A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

Meet the Parents: 13 Tiny Acts to Make Them Love You

With the holidays approaching, introductions to your significant other's family may be on the calendar. Yes, it can be a daunting experience but there are tricks to make meeting the parents less intimidating. We've curated some tips from relationship experts to make your sweetheart's family just as smitten with you as your partner is.


Make a good first impression

It’s been said that first impressions are lasting. “First impressions are everything from the first date to meeting the parents for the first time,” says Amanda Rose, a relationship expert and professional matchmaker in Louisville, Kentucky. But don’t let that make you sweat; making a good first impression is relatively easy. “To make a great first impression when meeting the parents I suggest being friendly. Smile and introduce yourself, engage in conversation, and genuinely ask questions to get to know them,” she says. What if his parents remain aloof? “Sometimes parents can be hard to engage with but it might just take time to break the shell. Remain friendly and engaging, when they see that you genuinely want to get to know them it should become a great ice breaker.”


Dress for success

According to an article in Vogue, striking that perfect balance isn’t easy—you don’t want to be too dressy, and yet sloppy definitely isn’t the way to go. Vogue suggests the effect should be pared-back and polished, while embracing your own sense of style. “Don’t opt for a look that is too fancy,” wrote Chelsea Zalopany, Vogue.com market editor. “You don’t want it to read: ‘I’m trying so hard! Accept me and love me, Mom and Dad,’ but not too casual, which says, ‘I could care less about this meeting and your approval.” Depending on the occasion and location, you generally can’t go wrong with your favorite pair of jeans, button-down shirt and sweater, and tasteful jewelry.


Find common ground

Vassilis Dalakas, PhD, professor of marketing at California State University in San Marcos, California says the key to being likable is through finding common ground. “People like others when they have similarities with them, even when they are random like sharing a birthday month or favorite color,” Dalakas says. “So, in the case of meet the parents, a wise approach would be to highlight similarities: ‘You like seafood? I love seafood, too.'” He does caution to not bring up differences. “When meeting your potential future in-laws, it may be wise to notice if there are some crucial differences, because this may be a red flag regarding likely conflicts down the road,” Dalakas adds. Not sure how to start the small talk? Try these conversation starters that instantly make you seem interesting.


Do your homework

Advance preparation is the most important thing you can do before visiting a date’s family. “Talk with your partner about his or her family, and ask for helpful hints on how to deal with them,” Tina B. Tessina, PhD, a psychotherapist and author of How to Be Happy Partners: Working it Out Together. “Ask about their habits and hobbies, and get a little informed about whatever they like.” Discover and use the habits of naturally charming people.


Mind your manners

Be pleasant, cheerful and respectful, watch your language and tone, don’t drink alcohol excessively, and take cues from your partner and their family. “The best thing you can do is act the way they do as much as possible,” says Tessina. “If someone says or does something odd or difficult; just politely ignore what they’re doing or saying, and maintain a pleasant demeanor.” She adds that after you get to know them, you can relax a little more and be more yourself but don’t assume that the comfort level will be like your own family. “Don’t assume that family relationship will resemble the one in your family. Don’t expect everything to be fine right away, it may take some time to get comfortable. Don’t take offense easily, you may just not understand the family dynamic,” Tessina adds. Check out these tips for turning an awkward conversation around.


Learn about family customs or traditions

Check with your date about family customs and show interest in learning about them. Tessina advises to be open-minded and interested in their ways. “Don’t criticize your partner’s family. Rather, ask for explanations of the things you don’t understand,” she continues.


Bring a gift

Bringing a gift is thoughtful and demonstrates that you appreciate their hospitality. According to Town and Country, no matter how big or small the gift is the gesture is elegant. “If it is a formal dinner bring a bottle of wine (unless parents do not drink), a lovely cheese spread, darling little floral arrangement, or something sweet,” the article suggests.


Offer to help

If eating at home be sure to offer to help; this gesture can go a long way. “Offer to pitch in. Sure, you may be a guest at first, but offering to help shows initiative and good manners. For example, help clear the table and do dishes after a meal,” says Lori Ben-Ezra, PhD, a South Florida clinical psychologist.


Don’t hang on your partner

When meeting your love interest’s parents, don’t hang on your S.O., sit on his lap, or offer suggestive banter. Not only can it be distasteful, it can be offensive. “At first, limit PDAs. Sure, we parents have an idea of what’s going on, but we don’t want visual details. Show affection in other ways,” adds Dr. Ben-Ezra.


Talk up their child

Keep messaging positive and praise your partner. Parents only want to hear positive. “Show me that you care and respect my child,” continues Dr. Ben-Ezra. “I want to see that you understand her and respect her interests and accomplishments.”


Keep it real

Turn down the phoniness, says relationship expert Audrey Hope, based in Brentwood, Califronia. “Remind yourself not to come off needy and wanting to be liked too much,” she says. “This is the worst thing you can do. Parents will see right through this and be afraid that their child is with someone who has very low self-esteem.”


Be easy to please

Hope says if your first meeting with the parents involves food at their home or at a restaurant you may not love, be sure to eat whatever is served and don’t make a big deal out of the meal. “Basically now is not the time to be finicky and picky. It’s only one meal so suck it up and be considerate,” Hope says.


Watch body language

Body language will impact a first impression. According to an article in Forbes, everything from your posture to the way you carry yourself, to the way you’re angling our body can affect someone’s impression of you. “Subconscious cues to keep in mind include noticing where you point your feet, the position of your shoulders, and the way you shake hands,” the article cites. Other tips include maintain eye contact, don’t fidget or slouch and try not to yawn.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Erica Lamberg
Erica Lamberg is an experienced travel and business writer based in suburban Philadelphia. Specializing in family travel, cruise experiences, and tips for enriching and affordable vacations. Beyond travel, Erica writes about personal finance, health and parenting topics. Her writing credits include Reader’s Digest, USA Today, Parents Magazine, Oprah Magazine and U.S. News & World Report. Her favorite city is Paris and she dreams about visiting Greece and Israel. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland at College Park and is married with two children.