As the holidays approach you and your significant other may be discussing meeting each other’s families for the first time. Meeting the family is typically seen as a milestone in a relationship that causes excitement but also great stress. Your stomach may be in knots as you wonder will his mother think you are good enough for her precious son. Or you may break in to a cold sweat as you contemplate how to convince her dad that you are an excellent partner for the woman he still sees as his little girl. Even if you have met the family already if the relationship is still fairly new your partner’s family is still forming their opinion of you and you may struggle with figuring out how to keep in their good graces.
On the other hand, you may think you don’t care what your mate’s family thinks of you. After all you are in a relationship with him or her not them. Regardless of your attitude toward the situation be advised that if you make a bad impression on your partner’s family it will likely put tension on the relationship. Instead of not caring put in a little effort to making a good impression on his family and your relationship will be better off for it.
Here are five fool proof ways to win over your partner’s family this holiday season:
1. Come Bearing Gifts
It is rude to show up on someone’s doorstep fully prepared to eat their food and drink their wine without offering something in return. Instead of showing up with just your smile and charming personality, bring a batch of homemade cookies to share with the family. This will give you the opportunity to demonstrate your thoughtfulness as well as your culinary skills. Be sure to inquire about food allergies before preparing anything that could cause an unpleasant reaction. You don’t want to be known as the date that landed Aunt Ethel in the ER on Christmas. Whether you like it or not you are being evaluated on if you are a worthwhile addition to the family. Even if your partner says that the opinion of his or her family doesn’t matter, life will be more pleasant for everyone if the family likes you. So try your best to make a good impression.
If you’re not skilled in the kitchen, find out from your partner what the host’s favorite wine is and bring a bottle with you. The family will be impressed that you knew exactly what to bring. At the very least, contribute a box of holiday candy or a store bought dessert. To avoid coming off like you’re just there for the free meal it’s best not to show up empty handed.
2. Mind your manners
While it’s likely that you didn’t go to charm school, your manners should be polished enough to win best etiquette award come holiday season. As soon as you are introduced to the hosts, smile, make eye contact and let them know how pleased you are to meet them. Thank the family for having you both when you arrive and when you depart. As a sign of respect address everyone who is older than you as Mr. or Mrs., and make sure you have each person’s last name correct; not all married women take on their husband’s last name. While it may be tempting to try to build instant rapport by referring to your partner’s relatives as “Ma and Pa” or “Big Sis and Lil’ Bro” this premature familiarity may come off as annoying at best, creepy at worst. When in doubt err on the side of being too formal. Wait until you are invited to use nick names or familial titles. It’s best to play it safe and stick with last names or “ma’am” and “sir” if you are so inclined.
In addition to addressing everyone with kindness and respect be sure to conform to the rules of the household you are visiting. If everyone takes off their shoes before walking on the carpet you should remove yours as well. Yes, even if you are wearing your favorite pair of Louboutins that don’t have a speck of dirt on them and the carpet is filthy, you must put your pride and your pumps aside if you want to make a good impression on your partner’s family.
Be cognizant of less obvious family customs as well. For instance, you should ask where to sit at the table instead of carelessly plopping down in Grandpa Brown’s seat. Don’t forget your basic dinner etiquette. Always say “please” and “thank you” and remember it is “May I have the potatoes?” not “Pass the potatoes!” First and second and third impressions are lasting. If you are just getting to know your partner’s family behave accordingly.
3. Acknowledge that you are not a pundit
Although politics may still be fresh on your mind now is not the time to rehash the election. You never know who voted differently than you. And even if you agree with your partner’s family on which candidate is best for the country there are bound to be some issues on which you disagree. It’s best to avoid the discussion all together. Remain silent if the family is discussing something controversial. If you are asked directly for your opinion, humbly acknowledge that you are not an expert on public policy or economics and therefore your opinion holds just as much weight as any lay person. Give a well reasoned but neutral response and turn the focus back on the person you are speaking with. Listen carefully and ask intelligent questions but avoid revealing any opinions or beliefs that could offend even the most sensitive person.
You should make thoughtful contributions to the discussion but avoid talking above anyone’s head. Even if you are an acclaimed scholar in your field it would be best to do more listening than talking. And be sure to speak at a level that even the least educated person at the table can understand. If you must show off your expertise, do so only when invited and reserve the scope of what you share to practical knowledge as opposed to esoteric trivia. Despite how intriguing you may think you are rest assured that your partner’s family does not want to hear more than five minutes about your study on plant larvae. Keep in mind you want to be remembered as an engaging conversationalist not a self absorbed bore.
4. Detach from your partner’s hip
Although it may be intimidating to be at a dinner where the only person you know is your date, it is important not to cling to your partner if you want to impress his or her family. If you keep your mate chained to your side for the entire evening his family may resent you (whether consciously or subconsciously) for preventing him from socializing with them. At a larger party mingle on your own after your partner has introduced you to everyone. To get extra points seek out the family wallflower and engage him or her for awhile. Everyone including your mate will appreciate you if you’re the significant other that can brave a conversation with eccentric Uncle Ralph. Remember you probably only have to see your partner’s extended family a few times a year. Even if they aren’t your cup of tea try your best to make an authentic connection with each relative that you meet.
Don’t ignore small children and pets, they are family too. Even if your partner hasn’t acknowledged it you are likely being tested on how well you interact with youngsters. Spend some time coloring or playing a round of video games with your mate’s nieces and nephews. Show some enthusiasm for Mittens the kitten and Fido the pup. Address each pet by name and don’t yell at them even if they do steal a bone off of your plate. Patience is a virtue and virtuous dates win over their partner’s families. Keep your objective in mind with each interaction no matter how trying.
5. Be kind to your mate
This one should go without saying but it is worth mentioning because how you treat your mate will have a huge impact on how you are perceived by his or her family. Don’t expect to be waited on by your partner, instead ask if there is anything you can do to help such as clearing the table. If you must ask your mate to do something for you avoid barking out orders. You don’t want your partner’s family to get the idea that you are a demanding tyrant or a spoiled princess. Save disagreements with your partner for when you are no longer in the presence of his or her family. Even if your partner is in the wrong bickering in front of the family will only make you look bad not your partner. Also, it’s best not to join in if someone in the family belittling your mate whether seriously or in jest. Instead, share with the family the reasons you are thankful for your partner. This will not only build good will with the family but it will strengthen the bond with your mate as well.
Finally, let your date be the one to end the night. Even if you aren’t having the time of your life it will leave a bad impression if you whine all night about wanting to leave. Also, you don’t want to be perceived as dragging your partner away from his or her family especially during the holidays. Once your partner indicates that it is time to end the night don’t hover impatiently by the door. Make your rounds and give a warm goodbye to everyone. Despite the fact that you put your best foot forward throughout your entire visit if you are rude on your way out it will be remembered due to the primacy and recency effect. People recall the beginning of the night and the end of the night with the most clarity so be on your best behavior on your way in and on your way out.
If you are meeting your partner’s family this season be yourself but be the best “you” that you can be. Apply these tactics and let me know in the comment section how meeting the family worked out for you.
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