Begin the best daughter-in-law relationship during the engagement

Begin the best daughter-in-law relationship during the engagement

Between the excitement of the engagement announcement and the serious sleeves-rolled-up wedding planning, the mother of the groom has a one-of-a-kind, but narrow, window in which to strengthen the relationship with the bride and her family.  This is a great time to get to know everyone better and to offer your help because the daughter-in-law relationship begins early. Spending time with the bride signals your approval, your blessing, and your excitement about the future. Spending time with her parents and siblings says you understand the importance of family, and not just your own. Don’t neglect this opportunity to improve communication and set the tone for a harmonious happily ever after.

Sound great? In a June Cleaver world, it makes perfect sense. My world, though, has never been much like the Cleaver’s. The people I love, like me, have full schedules. My daughter-in-law works, participates in a variety of volunteer activities, and spends time with her family and friends. It can take weeks for us to find a mutally available time to connect. Our “business-as-usual” American lives mean it’s easy for those weeks to turn into months which fly by without meaningful contact. During the year leading up to a wedding, however, even if you’re the Cleavers, everyday living is rarely “business as usual.” Therefore, the mother of the groom who wants to cultivate a solid relationship with her daughter-in-law will have to look for opportunities, big or small, to connect. I hesitate to say it will be “work”  because for some this may be a negative word. It will have to be a priority, though, and something you plan for in advance. This is a unique, and in my opinion, critical time in which you can establish strong relationships that will withstand the pressures of life.

Practically speaking, then, I recommend five things:

  • Make time for the bride
  • Know your future daughter-in-law’s love language
  • Prepare for small moments
  • Don’t overdo it
  • Get to know her family

Get on the bride’s calendar

If you live within a reasonable driving distance of each other, here’s my first suggestion: take her to breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee or tea. The busiest bride-to-be still needs to eat and the mother of the groom on the strictest diet probably does too. Or, treat her to a shared visit to the nail salon. Who doesn’t love a mani-pedi? You may also consider a shopping trip, or visiting vendors or venues she wants to explore if, and only if, you are sure you can keep your potentially intimidating opinions to yourself. Skip this last idea if maintaining supportive neutrality may be a challenge for you.

If covering the distance between the two of you requires a plane ticket or many hours in a car, these suggestions are still good but the funds or time required may make them impractical. At the very least, much more advance planning is required. If in-person time is not an option, make the effort to communicate with her if she’s receptive. An occasional (but not too often) phone call may be your best bet. Other options are to send a card or flowers to let her know you’re thinking about her. Texting, email and social media messages are okay, too, but before engaging in this 21st century manner consider carefully whether she knows you well enough to be comfortable with you on these platforms. Also, be aware of how easily it is to misinterpret the tone of an electronic message. It’s hard, on the other hand, to misread a thoughtful note or bouquet.

Know her love language

Dr. Gary Chapman did the world a huge favor when he taught us that every one is more or less hardwired to receive affection in a preferred way. More than 9 million copies of his now classic “The  Five Love Languages” are on bookshelves around the world. Mine is dusty, but I remember enough to know what speaks to my family. I cooked a meal for my youngest son and his wife recently. Bounding down the hall from the front door, he bellows, “It smells like love in here.”  His love language is what Dr. Chapman calls “acts of service.” I spent time watching movies and helping my oldest son with projects on a recent visit. “Quality time” says “I love you” to him. My husband beams when I praise him. “Words of affirmation” unlock his heart. Other family members feel loved when I give them a present (“receiving gifts”) or a hug (“physical touch”). Your future daughter-in-law has a preference for one of these expressions of affection. Listen to her. Examine the stories your son has told about her. Figure out what her love language is and speak it.

Carpe Diem

Whether or not you are successful at finding appointed times to get to know your daughter-in-law, there will almost certainly be moments along the way in which you can communicate your love and support. Be ready to seize those. Think ahead of time about what you want to say, how you want to say it, what she needs to hear, particularly if “words of affirmation” are her love language. Have a gift ready for a stolen moment along the way. Be free with your motherly hugs if you know she is receptive to that. I think you get the idea. The bottom line is this: expect the opportunity and be ready to make the effort.

