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Meeting the parents is a huge milestone in any serious relationship. The timing is a personal decision based on a number of individual, relationship, and cultural factors. In some cases, both romantic partners may feel completely confident and ready. In others, the appropriate time might be more difficult to assess. However, answering yes to the following five questions can signal it could be the right time for you:
1) Are you without a doubt a couple? 2) Have you met his friends? 3) Has he met your friends and/or family? 4) Are you in an exclusive and serious relationship? 5) Do you believe your relationship is going somewhere, and have you both communicated these feelings on some level?
Now that you’ve established the timing is right, planning a strategy will make meeting his parents less stressful and more exciting. Although it’s OK to be nervous and wonder if the timing is right, the more relaxed and empowered you feel, the better the first meeting will go.
You can ensure you’re making a good first impression by avoiding common mistakes such as clinging to your phone, drinking too much, or dressing inappropriately. I’d also recommend not putting down or fighting with your partner with family members present. And, please, show up on time.
Getting along with the in-laws can support the well-being and health of your relationship, so being well-received by his family will go a long way in staying satisfied and connected (especially if your partner values their opinion).
Understand that your partner is most likely nervous, too, so approaching this step as a team and supporting each other will make your relationship stronger. Communicate with your partner about the expectations for the meeting, and take the time to learn about his or her family background.
Ask your partner about his or her family relationships and if there are any values or traditions you need to know about.
Find out how your partner feels toward his or her family, and what you can expect from the encounter. Familiarize yourself with the family’s dynamics, topics to avoid (including what is mentioned below in tip number nine), names and descriptions of who you’re going to meet, and other relevant details. Ask your partner to share anything that will help make the first meeting go smoothly.
Your partner giving his or her family a heads-up is especially important if you’re an interracial couple or you practice a different religion because these differences can lead to extra stress on first meeting. Also have your partner be upfront about any dietary restrictions you may have (if a meal is involved) to avoid awkwardness.
It’s essential to grasp how the venue, location, occasion, length of the visit with family, and the number of people present can change the dynamic of the meeting, and you should set realistic expectations based on these factors.
Meeting the parents for dinner nearby if they live locally is completely different than spending a week at their home in another state. Or meeting the parents one on one is a different vibe from meeting them at a huge family gathering, event, wedding, or religious ceremony.
If you’re meeting them at a sister’s wedding, for example, understand they may be thrilled to meet you, but they’ll also be feeling overwhelmed, distracted, and excited as parents of the bride. You may not receive the undivided attention you were hoping for, but keep a big picture perspective and don’t take these situations personally.
Bring a gift, such as flowers, wine, dessert, or a candle, especially if you’ll be dining or staying at their home or if it’s a holiday. Check out this creative list of DIY gifts, holiday gifts, store-bought gifts, etc.
Meeting the parents is not the occasion to dress provocatively. In fact, it’s better to be conservative and ensure you’re not offending anyone or giving the wrong idea about yourself. Ask your partner about the family’s style and dress code and try to match it.
Nerves can get in the way of being fully present, but be sure to do your part in making the meeting go well. Ask questions, contribute to the conversation, show interest in getting to know them, listen attentively, and use appropriate eye contact and open body language.
Also, there’s no need to be bashful about sharing how much you adore their child (from a genuine place, of course). Parents love to hear things like that!
It’s natural to approach this situation from your own unique upbringing. However, you should remember all families are different.
You may be surprised by family traditions that are different from those you grew up with, but try to go into the situation with an open mind.
Respect family rules and holiday traditions, even if their ways differ from yours. For example, if the rule is to sleep in separate rooms while staying with the parents, be considerate and respectful of this arrangement while under their roof.
Ditch public displays of affection to ensure you aren’t making anyone uncomfortable. Offer to help out and lend a helping hand, even if you’re turned down.
Go with the flow, be punctual and polite, and don’t overshare or get into heated debates. Also, practice gratitude by saying thank you in person and also sending a thoughtful thank-you note after the meeting.
Practice being neutral — without giving up who you are — and save the tough subjects for further down the line. Remember there are layers to getting to know a new person, and there must be mutual respect and trust for a strong foundation to be built.
If you overshare or discuss heated subjects (exes, politics, religion) with the parents without a solid foundation to support you, you’re bound to run into relational issues and discomfort all-around. This may mean biting your tongue, at least initially.
You’re not the only one trying to make a good impression. Your partner and his or her family also want the introduction to go well. In fact, your partner may act a bit nervous or different around his or her family, as encounters with family of origin are some of the most triggering life experiences for us all.
Politics, religion, money, as well as sex and sexual matters are typically topics that are better saved for when you have really gotten to know your partner’s parents.
Practice self-care strategies, and make sure you’re operating from a healthy mindset while remembering you’re all in this together.
Finally, go into the meeting understanding that it doesn’t have to go flawlessly for you to fit into the family. There are bound to be some awkward moments, but try to remain relaxed and open.
Don’t assume the worst. Instead, allow your connection with the family to grow over time while being authentic and showing up as the best version of yourself.