Things are getting serious, and it’s time to meet the parents! If you’re like most people, you’re experiencing a mix of emotions ranging from extreme excitement to trepidation. Meeting the parents for the first time puts you, your relationship, and your partner in the spotlight… prime targets for inquisitive mommas. Feeling a bit intimidated is perfectly normal. We totally get it! So, we’ve gathered all the best tips to ensure that your first meeting with your partner’s parents will be a raging success!
Break the ice with an adventure!
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What’s the big deal?
Now, if you’re a confident, extrovert, who has done all this before, then it might not be a big ordeal for you, but for the majority, meeting the two most important people in their partner’s life (before you, of course) is a pretty daunting endeavor. Will they like you? Will you like them? What if you say something culturally insulting or just stupid? What if they are mean? What should you wear? All of these questions are normal and will likely cross your mind. If your partner doesn’t have the best relationship with their parents, then there may be even more pressure for this meeting to go well.
Even if you’re not nervous, your partner probably is. They love you, and they want their parents to approve of you too. The parents are likely nervous, as they know their child deeply cares for someone they know very little about. They are probably having all the same hesitations that you are. This situation can be nerve-wracking for everyone involved, but it’s important to realize that this is just normal butterflies. In all likelihood, it’s going to be fine! Here are a few tips for decreasing your anxiety, improving communication, and making a great first impression to help ease the nervousness.
1. Pick the right timing.
Before meeting your partner’s parents for the first time, both you and they should feel like it’s the right time. Don’t invite yourself to meet your significant other’s family, if they haven’t offered, and don’t push. On the other hand, if you’re putting off meeting your partner’s family when they have asked you to, then you need to sit down and discuss why you’re procrastinating. Once you both feel ready, then proceed.
There is no right or wrong time to meet the parents, but try to have the first meeting before you’re engaged. Most families want to get to know their children’s partners before they commit forever. You’ll set yourself up for the best outcome if you arrange your meeting as soon as you’re both fairly certain that your relationship is going to be a long-term one.
2. Keep it intimate.
Meeting your possible, future in-laws is frightening enough. You don’t need to tackle all the other family members at the same time. Building relationships with your partner’s parents, and possibly siblings, if they are still living at home, is the most important goal. You need quality time in a non-distracting environment to do that. Usually, a family dinner in your home or theirs is a good option. Your first introduction to the family doesn’t need to be at Christmas dinner with 100 extended family members.
3. Learn before you go.
You would never go to a job interview without learning a little bit about the company. You Google it. You ask questions from friends who work there. The more you know, the better. Meeting your new family is no different. You need to do your research and know what you’re walking into. You have a great reference and resource in your partner. They spent the first probably 20 years of their life with these people, and they know them pretty well!
Of course, you should know their names, and what they do for a living, but ask your partner for more specifics before the meeting. Do you come from different religious backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, or physical cultures? Is there anything about these areas that you need to know? What do they do for fun? Do they have any pet peeves? What did they like or dislike about previous partners? Are there any controversial topics you should avoid with them for now?
4. Talk about your anxieties.
As stated, anxieties around this situation are normal. Spend some time talking about your specific worries with your partner before the meeting. You may be concerned about all kinds of things that would not ever be an issue for their family. Just talking about it beforehand will ease the tension. You’ll be able to soothe one another and come up with a plan.
5. Dress appropriately.
Making a good first impression with parents is not much different than a job interview. You want to look presentable and appropriate. If you’re having dinner at their home, then a casual, put-together look is fine. You don’t need to wear a suit (most likely), but you should not show up in holey denim, old or ragged t-shirts, revealing clothing, super-high heels, or extravagant makeup. Be yourself, but err on the side of conservative. If you’re going out to a high-end restaurant or for cocktails, then you’ll need to up the ante a little. Remember to ask about cultural nuances. Standards for modesty vary greatly across cultures.
Pro Tip: While you certainly want to dress to impress, you also need to be comfortable. If you never wear a tie or pantyhose, then this isn’t the time to start. You don’t want to look uncomfortable all night long and be pulling at your clothes.
6. Clean up!
This should go without saying, but from experience, it does not. Just like you would for a first date, present your best self to meet your partner’s parents. Make sure your fingernails are clean and trimmed. Get a haircut. Take a bath. Don’t forget to the mouthwash and an extra application of antiperspirant. In general, show that you care enough to put forth some effort.
