My family is pretty rowdy. We're loud, we don't really dress up, and if awkward stories, teasing, and foul language aren't your thing, we're the wrong party to crash. Conversation topics for meeting the parent and meeting the family for the first time might include pubic hairstyles, our crazy cousin, or why any of us are idiots. I'm not saying we're trashy, exactly, but we're definitely more beer than champagne, if you catch my drift.
My wife's family, on the other hand, is like the family that comes with the picture frame. They're always kind, always well-dressed. Their homes are always clean. They're good Christians. It's rare to hear a swear word and even the teasing is done with kindness. Needless to say, my bawdy atheist upbringing has me shaking in my boots that I'm going to say something offensive to the nicest people on the planet every time I step foot in their doors.
I love them, but more importantly, I love my wife. Making a good impression on her family is extremely important to me. That being said, I've picked up some good tips for finding common ground and even bonding with people who aren't like me at all. If you're meeting your partner's family for the first time this holiday season, I hope these tips serve you well. If my socially awkward self can do it, I have every confidence in you.
1. Your Partner
The only people in the world who might be able to match your love for your partner are his or her family members. "His [or her] 'rents want to see that you adore their boy [or girl] as much as they do." according to Amary Wiggin in an article for Cosmopolitan. So talk him or her up whenever you get the chance.
2. The Meal & Decor
If you're at a holiday party, odds are, the hosts put a ton of work into everything from dusting to decorating to dinner. Point out the small touches as well as the big, obvious gestures to show that you're paying attention and that all that hard work isn't lost on you.
Everyone does something, even if it's not traditional work, so the topic of how his or her family members spend their time is a great mine to dig. It helps you learn what they care about and what they're interested in. Just be a little conservative at the first meeting. For example, I told my in-laws I used to work at a doctor's office, not Planned Parenthood, and that I wrote about gardening and not about vaginas (I actually did write about both). Best to tread lightly in the beginning.
4. Light Topics
If you feel the conversation steer toward religion, politics, or sex, either find a way to steer it back to something more neutral or just quietly observe. If you're like me, and you can't keep your mouth shut when certain topics come up (re: gay rights, racism, reproductive choice), then excuse yourself to the restroom instead of engaging in a shouting match with your partner's Catholic grandma about your uterus."If you tend to be a naturally open person, although that may be part of your personality, you might want to tone it down for the first meeting," according to Sarah Casimong in an article for Her Campus.
I know. But sometimes it's the right thing to do. You don't want to ruin the day.
5. The Family Photos
This is one of my best tips. You can thank me later. Asking about the family members displayed in your partner's parents' home is a great way to show interest in his or her heritage. Plus, it's really interesting. I learned my wife's extended family and killed an hour of small talk by asking about the family photos and everyone felt closer as a result. Win.
6. The Family Traditions
If there's a chance you'll be joining the family, you'll want to show that you're willing and able to adapt to how they do things. This is of specific importance if your partner's family is from a different culture, religious background, or ethnicity, according to Casimong.
And be willing to participate, if you're comfortable. I always pray before meals with my wife's family, even though I was raised without religion. It's not a big deal and it gives me a moment to process my gratitude for having such wonderful in-laws.
7. How You Can Help
Helping out is just good manners, and every parent wants a potential new son or daughter with manners. Even if you're positive they'll say no, ask the people in the kitchen if they need help with anything. Help clear the table after the meal. Offer to clear the snow off of the front walk so grandma doesn't slip. Take the trash out on your way to the car. Just offer to do something.
8. How To Do Or Make Something
If you loved a particular dish or really admired the DIY napkin rings, ask for the recipe or instructions. The person who made the dish or craft will be flattered that their hard work was appreciated. Bonus: You'll have something to talk about next time if you actually attempt the project. And an excuse to call for advice or tips.
9. When In Doubt: Just Say Something
I've been both the too-loud girl and the too-quiet girl at family gatherings. I can promise you, people would rather you talk and say something a little off than have you not talk at all. Staying quiet doesn't make you seem shy, but standoffish and uninterested."You don't want to be so quiet that nobody notices that you're around, but you don't want to blurt out your opinion every five seconds either," according to All Women's Talk contributor Mercy.
These topics should be more than enough to get you through your first meeting. And, if I may offer one final piece of advice, it is this: Skip the PDA. No parent wants to see his or her child wrestle with anyone's tongue. Just trust me on this one.
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