Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ask Me Anything: Meet The Parents

In case you are new here, Ask Me Anything is a feature on this site where I field reader questions to the best of my ability. The questioners get moderately useful information, and I get out of thinking up my own topic for one day, and get to act like a total know-it-all. So everybody wins. Email your own burning questions to, or leave a comment on the site, and I will do my best to relieve the burning. For today's installment, we hear from reader Stephanie.

Hi Lily,
I love your blog and have a burning question to which I cannot find a solid answer online.
Here's the situation: I'm meeting my boyfriend's parents for the first time. Scary. They live out of town, so it is a flight for us there and we will be staying with them for the weekend. Could you possibly do a column with some advice for this case? What is a nice gift to bring (that travels well to boot) without it looking like I tried too hard?
Any advice you could offer would be greatly appreciated!
Thanks so much,

Dear Stephanie,
I feel your jitters- there are few experiences in this world as nerve-wracking as the first time you meet a boyfriend or girlfriend's parents! Countless sitcoms (and more than a couple of very funny movies) have plumbed the topic- exploring the worst-case scenarios, and freaking people out the world over. But, while it is a momentous occasion (after all, if all goes well, these could be your children's grandparents), meeting mom and pop doesn't have to be a terrorizing experience, and can actually be a lot of fun. And if you're as lucky as I am, you might just end up with a couple of really wonderful new friends.
But don't worry, even if it isn't an immediate love connection between you and the folks, you will most definitely be able to find some things you like or admire about his parents. After all, these are the people who raised the man you love, right? And the good news is that they will most likely be coming into this a little nervous about meeting you, too.

Here are some things to keep in mind while you're there:

Come Bearing Gifts: You have the right idea about showing up with a gift. Your boyfriend should be able to help you out on this by telling you what they like- for example, if they are into cooking, the latest gadget from Sur La Table, personalized aprons or a cookbook is nice. If they like gardening, try some cute his-and-hers gardening gloves or a pretty potted plant (delivered ahead of time), or, if they are oenophiles, a pretty silver wine stopper or monogrammed coasters are nice. A gift that shows that you have asked about them gives you an easy way to get them talking about their passions, and shows you care. If your boyfriend doesn't provide any inspiration, you can't go wrong with a gift basket of gourmet foods from Dean & DeLuca (or local specialties from your town). I'd avoid anything decorative until you get a look at their house and know their tastes. And don't forget to send a sweet thank-you note after it's all over telling them what a wonderful time you had (even if it was like 48 painful hours of dental surgery).
Live By Their Rules: Sleep where they tell you to- a couple of nights in separate beds won't kill you. If they take their shoes off in the house, you do it, too. If you're allergic to their beloved Siamese, take a Claritin, grab a tissue, and power through it and (unless you actually get hives or something) and try not to complain- it's just a couple nights. Keep your room tidy, make your bed every morning, and don't spend 45 minutes in the shower.
Do What They Want To Do: You're there to spend time with his folks- don't try to impose your own timeline or demands on them. Eat when and where they want to eat, watch the hockey game they want to watch, and just go along with it when his mom insists on showing you twenty photo albums of your beau in his Urkel phase. Be a good sport, smile and laugh, and you may find you're actually having a good time. There are limits, though: If you're a vegetarian, you certainly don't have to choke down a rib-eye - just take a bigger helping of mashed potatoes and be gracious about it.
Cut Him Some Slack: Something about stepping into their parent's house can transform the most mature, successful man into a whiny and moody tween. Bite your tongue when he lets his mom do his laundry or bring him beers on the couch. Respect that he's probably nervous too, and realize you aren't going to win any points with his parents by nagging or berating him in front of them (you can give him hell for not telling them that you're a vegetarian when you get home).
Be Helpful: Offer to set or clear the table or help however you can. Since I mostly see my in-laws around holidays, I actually love cooking and doing dishes with my mother-in-law, since that's where we get to really chat and catch up in all the hustle and bustle. But if they insist you sit down and stop helping, don't push your help on them- they might take it the wrong way.
Be Polite, But Not Stiff. When in doubt use the "Mr. and Mrs." until they instruct you otherwise (but once they tell you to, do use their first names). They want to get to know what you're like- don't get shy or clam up completely in their presence. Feel free to crack a joke or two (or at least a smile), and tell them about yourself. But don't be too hard on yourself if you aren't perfect. The first time I met my in-laws, I talked non-stop through dinner, then forgot my bag under the table when we left and had to go back to the restaurant to get it. So they learned pretty quickly what a spazz I am, and, happily, they seem to like me anyway.

Honestly, Stephanie, the fact that you even had the consideration to write this question shows me that you have nothing to worry about- relax and be yourself, you're going to be just fine!

photo credit: via Song of the Exile


Allie-Chat said...

Wonderful column, Lil, and terrific question. Just a quick note: I adore finding presents for people and I often bring a framed photograph of the person I'm dating to their parents. Even a nice picture frame will do if you're sans a photograph. Almost everyone needs a picture frame, right?

Julia said...

Hey -- I just found this because you used my photo, but I too am a housewife. I mean, I'm a writer too but in the meanwhile I'm pretty much a housewife; a 27-year-old, cooking, cleaning, crafting, sewing, you-name-it-housewife. Pleased to meet you. :)


Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.