You’ve heard the mother-in-law jokes, as well as the horror stories about stressful relationships between mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws. But there actually are plenty of women who manage to build loving relationships with their son’s wives. They’re the best kind of mother-in-laws.

You can also enjoy a caring and supportive relationship with your daughter-in-law. Such a relationship will bless not just the two of you, but also the man you both love – your son and her husband.

Here’s how you can become the best kind of mother-in-law:

Hold your tongue. Resist the urge to offer your son and daughter-in-law unsolicited advice, no matter how much you think they could benefit from it. Give them a chance to find their own way in life, just as you did. If you’re patient enough to invest the time in gradually building a respectful relationship with your daughter-in-law, she’ll come to trust you and eventually ask you for advice whenever she wants some.

Even when you disagree with your daughter-in-law’s choices, don’t criticize them. She may make mistakes, just as you sometimes do, but when she does, let her make her own mistakes and learn from them. Remember that an important part of a married couple’s development is learning through mistakes. Make sure that your daughter-in-law feels comfortable enough to be herself around you and let down her defenses.

When considering whether or not to give your daughter-in-law advice about something, check your motives first to make sure you truly have her best interests at heart. Also, think about how she will perceive the significance of your advice in light of her circumstances, and ask yourself if your advice might hurt your daughter-in-law’s feelings. Learn as much as you can about how your daughter-in-law sees the issue or situation. Consider asking her probing questions, such as:

“What do you think is the right thing to do?”

“What do you see as the problem?”

“How do you think this will impact your life?”

“Have you thought about what you might do?”

“What is the worst thing you can imagine happening?”

“How does that make you feel?” and

“Why does that bother you?”

Listen respectfully to your daughter-in-law, especially in emotionally charged situations.

Embrace your daughter-in-law. Welcome your daughter-in-law fully into your family, but let her choose her own pace for building closer relationships with you and other family members. Keep in mind that when your son got married, you didn’t lose a son; you gained a daughter. Recognize your daughter-in-law’s important role in your son’s life and choose to be inclusive without overwhelming her. Accept your daughter-in-law for who she is and appreciate how she enriches your family. Let her know that you’re glad she married your son.

Agree on a name for her to call you that makes you both comfortable. Spend time one-on-one with her when you can. Ask her to share her opinions and let her participate in making decisions about family issues. Give your son and daughter-in-law space to enjoy holidays and vacations without pressure to follow your agenda for those times. Rather than trying to force yourself to love your daughter-in-law or trying to force her to love you, regularly remind yourself of how much your son loves her, and let that motivate you to treat her well.

Keep out. Respect your son and daughter-in-law’s boundaries. Show consideration for their busy schedules and need for privacy. Ask them to explain their house rules upfront so you can understand them and make considerate choices about how to best relate to them (such as not dropping by their home unannounced and not calling during busy times). Rather than just helping with something with which you think they need help (like dinner, housekeeping, or decorating) ask first to see if they actually want that help. Be flexible when making plans with your son and daughter-in-law, keeping in mind that they have their own lives. Let your love for them motivate you to respect the limits they set with you to maintain a healthy relationship.

Don’t ask and don’t tell. Don’t ask your son and daughter-in-law when they’re planning to have kids; they’ll tell you when they’re ready and don’t need the pressure of questions beforehand. Don’t tell them that you expect what may be unreasonable to them: being invited into the delivery room when grandchildren are born, being asked to move in to help with baby care, to be called a certain name by your grandchildren, etc.

Let them tell you what works best for them, and respect that. Be sure to respect their rules for the kids, as well, when you’re babysitting. Never contradict the parents’ rules and discipline practices for their kids while the kids are in your care – either in their home, or in yours. Instead of trying to impose your own agenda of how you’d like to take care of your grandkids, ask your son and daughter-in-law what kind of help they’d like with the kids and respond in a way that works for all of you.

Be a good role model. Aim to inspire your son and daughter-in-law by being a strong role model for them: living a rich and full life independent of them and living out your faith in all parts of your life. Retain your individuality and demonstrate confidence in yourself and your abilities. Share stories with your daughter-in-law about your life before she knew you and talk openly with her about your life now so she can get to know you well. Strive to reach your highest potential in life and serve others regularly. Be aware that your daughter-in-law is watching you and that living well can enrich your relationship with her.

Published May 12, 2009

Adapted from What’s a Mother (in-Law) to Do?: Five Essential Steps for Building a Loving Relationship with Your Son’s New Wife, copyright 2009 by Jane Angelich. Published by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, New York, Ny., http://www.howardbooks.com/.  

Jane Angelich is a business coach who mentors female business owners, an entrepreneur, the author of Picking the Perfect Nanny, and a speaker who has appeared on national television and radio programs many times. She regularly contributes to Sue Shellenbarger’s column in The Wall Street Journal called “Work and Life.” Angelich lives in California with her husband.