much anger or frustration seep into the conversation.
I hope this helps. The key here is mutual respect.
Don't be shy! Say what's on your mind and get a good dose of perspective in return.