Weekend At The Parents

Visiting your new sweetie’s parents this summer? Here’s how to survive a couple of days with his (or her) family.

By Erika Rasmusson Janes

ong holiday weekends often mean one thing—a trip home for a relaxing mini-vacation. So if your significant other suggests that you join him (or her) for a few days of backyard barbequing and outdoor fun with the family this summer, consider the following “meet the parents” survival tips:

Be prepared
You need to know what you’re getting into, so ask your mate to describe a typical family weekend—and grill him for specifics.
Tone down the touchy-feely behavior in their presence.
Is it OK to sleep late and grab cereal for breakfast in your PJs? Or are you expected to be up, showered and dressed by 8 a.m. for a full breakfast buffet? If in doubt, err on the conservative side, says Lisa Altalida, author of Dating Boot Camp: Conquering the Dating Obstacle Course. Be fully dressed and downstairs at a reasonable hour, and then follow the family lead.

Arrive bearing gifts
When Christine Xenakis, 25, of Somerset, NJ, visited her boyfriend’s parents for the first time, she anticipated awkwardness—after all, she was 12 years younger than her man. To help make a good impression, she arrived at the family brunch with a homemade breakfast cake. “It went over really well,” she says. “It gave us something to talk about, his father loves to eat, and it was a more personal touch than bringing something store-bought.” Whatever you bring, it shouldn’t be too expensive. After all, you don’t want to look like you’re trying to buy their affection. And ask your mate what’s appropriate: You wouldn’t want to bring wine to a family of teetotalers or an ultramodern vase to a home decorated in chintz.

Go with the flow
Remember this: You’re a guest in their home, and you’re there to make a good impression. So participate in whatever’s going on, advises Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., author of The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again. “If they’re all playing touch football, don’t sit around being a party pooper. At least offer to keep score or refill their beverages.” If his mom is cooking, ask if you can help. Even if you don’t know your way around the kitchen, make it a learning experience. “Give yourself something to do, and you’ll be at ease much more quickly,” Dr. Tessina adds.

Channel your inner Barbara Walters
Ask his parents questions. Lots of them, “even if you think they’re rather boring,” advises Christine Hassler, a life, relationship and career coach and author of Twenty-Something, Twenty-Everything. Most people love talking about themselves, and it takes the focus off of you. So ask his mom when she started collecting Hummel figurines or how his dad got interested in nature photography. Equally effective is asking to hear stories about your mate. “Parents go ga-ga over talking about their kid when he or she was a child,” Hassler says.

Forget about a slumber party
Depending on your date’s parents’ values, sharing a bedroom may be verboten. So even if you and your honey have been shacking up for
Good old-fashioned etiquette can win over the parents…
months, prepare to follow their rules. “I’m from the South, and my mom would die if I asked to sleep in the same room as my boyfriend,” says Altalida. You can tackle the issue gracefully by immediately asking, ‘Where should I put my things?” If they direct you to his little sister’s room, well, there you go.

Cut the kissy-kissy behavior
You’re in love and you want the world — or at least his family — to know it. But just as sharing a bedroom isn’t always appropriate, being too huggy and kissy may not sit well either, says Altalida. So if you’re normally a PDA-prone couple and his parents are separate-bedroom types, temporarily tone down the cuddling in their presence.

Create a safety word
Her mom is grilling you about when you’re going to get engaged or her dad is launching into yet another story about his daughter’s ex—the one he hoped would become a son-in-law. If you’re stuck in an uncomfortable conversation, Altalida suggests having an agreed-upon safety word that will alert your date that you need some help (other than “HELP!”). Make it something that doesn’t sound too bizarre but that wouldn’t normally come up in conversation, like “water” (i.e., “Do you mind if I run into the kitchen for a glass of water?”). Your date can then intervene on your behalf.

Plot your escape
We’re not kidding! Plan in advance to get some sanity-saving “me” time at some point during your stay. “Talk to your mate beforehand about how you can get a break without offending the family,” says Dr. Tessina. “Your date can prompt that by saying, ‘You know, you really need to go check out the park down the street’ or something.” If that’s not possible, hit the loo. “The bathroom is the American sacred retreat,” Dr. Tessina says. If you excuse yourself to go to the bathroom at an awkward moment or when you simply need a few minutes alone, no one will ever question it.

Give thanks
If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that old-fashioned etiquette will win over Mom and Dad. So don’t forget the thank-you note. Whenever Jessica Hayward, 22, of Tempe, AZ, visited her then-boyfriend’s family, she’d pack a thank-you card in her bag. “Right before we left, I would fill out the card saying how much I appreciated them and what a wonderful time we had,” she says. “I would make sure to leave it somewhere where they would find it after. It made a very good impression with his parents.”

Erika Rasmusson Janes is a New York–based freelance writer whose work has appeared in Good Housekeeping, Modern Bride and Redbook.
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