Being introduced to your partner’s family for the first time can be intimidating any time of year, but meeting the parents during the holiday season can be especially stressful, especially when the whole family is gathered together and you’re the newbie at the dinner table. The truth is, it’s a big deal to be introduced during the holidays — it not only signifies that things are getting more serious, but it also means that you’ll get to learn more about your partner’s upbringing firsthand (cue the cute baby pictures and adolescent stories from grandma) which will ultimately bring you closer as a couple.
While it’s totally reasonable (and normal) to be nervous, the last thing you want to do is let anxiety creep in and stop you from enjoying this major milestone in your relationship. If you’re celebrating the holiday season at home with your partner’s parents, there are some helpful tips and tricks for how to approach the situation in a way that’ll have their family falling in love with you in no time. Take it from the experts — if you’re looking to achieve glowing admiration from your potential future in-laws, you’ll want to read the below before boarding the plane.
Get the Details
First and foremost, communicate with your partner on what to expect before your arrival. Ask about any important or specific things to know in advance (i.e. you don’t want to offer Uncle Mike a glass of wine if he’s four-years sober). Having some context on each family member and the overall family dynamic will help the introduction go over smoothly and pleasantly for all parties involved.
Greta Tufvesson and Nikki Lewis, founders of The Bevy, an intensely personal matchmaking service, highly recommend syncing up with your significant other pre-party. When you get the low-down ahead of time, there's less of a chance you'll be blindsided by surprises day-of.
Doing this will also give you some solid talking points to keep in mind throughout the evening so you aren’t scrambling for things to discuss over dessert. “Ask your partner if their family has any recent or upcoming travel plans, if they’ve done any home renovations, if there are any work promotions to congratulate, etc," they recommend. "Asking questions shows that you care and that you’re curious!”
Nerves can get the best of you in these situations if you let them, but Tracy Litt, founder of The Litt Factor and certified mindset coach, says to set simple reminders and intentions to keep things in perspective. “Breathe," she advises. "Don't forget to breathe, deeply. Taking deep, intentional breaths before heading into your first meeting, or any time for that matter, interrupts your nervous system and sends oxygen to your brain. It helps calm your mind and drop you into your heart.”
Another helpful exercise is to make a list of 25 of your best qualities. Physically putting pen to paper can be therapeutic, and in this situation, can give you the instant self-esteem infusion you deserve. If you don’t have the time for list-making, at the very least, give yourself a pep talk before you head out the door. If you feel nervous, tell yourself you’re excited instead. “Did you know that your body physiologically doesn't know the difference between nervousness and excitement?" Litt adds. "All the physiological symptoms are the same — heart beats fast, palms get sweaty, butterflies in the belly, knees feel weak. The only difference is what your mind is telling your body is happening. So, stop saying, ‘I'm so nervous’, because you will then be more nervous. Instead say, ‘I'm so excited!’ Then you will be ... excited!”
Don’t Show Up Empty-Handed
This one is self-explanatory, but goes back to the initial point of advance communication with your partner. Find out what the family likes and bring along a thank-you present — the thoughtfulness and attention to detail will be much appreciated. Think about when someone comes to your home for the first time, and how you feel when they show up with something as an offering of gratitude. Bringing a small gift as a token of your appreciation for their hospitality is polite, kind, and shows you’re in the holiday spirit. Tufvesson and Lewis suggest wine or flowers as perfectly acceptable safe options, noting that you could even take it a step further and get something that aligns with their hobbies or interests, i.e. a baking set from Williams Sonoma if a family member has a knack for homemade pie or a gardening kit if the host has a green thumb.
There may be things that you and your partner are comfortable with at home (i.e. emailing at dinner, throwing your jacket on the chair when you walk in, casually using curse words in conversation) but these are 100 percent things to avoid when meeting the parents for the first time. Be mindful of your surroundings, use your best judgement, and when in doubt, go the extra mile. “Offer to clear the table and do the dishes,” The Bevy Founders suggest. “Chances are, the family might be hosting quite a few people and it’s absolutely the right thing to do, no matter how much of a food coma you’re in. Suck it up and scrub that china clean!”
Litt also urges to go device-free for the duration of the event. “Put your smartphone down," she says. "If you are holding your phone or have it in front of you when meeting someone or when spending time with people you care about, you are sending the message that they aren’t your priority.” This is a major no-no, especially when trying to make a good first impression.
Staying off your phone will help you to stay in tune with what’s going on around you, that way you won’t miss a beat. Instead of scrolling Instagram during lulls in the meal, make a point to compliment the chef.
Confidence Is Key
“Look them in the eyes and give them a big, beautiful smile upon meeting them,” Litt says with enthusiasm. Confidence and authenticity are essential to success. Staying true to yourself shows your partner's family how great you are and why he or she fell in love with you in the first place.
“You don’t need to mold yourself into a version you think they might want you to be,” Tufvesson and Lewis add. “Chances are they will think your differences are unique and completely welcomed. So feel able to embrace your true self!” One caveat here is to avoid touchy subjects when you can, particularly around religion or politics. Even if safe or surface conversation might (secretly) bore you to tears, it’s better than getting into any kind of heated debate or argument.
Litt concludes, “Be yourself and wear what you feel confident in. You want to look nice, but don’t dress up or be overly formal if that isn’t who you are. Confidence is the most attractive thing anyone can wear. People meet your energy before they meet you, so after following the pointers above, they’ll be like a moth to a flame.”