Meet The Parents

So, you’re ready to introduce your new sweetie to the folks — but he or she doesn’t share your family’s religious beliefs? Here, we offer wise advice for interfaith couples celebrating the holidays together.

By Mike Bruno

hings are getting serious with the special someone you’ve been seeing, and you’re finally ready to introduce your new crush to Mom and Dad. The problem? Perhaps your sister was practically disowned for bringing a Catholic guy into your parents’ Jewish home, and well, your date also happens to be of the Christmas-celebrating persuasion. Or maybe you’re from a devout Muslim family and your sweetie is spiritual in a loose
Talk to your parents about the religious difference before the initial meeting.
sense of the word. You’ve decided that if it’s not a problem for you, it shouldn’t be one for your folks.

But how do you handle that potentially tense meeting of your sweetie and your parents? In the interest of avoiding a religious roadblock (and a weird mid-dinner discussion about the Old Testament versus the New), here are a few things you can do to make the meeting go as smoothly as possible.

1. Make the first move.
Talk to your parents about the religious difference before the initial meeting. If you wait and let your folks find out for the first time over an “Isn’t he great?” dinner with the family, you run the risk of a reaction that will leave you feeling attacked and getting defensive. Give them time to let the religious difference sink in so they can get over any initial knee-jerk reaction. That way, the first meeting will be much more pleasant for everyone. “How you go about bringing it up depends on the parent,” says Rev. Tami Coyne, interfaith minister and author of The Spiritual Chicks Question Everything: Learn to Risk, Release, and Soar. “If your father is the kind of person who’s only going to care that your date is not Catholic, then you have to bring that up right away. But I think many parents are only concerned that your date is a good person and will be the kind of person they can get behind, so start by explaining that.”

2. Be strong.
You like this person, right? Don’t let anyone talk you out of it. Inform your parents, but don’t ask their permission. “If you and your date are confident your relationship is getting serious and you are happy with each other, then the matter really is your decision and not the parents,” Coyne says. “If they complain or freak out, take a deep breath to get centered and then tell them, ‘I hear what you’re saying, but that doesn’t change how I feel. I hope you’ll respect my decision.’”

3. Be patient.
At the same time, do your best to maintain a loving, non-judgmental tone in the discussion. “Opposing opposition just keeps it going,” Coyne adds. “Usually, parents who are more set in their ways will eventually
Inform your parents, but don’t ask their permission.
melt if the couple shows patience and treats them respectfully and lovingly. It takes time. I have a very good friend who’s gay and Jewish and his father has totally embraced — though it took him a while — his son’s gay, non-Jewish partner. They just had to be sensitive to his father’s needs. Over time, he learned to deal with not only the fact that his son was gay, but also that he was dating a non-Jewish guy. But he has, and now it’s fine.”

4. Do your homework together.
Spend a little time getting your partner up to speed on your family’s faith and culture. Saying “Salaam A’ Leikum” to a Muslim family or “Namaste” to a Hindu person is always a welcome gesture, and it shows your parents that although your sweetheart is different, he or she is open-minded and cares enough about you to make an effort. It can also help avoid an embarrassing faux pas. “For example, there are certain rules in Kosher homes, like not mixing dairy with meat and using separate plates,” says Rev. Susanna Stefanachi Macomb, an interfaith minister and author of Joining Hands and Hearts: Interfaith, Intercultural Wedding Celebrations — A Practical Guide for Couples. “Sometimes, knowing what not to do is as important as knowing what to do.”

5. Find common ground.
Talk with your special someone about your parents — their jobs, their hobbies, their backgrounds — so that you can find interests that your date and your parents share. “This way, they might be able to strike up a conversation about something they have in common or they may be interested to hear more about each other,” Macomb says. At the very least, it will help your date be able to push through any awkward lulls in conversation during a first meeting. Remember, if you and your sweetie are comfortable, relaxed and loving toward one another, chances are your parents will feel comfortable as well.

Mike Bruno writes about dating and relationships for Glamour. Raised Catholic, he’s pretty sure he’s been to temple more times with his wife and her family than he ever went to church with his.
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