7. Present yourself properly.
When you greet your partner’s parents, take a deep breath, and smile. You don’t need a big, fake, creepy grin, but an earnest smile. Offer a firm and short handshake, or perhaps a short should hug for the mother. If your partner introduces you, just say something like, “hello, very nice to meet you,” and shake their hand. If your boo gets nervous and doesn’t introduce you. Step forward and reveal your name and that you’re happy to meet them.
8. Bring a gift.
If you’re meeting at their home, it’s best practice to bring a small gift. A nice bottle of wine or a bouquet is a good option. You could also bring your favorite coffee for dessert. If you’re communicating beforehand, offer to bring a food item in, perhaps one of your family traditions. Bringing something from your own family or culture not only adds a little comfort food for you, but it exposes your partner’s family to a small part of your heritage. Most hosts are grateful for the offer.
9. Offer a genuine compliment.
Don’t go fishing for something phony, but if they have a very nice home, wonderful garden, or a beautiful dress… say so! Comment on the amazingness of the food, or politely ask for seconds. One of the best areas to deploy this is regarding your partner. Bragging about your partner, or relaying the traits you admire in them, is a great compliment to proud parents.
10. Speak highly of your partner.
Expounding on the last tip, when you meet your best friend’s parents, remember that your love is their child! Parents tend to have a soft spot for their kids, and they will be on the lookout for any signs of abuse. You may have a very sarcastic and playful relationship with your partner, and that is fine, but maybe tone it down for the first meeting. It can be construed negatively. Don’t overdo your complimenting. The goal is not to be fake, but to reassure your partner’s parents that you care for them deeply.
11. Be on the same page.
You and your partner should have a real conversation about the future of your relationship before you meet up with mom and dad. If you tell your boyfriend’s parents that your relationship is nothing too serious, but he has told them he is about to propose, then you guys are sending mixed signals, and it will end in confusion and frustration.
12. Chill on the PDA.
Showing affection for your partner is a positive thing, especially in front of their parents. It gives them confidence knowing that their child is loved and respected. However, nothing about that affection should be sexual. Keep your hands north, no groping under the dinner table or butt-grabbing in the kitchen. Keep it polite.
13. Offer to help.
Be assertive, but not aggressive, about lending a hand. Offer to bring a dessert or to do the dishes after dinner. If you go out to dinner, offer to pay, or to get ice cream for everyone after. If you’re going to be part of their family eventually, they must know you’re willing to pull your weight.
14. Stay engaged.
Conversation can be difficult in these situations. No one is quite sure where to start. Don’t force it, but you may consider having a few conversation starters handy. The most important topics are the things that you want to know anyway. Ask about their family traditions, where they went on vacations, or what your partner was like as a child. Ask about your partner’s most embarrassing childhood moment or related stories.
You’ll learn tons of new information about your bae, and the family will enjoy reminiscing about their years together. If you get stuck, stand up and look at the photos on the mantle. Ask if you can touch them. Then, ask questions about the people in the photos.
15. Set aside the phone.
The older you get, the more it irritates you when someone is not engaged in conversation and spends all their time on a screen. In older generations, it’s seen as disrespectful. The most important people are the ones who are at the dinner table with you, so pay attention to the conversation… even if it’s boring. You’re there to get to know them. Unless it’s a true emergency, put your phone on silent, and keep it in your pocket.
16. Be yourself.
You can easily fake your way through a first meeting, but it won’t do you any good. If you’re planning on being around for a while, then you might as well be yourself from the get-go because you can’t fake it forever. Plus, mothers have a keen sense of those things. They can smell a faker. In most cases, they would rather you be yourself, and it takes some time to learn to love you than you be phony. Be kind. Be polite, and be on your best behavior, but be yourself.
17. Stay away from sticky subjects.
The first date with the parents is not the time to pull out your grievances with the government, the church, or your own family. Save those topics for when you get to know each other better. When a foundation of love and respect is in place, then differences in opinion on important matters are much more easily approached.
18. Talk about your life.
Your partner’s parents are probably very curious about you. What is it in you that so entranced their child? They will want to know about your future goals, where you came from, your parents or siblings, and your job. Be open and willing to discuss anything that is not overtly painful or too intimate.
