I still remember the fried chicken. It was, perhaps, the best fried chicken I have ever tasted in my life; but, I could not enjoy it… because it was my first meal with his grandparents. When I was sixteen, I briefly dated a young man who lived about twenty minutes off the beaten path with his incredibly sweet grandma and grandpa. Nothing about these individuals was threatening in any way, but my nerves were visible. To ease my spirits, his grandmother recounted the story of her first meeting with her husband’s parents. If I recall, when she met them, she was too nervous to eat at all. Her graciousness definitely eased my jumpy heart.
Many of the guys I dated attended the church I went to, so I already knew their parents. It spoiled me, though, because by the time I reached adulthood, I did not have a lot of meeting the parents practice. Then again, had I made wiser choices, perhaps I would have had fewer parents to meet? ~smile~
After meeting parents who loved me as their own (and parents who completely broke my heart), I knew meeting Eric’s dad could go either way. Boy, was I relieved and elated to find one of the sweetest, most tolerant, most forgiving men on the planet. From the moment I met him, the fear melted away. Much to our surprise, six months after our wedding, he got married! (Eric’s mom had passed away a handful of years earlier) And, they are not only a sweet couple, but generous and kind to all of us.
Whether you have heard scary stories about your significant other’s parents or not, meeting them for the first time can be a stressful experience. We want to make a good impression. After all, in most cases, the parents are the other most important people in our partners’ lives. Having a positive connection with them can (though not always) be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful relationship.
We want your nerves to melt away as we help you prepare for your first close encounter of the parental kind. Take a deep breath. It is going to be okay. ~smile~
- If possible, have the first meeting on neutral turf. Going to someone’s home for the first time can feel extra overwhelming. In addition to thinking about what to say, you are also thinking about whether to remove your shoes, worrying about having a bathroom “emergency,” and hoping not to break a dish, or worse, clog a toilet! Meeting at a restaurant, or other neutral location, gives everyone equal footing for the first visit. (Bonuses: You will know to keep on your shoes. The bathroom is typically far away from the table. If you break a dish, at least it is not Grandma’s china! And, if you clog the toilet, no one else in your party has to know about it! ~smile~)
- Have an out available if it gets overwhelming. Keep in mind, this out is not to be used unless the meeting becomes unbelievably unbearable. If Uncle Cletus gets into a fist fight with Uncle Bubba, use your out. If your girlfriend’s mom starts chanting mysteriously in a foreign language, use your out. If your boyfriend’s sister pokes you relentlessly with straight pins under the table, use your out. But, if there are awkward moments of silence or you have a general feeling of discomfort, avoid running just yet. Go to dinner in separate cars so you can leave if you need to. Or, you can make post-dinner plans, in advance, so you have a reason to leave after a few hours (e.g., studying for a test, gathering with your friends, a date planned with each other, etc.).
- Come prepared with topics of conversation. Based on what your significant other has told you, what are their interests and hobbies? What do you all have in common? Work with those topics. If you are meeting his or her parents in their home, they will likely get the ball rolling by offering you a drink and asking you some basic getting to know you questions. From there, the conversation may naturally evolve. If it does not, you can reach into your bag o’ topics and pull out some conversation starters such as, “Mr. Johnson, Alicia tells me you have been with the police department for twenty years, what were some impactful experiences?” or “Mrs. Randle, Jason mentioned that you enjoy sculpting. I took a few sculpting classes in college.” You may not need to tap into your planned topics, but it may make you feel better to have them ready just in case.
- Try not to be overly eager in your approach. Sometimes it is tempting to jump in with all fours and talk a mile a minute to keep things from being silent. But, do not underestimate the power of a nice smile, a calm demeanor, and an occasional genuine compliment. Even if there are moments of silence, it does not mean the meeting is going wrong. Ask your significant other to step in and generate conversation if things get too quiet.
- Depending on the culture, consider bringing a gift – especially if you are visiting their home on the first visit. Southern American culture, for example, would welcome this gesture. Whether it is flowers, gourmet candy, a candle, or anything else you think they might appreciate, having the thoughtfulness to bring a gift will set you apart. Let your boyfriend or girlfriend know you are planning to bring a gift so he or she can help you pick it out – or at least give you suggestions.
- Stay off your phone! If there is one thing which annoys our parents’ generation (and everyone else in the world), it is being ignored in favor of a 3” x 6” electronic gadget. You will make an excellent impression simply by being engaged. Phones have become a security blanket in a way. When I am waiting for an appointment to start, needing a distraction, or avoiding small talk with strangers, I pop out my phone. Habit may tempt you to pull out your phone if the air gets tense or the talk dies down, but resist! ~smile~
- If everything is not perfect, it does not mean you are at fault. After meeting an ex-boyfriend‘s grandparents (not the grandparents mentioned at the beginning of this post), I left the driveway in tears. He looked at me and sincerely exclaimed, “Well, that went well!” He was thoroughly happy! Me? I started sobbing! Based on my criteria, it was a terrible first meeting. But, of course, he knew them much better than I did, so he could better discern what they were thinking. Sometimes it takes a while to grow on people. It does not mean you are not “passing.” Chances are, they are also nervous.
- Think about the future – your immediate future, that is! If you find the encounter becoming particularly uncomfortable, remind yourself that you get to go home to your warm, cuddly bed. It is an introvert mind trick, but I think it can work for anyone in this situation. No matter how unpleasant a meeting may feel at the time, it will end, and you can return to your familiar surroundings. Most likely… it will be just fine.
- Remember they are facing the prospect of “losing” their baby girl or baby boy. It is a tough transition for any parent. If they are not super friendly, you are not necessarily the reason. When Eric and I were getting serious, Mom broke down and cried at the idea of me getting married, moving away, and having children she might rarely get to see. Her feelings had little or nothing to do with Eric and everything to do with realizing I had grown up and was about to leave. It may be hard in some circumstances, but try to feel and show compassion to your sweetheart’s parents.
- Plan the next meeting. Before you leave their home or the restaurant, invite them to your place or out to eat at a future time. Such a gesture will suggest to them that you are interested in getting to know them rather than simply passing a “test.”
- Debrief together. You might leave the first encounter feeling like a complete failure, but your boyfriend or girlfriend might have picked up on something completely different! A comment or facial expression might leave you confused, but your significant other might be able to translate it.
- Celebrate! You broke the ice! You can sleep tonight. No matter how it went, there is always next time. Some people warm up slowly and that is okay!
We have all heard monster-in-law horror stories and many of them are valid. It breaks my heart to listen to friends talk about the relationships they long to have with their in-laws. However, there are a lot of happy stories too and those rarely get circulated. My grandmother was one of the sweetest women alive and treated her son-in-law and daughters-in-law as her own. She decided early on that she would not get in the middle of any of her children’s marital disagreements. When my grandfather died, my mom and aunt both felt like they lost their own father.
For every negative story I hear about in-laws, I know there are several positives. My father-in-law and his wife are incredibly loving and generous people. My mom and dad love Eric as their son. It is a blessing to see mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law shop together, get coffee, and encourage one another. I love hearing stories about our friend, Mike, spending time golfing or building with his father-in-law. I say all this to encourage you. In-laws tend to get painted in a negative light. Some deserve it, but most do not.
When you prepare to meet your sweetheart’s parents, do not go into it expecting something negative to happen. Walk into that room as if you are about to meet new and wonderful friends. Your inner dialogue will affect your demeanor. If you believe you are going to love these people, your face, body language, and words will follow.
How do you feel about meeting your sweetheart’s parents?