The Rules: Meeting the Parents
DO enjoy yourself
You're awesome! You'll do just fine! Why wouldn't they love you? Well…just in case, here are some Do's and Dont's.
DO bring a gift
Never underestimate the power of a present, says psychologist Michelle Golland. “Parents want to feel respected for their position.” Ask your guy for suggestions (olive oil if they like to cook, a bottle of wine if they entertain) and stay between $15-$35. You don't want it to seem like an outright bribe. Plus, thoughtfulness trumps flashiness.
DON'T go in blindlyPrep for the meeting as you would a job interview: Dig around a little and get to know the parents before you even get there. “Get a sense of the family culture,” suggests Sara Sharnoff, a dating consultant in Boston. “Ask your guy: Do they shake hands or hug? Should I address them as 'Mr. and Mrs.' or by their first names?” Let your guy fill you in on their likes and dislikes so you can prep a few ice-breakers (and avoid touchy topics). And if you're planning an extended visit, discuss your parameters with him first. “It's okay to request that he not leave you alone with them,” says Miami-based therapist Lisa Paz.
DO consider it a first date
“Be yourself, but with boundaries,” says relationship expert Vondie Lozano. Channel the “you” on your resume and refrain from dressing sexily or sloppily. “The goal,” says Dr. Golland, “is to win them over and make them wish you would end up as their daughter-in-law.” Even if you don't hear wedding bells yet, it's better to have them from the get-go than have to win them over later.
DON'T stress about the others
Maybe they were completely enamored with one of his ex-girlfriends. Maybe he's brought home every girl since junior high and this meeting isn't a big deal. It doesn't matter! And don't ask -- whatever the answer, you don't want to know. Relax and let the encounter unfold. “He loves you. They love him. Assume you're going in with odds in your favor,” says Dr. Lozano.
DO read the future
Scoping out your guy with his folks can clue you in about what kind of father he'll become down the road. Is the conversation strained and forced, or natural and flowing? Do they know every detail of his routine, or do they have lots of catching up to do? “You can learn about his style of partnering or parenting by seeing how his parents interact and treat him; and how connected (or not) he is to them,” says Dr. Lozano.
DON'T ignore the red flags
If they are outwardly cold, they might be setting a barricade for a reason. Is your boyfriend's mom openly hostile, dismissive and uninterested in getting to know you? Does his dad bring up his ex? There could be some major family issues that you are walking into. It could also mean “they've been through this before, they've seen so many girls come and go that they don't want to make an effort at all,” says Dr. Golland. If you get a bad vibe, don't ignore it. Investigate and ask some questions…when you get home!
DON'T try to one-up 'em
Sure, you're madly in love and are connected (by tongue or text) every second of the day. He's your soul mate and your best friend. But before you correct his mother on whether he takes lemon in his Coke, hold your tongue. “Families can be territorial,” says Dr. Paz. “Even if you're intensely in love and you spend every waking minute together, they feel like they've got years on you.” Yes, you know him intimately; but don't lord it over the ones who changed his diapers.
“Keep it old-school,” says Sharnoff. Respect your elders and be as lady-like as possible. No need to squelch your personality, but keep it low-key and take a backseat. Follow their cues and give them the chance to kick-start the conversation. Enjoy the view from this new “window” into your guy.
Sit on your hands if you have to; just keep them off your man. “It will only cause them to wonder if you and their baby are having sex and using protection,” says Dr. Golland. “Remember: Be mature, gracious and classy.” Parents aren't (usually) clueless about their baby boys growing up, but sometimes they don't like it flashed in their face. Behave with the utmost decorum.
DO notice how he treats you
Be prepared. He may revert to his teenage self when he's with his parents. As long as he isn't so busy being a brat that he forgets about you, you should cut him slack. But, if he becomes distant or mean to you, you've got a problem. “It's important to see how he treats you with them,” says Dr. Lozano. “Does he take good care of you while you're in unfamiliar territory? Does he run interference for you? Does he explain any 'inside' traditions or jokes?” Family ties are important, but treating you well is equally so.
This isn't the time to blurt out a “TMI” tidbit, air your dirty laundry or drop bombs on him (I'm moving/I'm drunk/I'm pregnant). “Don't do anything to add to the stress of an already stressful event,” says Dr. Lozano. If you feel as though you over-shared, shift the focus back to them.
DO keep smiling…and breathing
Even if you want to roll your eyes or gag or scream (“Of course I can touch it! I made it!”), keep your cool and smile. “No sour faces, no pinching under the table, no jabs under the belt,” says Dr. Paz. To combat stress, Sharnoff recommends deciding on a code word if things get tense or awkward. Deliberate breathing (four counts inhaling, six counts exhaling) will also help calm you down.
DON'T let them bully you
Remember the Golden Rule, says Paz: “People love to talk about themselves.” If you are feeling like you're in the hot seat, turn the tables. Ask how they met, where they're from, how their families are doing. “You don't want them to think you're hiding something,” says Dr. Lozano. “Just say, 'Oh, enough about me…'” and they'll be so happy to be talking about themselves that they won't even notice you pulled a fast one. If the story of how you met entails excessive partying or drinking (“I was really wasted and we started kissing…”), work with your guy beforehand to develop a sanitized version.
DON'T pick on your “mutual friend”
“Swapping stories about him can be tempting, but be careful not to gang up on him,” says Dr. Lozano. His parents might urge you to spill (“He never tells us anything…”) but spare them (and him) the details of his latest pratfall. “It's tempting to sell him out to score points. But remember it's him you'll leave with. If you embarrass him, he'll never want you to meet him again,” Dr. Lozano says. Try to pinpoint other things, besides him, that you have in common.
DO enjoy yourself
Remember, says Dr. Lozano, “this is just the 'first date.' They're nervous, too.” If you don't hit it off right away, don't despair. Maybe they're shy or need more time to warm up. Maybe they had an off day. Or, maybe they're pinching themselves over their little boy meeting the right woman.