19. Support your partner.
Remember you and your partner are on the same team! Unfortunately, not all parents are loving and supportive. Some are demeaning and downright abusive. If your partner has difficult parents, and you’re both dreading this meeting, lock arms and take it on together. Make sure your partner knows that your feelings for them are not based on this night but on the relationship you have built together. No matter what happens with your gathering, whether it all goes smoothly or explodes, it can make you stronger as a couple. Ensure that your partner knows they have your full support and loyalty and that you’ll get through it together.
20. It’s not a competition.
Sometimes there is this weird competition between boyfriends and dads and between girlfriends and moms. It’s like a battle for who has the strongest bond. You, no doubt, have a deep connection with your partner. You probably know them as well, or even better in some ways, than their parents do, and that can be intimidating for parents. If their child has never been in a serious relationship before, it’s a new feeling for them, a stranger coming into their lives and “taking away their baby.” Remember that even though you spend every day with your partner, this whole thing is new for them.
On the flip side, many girlfriends get frustrated or jealous at the love and respect their partner shows for their mom, especially if he doesn’t do the same for them. Boyfriends often feel they can’t live up to the hero that their girlfriend calls “daddy.” It might sound silly, but mild jealousy or resentment in these situations isn’t uncommon.
Approach parents in a humble manner. Ask lots of questions. They know things about your significant other that you don’t. You know secrets that they don’t. The relationships are separate and different, no need for competition. If you’re getting this vibe from a parent, don’t get sucked in. Remain polite and reinforce that you’re excited to hear all their stories and insight.
21. Take a photo album.
If you come to a place in the conversation where it seems appropriate, for instance, when looking at baby pictures of your partner, ask if they would like to see pictures of your family. You can bring an old album with you, or just have a few on your phone for reference. If your partner’s family is tight-knit, then it’s reassuring to them that you’re close to your family too, and are proud to show them off. Don’t turn the conversation completely to your family, but just let it be an option if they are interested.
22. Have a backup plan.
Get together with your partner and create a backup plan for that dreaded lull in the conversation. Perhaps you could bring a board game that the family loves, or suggest that you play one of your family’s favorite games. A conversation is easier for most people when they have something else to occupy their hands and brains. Playing a game, whether it’s Phase 10, darts, or horseshoes, can take some of the pressure off and allow communication to flow more freely.
Having a few topics in mind to restart the conversation is a good idea too. It’s hard to think of prompts on the spot when you’re nervous, so you might memorize a few or write them down somewhere handy.
Pro Tip: If you tend to talk too much when you’re nervous, then before the gathering, come up with a codeword or hand signal. Your partner can lovingly and nonchalantly alert you when you start rambling a little too much.
23. Show gratefulness.
Before you leave for the evening, make sure that you express your gratitude! Thank them for the food and their hospitality. Relay that you’re looking forward to your next meeting. Perhaps, go ahead and set it up. Offer to host dinner at your place, or to take them to do an activity that you both enjoy. You want to show that you appreciate their time and effort and that you’re invested in furthering a relationship with them.
24. Debrief the night.
After your first meeting with the parents, you should sit down with your partner and talk about how it went. Express any concerns that you have. Talk about your anxieties or mistakes you think you made. Get their input on the situation and how the night went. Just remember, if things did not go as planned, don’t blame your partner. The goal of this conversation is to talk about important aspects of your relationship and how to move forward, as a family, in a healthy way, not to fight over what happened.
While we understand the nerves, by following these tips, and your intuition, you’ll make a great first impression. Just be comfortable in your own skin and confident in your relationship with your partner. If parents see that you love and respect their child and that they love and respect you, then everything else will usually work itself out!
Got any tips for meeting the parents? Drop them in the comments!
If these people are going to be your new family soon, then learning to communicate effectively with them is important. Check out “How to Promote Healthy Family Communication” for some insight on making your next conversation a productive one.
If your relationship is moving to the next level, then you may be ready for your first big trip together! Get some tips from “Making the Most of Your First Vacation Together.”
Frequently Asked Questions
When meeting your partner’s parents, focus the conversation on your partner. Ask questions about their childhood, demeanor, and funny memories.
Generally, when a partner asks you to meet their parents, they are insinuating that you are important to them, and they would like you to start building a relationship with their family.
Choose an activity that is both intimate and fun. Perhaps, dinner and games in their home, a casual coffee brunch, and shopping, or a fun city scavenger hunt followed by dinner at a nice restaurant.