When your son married his bride, you gained a daughter. But, it can take years to build a relationship with her, nurturing trust, respect and understanding, according to psychologist Dr. Alice Boyes in a 2013 article for “Psychology Today.” Debbie Mandel, stress management expert and author of "Addicted to Stress," reminds mothers-in-law that you both love your son, albeit in different ways. For the sake of this man and any grandchildren that may come along, you owe it to yourselves to create the most loving and respectful relationship possible.
Apologize for anything you might have done to offend her and ask for forgiveness. Ask her if there is anything you can do to make her feel welcome in your life and home. Actively listen and respond positively to anything she has to offer, avoiding defensive feelings as much as possible. Temper all your responses with love and respect. Start small if a lot of tension already exists between you, suggests Boyes, and realize that some issues can be more about her than about you.
Take the time to learn who your daughter-in-law is and accept her for who she is. Ask about her hobbies and interests and ask if you might share the ones you have in common. Ask her to teach you something you don’t know, suggests Boyes, and be an attentive and thankful student. Relationships are often founded on a common bond, and sharing fun experiences together can help you create a positive relationship with your daughter-in-law.
Avoid giving advice when she doesn’t ask for it and avoid butting in to their relationship, suggests Mandel. Give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she and your son can adequately make decisions together. Realize that things have changed since you were a young bride and your daughter-in-law probably has different ideas about child care, working, managing money and many other aspects of life. She might not keep house, cook or treat your son the way you do, but if your son has a problem with that, they can handle it together.
Respect her boundaries, advises sexuality counselor Ian Kerner, writing for CNN. Don’t drop in unannounced, ask for details about their lives that they don’t volunteer, critique her parenting or housekeeping skills or assume that you will be buddies. Give her time to warm up to you.
Ask how you can help out. Perhaps you can take your grandchild for an afternoon or pick her up on the way to a meeting you are both attending. If you are planning to purchase a birthday present for the grandkids or your son, intending to bring a dish over for dinner together or know that she is feeling overwhelmed, ask what is most needed and beneficial for the occasion. Don’t get offended if she tells you that she doesn’t need anything or severely limits what she wants you to do. She has reasons for her decisions, even if you don't always agree with or understand them.
Remember that your son is her husband and respect that. Don’t treat him like a child, advises psychologist and author of “A Happy You,” Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo. Don’t make him choose between you and your daughter-in-law or referee between you. Compliment and praise her to him, suggests Mary May Larmoyeux, FamilyLife editor and author of “My Heart’s at Home: Encouragement for Working Moms.” Seeing that you approve of her can help your daughter-in-law to warm up to you and may help her to want a closer relationship with you.