Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and while this holiday may mean family reunions and delicious meals for most, for those of you in new relationships, it may mean the dreaded meeting of the parents.
If you’ve invited your new boo to your family dinner this year or they’ve invited you to theirs, you might be, to put it lightly, freaking the f*** out!
Meeting a partner’s parents for the first time is stressful, and the pressure to keep a conversation running smoothly with your potential in-laws can often be enough to have you freezing up instead of chatting up.
The good news? Here at Plenty of Fish, we’ve come up with some foolproof dinner party convo do’s and don’ts that will have you impressing the parents in no time.
DO – Compliment the heck out of their meal and decor, and be willing to try new foods or experiences
Anyone who has hosted a Thanksgiving dinner knows how much work is put into making the experience great for all the guests – acknowledge this! On top of a general “everything looks amazing, thank you for doing all of this,” pick one or two specific things you really love about the meal and go out of your way to compliment these as well. Specific, genuine, compliments can go a long way and can even help spark conversation (ie asking about a recipe)
Additionally, different families come from different cultures, backgrounds, and religions. There’s a good chance that your partner’s family may have a specific tradition, custom, or dish that is important to them. Being open and accepting of these things will mean a lot to the family, and gives you an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about what they care about.
DON’T – Mention the differences between their holiday traditions and yours
Something as harmless as “my family always has meatballs with our dinner because they’re my favourite” can give the wrong impression, and make your hosts feel like their dinner was lacking. It’s best to stay away from how your own traditions differ from theirs unless you’re asked directly.
DO – Ask questions about their careers
Everyone enjoys discussing the things they are most passionate about – especially if they have worked very hard in their careers. Ask your partner ahead of time what their parents do, and whether or not they enjoy it, and show some genuine interest in learning about their line of work. If one of the parents doesn’t work, be sure to ask about their favourite hobbies instead so they still feel included in the conversation.
DON’T – Ask questions about their political stance or religious views
Politics and religion open the flood gates to a whole slew of hot topics that people tend to feel very passionate about. Although these topics might lead to a productive conversation much later in your relationship, it’s almost never a good idea to discuss religion or politics at the first meeting. If you feel the conversation starting to steer towards this danger zone, quickly change the topic, or have your partner change the topic to something lighter, like pop culture.
DO – Talk up your partner to his/her parents
There’s truly nothing parents love more than hearing how wonderful their child is. One simple compliment about how well you’re treated, or how smart your partner is, can open the doors to a conversation that can take up a lot of time. It might make your new boyfriend or girlfriend cringe, but it’s a very safe topic that will always make everyone feel good.
DON’T – Mention any big news your partner may not have shared with the family yet
Be careful about oversharing on behalf of your new partner. Some people tell their parents everything, and some are much more private. Make sure you get a good lay of the land of what’s off-limits to the parents to avoid some serious awkwardness. Things like a change of job, moving, or specific lifestyle choices may seem harmless or even exciting to you, but could spark some weird vibes with the rest of the family if it’s news they’re only hearing for the first time.
DO – Find out any shared interests you might have with your partner’s parents ahead of time, then use those as conversation starters
Knowing what hobbies or interests your potential new in-laws might share with you is a really easy way to bond while keeping the conversation light. A personal favourite of mine is to discuss shows you’ve both watched. After all, nothing bonds two people more than the shared experience of the most heartwrenching Grey’s Anatomy episodes.
DON’T – Let a spirited debate turn into a real debate
It’s one thing to playfully argue over whether or not you liked the ending to Dexter, and another to let a light discussion about your shared interest in rock climbing turn into a who’s better situation. Avoid your conversation taking this route by focusing on what aspects of an activity you enjoy, or how it makes you feel, rather than what you’ve completed or how much you’ve accomplished.
DO – Wait to be prompted to talk about yourself
This might be controversial advice, but when meeting parents for the first time I always advise to air on the side of caution. Realistically, they will ask you about yourself, so providing information unprompted, especially if it’s about career success, could make you appear self-interested.
DON’T – Be afraid to open up a little
I know, I know, I’m giving you mixed messages now. The advice here though is to take the opening you’re given and not shy away from offering up some information about yourself. Despite all the niceties, your partner’s family will want to get to know you. If you’re stuck for where to start, talk about what makes you happy (ie work, hobbies, family etc). As a parent of someone dating someone new, it’s always comforting to hear that persons’ interests and goals.
Now that you have your conversations down, here are two pre-party tips to set you up for success:
- Make sure to get a good idea of the dinner vibe so you can dress appropriately. Nothing feels more awkward than showing up somewhere feeling either very overdressed or very underdressed.
- Instead of bringing something generic as a gift/token of gratitude, ask your partner what their parents prefer. Bringing their favourite wine, baking their favourite dessert, or even knowing they’re allergic to flowers and opting for something allergen-friendly can skyrocket your first impression as soon as you walk in the door!
Finally, Keep in mind that you can have all the advice in the world, but you can only control your own actions. Nobody’s family is the same, so it’s best to head to dinner with an open mind and an empty stomach. You got this!