Subtlety, thy name is mother-in-law

If only. We’d be the butt of fewer jokes if that were true, right? The fact is that most, if not all, of your acts may be exaggerated in the bride’s mind unless she already knows you very well. She’s likely sizing you up in many ways, even if she is unaware of this herself. While I am clearly advising you to be purposeful and serious about your interactions with her during this time, I am also encouraging temperance. A little goes a long way. However well-meaning you may be, if she feels run over by your enthusiasm or energy, the end result will be the opposite of what you’ve set out to do. There are a lot of suggestions here. Pick one, two at most. A thoughtfully care-full moment may be all you need to seal the deal for a beautiful future with your daughter-in-law.

It’s a family thing

A final simple, but powerful, strategy for harmony for the wedding and beyond is to get to know the bride’s family better before the ceremony too. Say yes to invitations if you can. Extend invitations as you are able. Pick up the phone for a casual conversation. Connect on social media. Correspond in appropriate ways. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: offer to help wherever you can. Think about your possible future grandchildren and blend now.

The family is the most basic unit of a civilized society. It all starts here.

Here’s what this looked like for me:

  • I said yes to anything I was asked to do for the wedding.
  • I accepted every invitation I received to attend an event or tag along for anything.
  • At the rehearsal dinner, I found a private moment to cradle my daughter-in-law’s face in my hands and tell her that the next 24 hours would be busy and because there may not be another real chance to say what’s important, I wanted her to know that I am pleased with her, that I love her, and that my gift to her is my son. In effect, I gave him away in much the same way her father relinquished his position with her the next day. Most of what took place in the months of wedding planning is a blur but this moment still reaches across the years and touches our hearts.


  • Yamacamecrazy

    How do you start over a relationship with the prospective bride when there has been harsh words between the two of you?

  • Mary Perez

    Help me with how to invite my son’s fiance to lunch…She is a planner, very organized, very busy. She give me her schedule of free weekends, of which there are not many. I do feel we need to have some time together. We live about 25 min from each other so distance is not a problem. I’m just plain nervous. I’m feeling truly unprepared to know how to initiate this. My son and she have been together for 6 years. She is very private. I feel I have been remiss in not making any attempt up to now but I just don’t know how to “be” with her. I’m the elder and feel I need to intiate something. After 6 yrs we have only met with her parents once, after the engagement. It was awkward, not unpleasant.

    • Joyce Beverly

      Mary, have you made any progress here? I think the best way to get over the awkwardness is to offer to meet her in her own neighborhood at a time of day that you feel most rested if possible. For me, that would be breakfast or coffee between 9 and 11 a.m. If you’re on her turf, in her neighborhood, she’s likely to be more relaxed and if you’re on your best schedule, it may be easier for you. Perhaps her mother could join you? If they are busy with wedding plans, perhaps you could offer to help in some way? It is just harder to break the ice with some families than others. It’s worth the effort though if you can find the courage. I hope this is helpful and wish you the best!

      • Mary Perez

        Hi Joyce. I read this a while back. We finally made a date for shopping for my dress. I consider it a start. Mostly I just send an occasional note I wanted so much more for this yearn but I don’t think she’s feeling as though she needs this. My son doesn’t indicate anything but things are going well. I’m still working on finding ways to make contact I’m still feeling insecure in spite of everything. Just keep working it out, that’s what I’m doing. I love you’re web site. I admit I did forget about it for a while.

    • Tori Sutton

      Maybe you could do a girl’s outing (with her, her mother/sisters, and whomever) to DO something together – like a class in which you get to drink wine and paint a picture, or make a mosaic tiled project, or create floral arrangements together, or learn to take professional-looking pictures on your smart phones. Maybe you could brainstorm a list of options and ask if any appeal to her. It’s often easier to talk with someone when you’re working near or with each other, and you learn to appreciate different things too, especially when the stakes are low and the project is just fun. Especially if she’s private, so she can talk or not talk as she’s comfortable. Better, often, than staring at each other over lunch, with nothing particular to do. And it’s nice to create some shared experiences.