The two of you are going to your (or his) family's home for the upcoming holiday. How can you make the most of your time with the family?
"Would you please pass the turkey?" your boyfriend whispers in your ear, leaning over in his black turtleneck sweater. "He's so cute," you overhear your sister telling your mom. "We're excited to hear more about the study abroad program you're doing next year," your dad says to your boyfriend.
It's only been a week since he agreed to join you for Thanksgiving, and you're already imagining what it's going to be like to connect the most important relationships in your life. While you're hoping for the best, you're also a little anxious that it may be a flop. What if they don't like each other? What will that do to your relationship with each?
How can you make the most of this visit?
If You're the Host:
Ask permission. Casually adding people to the holiday guest list is no less a faux pas just because it's your parents. Be considerate of the dynamics and let them know in advance that you'd like to bring a date. Then ask them if that's OK. (On the off chance they say no, you may want to dig a little to find out why. Are they opposed to a visit from this person in particular, or just not up for company? If it's the former, don't ignore it. Parents have the ability to see things we often can't when we're in the fog of love.)
Plan ahead. When you and your parents agree on things in advance, there are fewer surprises. Take time before you arrive to map out the visit: everything from where you'll sleep (separate rooms, of course), what activities you'll do, what old friends you'll visit and what downtime everyone may need. And be flexible. A last minute change of plans may prove to be the highlight of the trip.
Prepare your date. The first time Steve took me to his parents' house, he prepped me with a humorous look at life in the South. He also spent a lot of the drive time talking about his family, including the nature of his bed-ridden grandmother's illness, and what I might expect when we arrived. Both helped to prepare me emotionally and ease my nerves.
Stop and think about your family from a newcomer's perspective. Are there things you consider routine that may be a surprise for someone new? It's best to prep him, while remaining respectful toward your family, about what he'll encounter.
Be the fun captains. Instead of just showing up for a visit with a long list of expectations, develop a "cruise director" mentality. Get online together and research the fun family activities in your parents' hometown — and nearby towns. When you approach your visit like tourists, you'll find all kinds of things you may have missed when you were a resident (minor league or university sporting events, museums, symphony performances, town square parades, historical sites, etc.).
Remember traditions. Not only will your date be meeting your family, he'll be introduced to how you uniquely celebrate. In addition to showing him what makes the season special for you and your relatives, ask what things his family does — especially something he might be missing while he's away from his family to be with yours. It may even be something your family can try for the first time — a great way to make him feel welcomed.
If You're the Guest:
Pay attention. You can learn a lot about a man by observing how he acts around his family. Does he respect his parents? Do they treat him like an adult? Does he get along with his siblings and vice versa? It's likely his family will be on their best behavior with you in the house for the first time. If their behavior leaves you wondering if you could really become a member of this clan, remember, it's not likely to get any better.
Don't panic. So what if their behavior is stressing you out? Worse, what if your mature Christian boyfriend suddenly reverts to his 16-year-old self when he gets within a mile of mom's cooking? Before you bolt, try talking it out. Go for a walk. Let him know how you're feeling and see how he responds. It's risky, but if you're honest in a kind and respectful way (keeping in mind that he probably loves his family as much as you do yours), it's a risk worth taking. Chances are, if he's a good man, he'll listen and together you can form a strategy for making the most of what time remains during the visit.
As you weigh the dynamics in his childhood home, remember, an equally stressful immersion likely awaits him when it's his turn to visit your family.
Pitch in. No one likes a houseguest who just sits around waiting to be served. And nothing makes time pass slower in a new and unfamiliar place than just doing nothing. The more you pitch in to help his family, the more likely you'll start to feel like part of the team. Conversations flow a little easier when you're working together on some common task, and if he sees you hitting it off with his mom, grandma or sister, it will help put him at ease, too. Plus, it will give him some space to reconnect with family without feeling like his only task during the visit is entertaining you.
Be yourself. It's a lot easier said than done. But few things are worse than feeling like you have to be someone you're not when you meet his parents. So remember, your sweetheart knows you — the real you — and that's why he loves you. If he's the real deal, he'll want his parents to know the real you, too.
Don't forget to laugh. No matter who's visiting whom, you'll both need to keep your sense of humor. No matter how wonderful your family is, when you observe them through the eyes of someone new, you're bound to see things you never noticed before; not all good. Steve and I both thought our families were darn near perfect — till we started visiting them together. Being able to laugh was a key to getting through some rough spots.
Whether you're the host or the guest, there's a healthy tension to keep in mind when it comes to building relationship with each of your families. Try your best to make a good connection. Seeking the blessing of family on your relationship is a step too many couples fail to value. While it may seem romantic for just the two of you to rush off alone, believing that love always trumps family, in reality, family typically goes on to play a bigger part in a couple's lives than they ever expect — especially when they have children.
While seeking the blessing of your families, however, you don't have to feel bad about not making a perfect connection with them. Remember, if you marry, you'll be creating something new. Genesis describes a man leaving his father and mother and cleaving to his wife as they form a new family.
Enjoy your time together. And let them enjoy you. Alongside a thoughtful thank you gift, the best thing you can bring is grace for the people who gave life to and raised the one you may soon call spouse.
Copyright 2005 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.