The second year of my son’s marriage, he and his wife had Thanksgiving with us. My daughter-in-law made a delicious sweet potato casserole. My mother and I complemented her on it and asked for the recipe. “It’s a family recipe,” my daughter-in-law said. “So I don’t give it out.”   —Anonymous mother-in-law

Whoa! I had thought that daughters-in-law were the ones with the in-law stories. Well, apparently mothers-in-law have their share of stories, too.

Recently I asked some friends a few simple questions about in-laws. In my unofficial poll, I asked women of all ages several questions, including: “What makes a good daughter-in-law?” and “What do you wish you could tell your daughter-in-law?”

One mother-in-law sent me an e-mail that brought back memories. “That little boy that brought me dandelions and messy hugs,” she said, “is now a grown man with a family of his own.  I need to fully release him so he is allowed to change and adapt to his wife and adult life.  I don’t want to be a parent who says or does things that grate in the mind of my daughter-in-law. She is the one who knows my son best now.”

Yes, a mom relinquishes her title of “first lady” in her son’s life on his wedding day. Perhaps that’s why some have described the relationship between a mother- and daughter-in-law as fragile or tense. God certainly didn’t intend it to be that way.

Here are 12 themes that emerged from the responses I received:

1.  Although my relationship with my son has changed, remember that I am still his mother.

“Even though you are the woman in my son’s life now, be considerate of the fact that I used to be the woman in his life.”

“The most important thing that you can do for me as your mother-in-law is to love my son unconditionally. … You’ve now taken my spot as my son’s biggest fan.”

2. Accept me for who I am.

“Don’t try to change me.”

“Accept my eccentricities.”

“Realize that I may do things differently in my home. Try to understand my ways.”

3. Please respect my age and experience.

“I would like to know how to share some of my experience with you without offending or intruding.”

“Respect my past experiences and realize that I understand the personalities in the family.”

4. Talk with me about hard things.

“If I have offended you, I may not know this. You have the freedom to say to me, nicely,  ‘Remember when you said ______. Did you mean _____?’”

“I am not perfect. Let’s both assume that the other is doing the best she can.”

“If you are feeling hurt by something I did or said, find a way to gently bring it up. You may even want to ask me if you could have done something differently.”

5. Try to understand.

“When there are problems in family relationships, each person needs to overlook with grace when possible, and when not, address the issues kindly.”

“Reject bitterness.”

“Don’t judge. There are two sides to any story.”

6. Remember, we are family.

“I really appreciate it when you tell me about some of the family’s funny stories.”

“It’s nice to be invited to events with your parents, brothers/sisters, etc., … sharing as one big family.”

“Please include me in some of the family activities and traditions.”

“I love it when you ask me to go shopping. I think my son likes the fact that we share this common bond together.”

7. Communicate with me.

“I once felt totally distanced from you and did not know why.”

“I wish you would ask me for my opinion about some things.”

“I’d love to tell you more about my son’s childhood—please ask me.”

“I wish you would pick up the phone and call me just to chat.”

8. Get to know me as a person.

“I am a person with feelings, beliefs, and ideas, and they are not just an extension of the man you married.”

“Find things that we have in common, and let’s enjoy them together.”

“Please don’t compare me to your parents and how they did things.”

9. Express expectations clearly.

“I wish you would express some guidelines that you expect in your home.”

“Sometimes you interpret my desire to be helpful as criticism of you. I certainly do not intend this. It would help if you would tell me the best ways that I could help you.”

10. Help me know my grandchildren.

“Your children need their lives filled with Grandma and Grandpa.”

“My only grandchild lives hundreds of miles away. When you regularly share pictures of him with me, it means so much.”

“I have tried to communicate with you how much it means to me to keep me informed about my grandson. I hate to keep having to drop hints. You did it for awhile when I let you know that my son didn’t tell me normal everyday activities and other things grammies want to know. You didn’t realize this and kept me posted for a short time. But it’s back to hearing nothing again.”

11. Take time to express gratitude.

“When you and my son visit, it means a lot to me when you offer to help with the meals and with clean up.”

“It meant a lot to me when you posted on your Facebook page: ‘I am thankful for my mother-in-law! I am so grateful for our great relationship. It is so important! And ever since I got married our relationship has become so natural and I love spending time with her!’”

“Please take time to express your appreciation for a gift by writing a note or calling just to say, ‘Thanks!’”

12. Thank you!

“Thank you for believing in my son and encouraging him to stay connected with us.”

“You truly are the wind beneath my son’s sails and I really appreciate and love you. You understand my son far better than I do, and I thank God for you.”

“I’ve got the best daughter-in-law God could give. I am so blessed.”

“You are perfect for my son. How much we enjoy you for who you are!”

Some mothers- and daughters-in-law form close friendships very quickly. For others, this may take years. But most mothers- and daughters-in-law do want to connect with each other. They want to find common ground. They want to know each other as individual women with feelings, beliefs, and ideas.

It’s been years since the feelings of that one mother-in-law were hurt on Thanksgiving Day over a sweet potato casserole recipe that her daughter-in-law didn’t want to give her. Today they understand each other much better. They appreciate one another, enjoy being together, and truly love each other.

That mother-in-law shared with me what I believe is the secret to any God-honoring relationship: We’re still “growing together … offering grace.”

Copyright © 2011 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.