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The Holidays: Time to Meet the Family?

One of the most stressful events of any relationship is meeting the parents. Whether you are the “introducer” or the partner being introduced a good first step is to manage expectations. Don’t build up your family to be the best thing since the Cleavers, and don’t build up your girlfriend or boyfriend to be perfect in every way. This is sure to lead to disappointment, so be realistic and don’t set the bar too high for anyone.

If you are doing the introducing, here are some ways to prepare your significant other to meet your family.

  • Make sure that you both agree on the status of your relationship. Are you exclusive and talking about marriage, or is it still too soon to tell? By providing a united front, it won’t be a problem if granddad corners one of you while Aunt Betty takes the other to the kitchen for an inquisition. By discussing things ahead of time, your “stories” will be the same and you’ll have no need to worry that the family will get conflicting information.
  • Let your boyfriend/girlfriend in on some family secrets. You don’t have to share the deep, dark family secrets, but let him/her in on those that might be awkward such as Uncle Chuck’s tendency to over indulge in the eggnog, your brother’s terrible jokes or grandma’s habit of taking her teeth out at the table.
  • Brief your boyfriend/girlfriend on any “difficult” family situations. So he/she doesn’t inadvertently step into a sticky topic, let your significant other know if there’s a particular issue that’s off limits. For example, perhaps your father is a recovering alcoholic or there’s been a death in the family that makes the holidays particularly difficult for your mother. These types of insights will help pave the way for a smoother first meeting.
  • Share any family pet peeves. An example of this might be that your girlfriend loves to feed her dog (or cat) food scraps from the table, but your mom absolutely does not allow Katie the Cocker Spaniel to have any table food. It’s best to let your girlfriend know so she won’t commit an unintended faux pas.
  • Be prepared to leave early. If this is the first time your boyfriend/girlfriend is meeting the family, make it brief, but don’t be rude and “eat and run.” Enjoy the family meal and offer to help with the clean up. But when the chatting begins, get out while the getting’s good. This is usually the time when the new person in the family becomes the target of 20 questions.

If you are being introduced to your partner’s parents for the first time, keep these tips in mind:

  • Find out how his/her family celebrates the holidays. Are they Jewish and celebrate Hanukkah? Do they participate in Kwanzaa? Or do they follow Christmas customs? If you find yourself unfamiliar with a particular tradition, take the time to do some research or ask your partner to fill you in on what to expect.
  • Make a great first impression. Ask your significant other what the dress code is, and follow it. Men: If your girlfriend says ‘casual’ don’t just grab tattered jeans and an old sweater. Make sure your clothes are clean and wrinkle free. It’s best to go with a solid color shirt or sweater rather than a printed t-shirt. Ladies: When in doubt, stick with a classic look. Avoid anything too revealing.
  • Don’t show up empty-handed. Bringing flowers, an ornament or a homemade dish is a gesture of appreciation. A gift doesn’t have to be expensive; however, be sure to choose something appropriate. For example, if your girlfriend’s parents don’t drink, a bottle of wine is not a suitable gift.
  • Engage in conversation. Make an effort to strike up conversations with various family members. Ask about their hobbies, school, work, etc. This will show that you have a genuine interest in their lives.
  • Don’t overindulge. Going back for seconds is expected. But thirds or fourths are not a good idea. A couple of glasses of wine or a cup of eggnog is fine as long as others are enjoying the same, but passing out on the couch will not impress.

The holidays can be a great time to introduce your partner to the family. Just keep in mind every family has its own quirks, peculiarities and issues – including your own – so remember to set and manage realistic expectations.