Meeting the parents is a process most people have to deal with at some point in their adult lives. Nerves, fears, excitement, and anxiety may all set in prior to walking through the door of your significant other’s family home, and accepting the invitation to travel back home with them over the holidays is certainly a commitment. Here are five things to keep in mind before stepping up to the challenge.
1. Prepare to be vetted
When you visit your partner’s family for the first time, it’s inevitable that there will be some sort of Q&A process. Unless you’re the type to facetime with your partner’s mother every day before having met her (although this would be weird even if you have already met her), members of his or her family are already naturally curious about you. So far, all they know is that you’re the person who’s making their child, sibling, cousin, or grandchild happy, and it’s important they get to know as much as possible about you. Psychologist and licensed clinical professional counselor Dr. Nikki Martinez tells The Cheat Sheet that it’s important to remember that you’re the “new shiny thing,” and therefore, their interest and curiosity will be peaked. “Be kind, polite and gracious,” Martinez says, “and above all, show how much you care about this person.”
2. Find a common ground
Keep in mind that, even though you are with your partner for reasons such as shared interests, values, and ambitions, his or her family could hold very different points of view. Don’t go in expecting to be on the same page right off the bat. James I. Millhouse, Ph.D and licensed psychologist, says, “No one agrees on everything, so intentionally avoid conflicts. Go with an open mind to ideas different than your own.” Additionally, Millhouse says to “Look for things you can agree with and make statements that acknowledge this. Look for things that you can mutually enjoy, more than agree upon, because when people enjoy mutual things and laugh together, they bond at a more meaningful level.”
3. Know what traditions are important to your partner’s family
It can often times be too easy to think that our way is the only way, but you mustn’t forget that just because you were raised one way with certain traditions, other methods do not exist. As adults, many of a person’s most deeply-rooted memories involve time-honored family traditions around the holidays – both good and bad – so it’s important you’re aware of what your partner’s are. According to Jennifer Rhodes, licensed psychologist, dating expert and founder of the bi-coastal consultancy, Rapport Relationships, it’s wise to ask what kinds of customs are near and dear to your partner and his or her family, as well as preparing ahead of time by picking out a thoughtful gift. You don’t want to be the guy who shows up empty-handed, after all.
4. Be sensitive to your partner’s behavior and reactions around family members
Every family has its own way of interacting with one another, and it’s important you remember that your partner might behave or respond in a different manner than you’re used to seeing. Issues within a family unit can be deep-rooted, and family dynamics can be complicated and difficult for outsiders to understand. As mentioned by Karen Sherman, Ph.D, psychologist, author, internet expert, and professor, there will likely be some point during the visit that might trigger your partner’s emotions. It’s important that, even if you don’t agree with why your partner is upset, you acknowledge it.
For example, Sherman says, “Her mother makes a statement about the fact that she looks a little too thin and she gets bent out of shape about her mother always criticizing her. Rather than say, ‘What’s the big deal,’ or ‘Just ignore her,’ it would be better to say, ‘I get that it really is upsetting that your mother made a judgement. By the way, I think you look great.’ The fact that you’re simply there to support your partner speaks volumes of the type of person you are and the kind of relationship the two of you have.”
5. Don’t overthink it
Sure, meeting the parents for the first time can be a daunting experience. You’ve invested a lot of time, energy, and emotion into this person, so it’s only natural that you want his or her family to like you, too. But don’t go overboard, here. No one wants to meet a showman who puts on a front for the sake of trying to impress the relatives. Just remember, your partner chose you because he or she loves you, so as long as you present your true self to his or her family, chances are they will see the good in you, too!