Although first impressions aren’t always an accurate representation of who we are, they’re a way for people to create an idea of who they deem us to be. While the holidays are meant for feeling thankful and giving gifts, there can also be some stress that comes with this festive season, especially if you’re meeting your partner’s family for the first time. From wondering how many servings of mashed potatoes you can eat in your tight pants (that took weeks to choose) to worrying how you’ll manage to hold a steady conversation, you don’t want to come overthinking, but you also don’t want to be underprepared. In order to find the perfect balance, here are seven tips for meeting your partner’s family during the holiday season.
1. Learn the family dynamic beforehand
The key to success isn’t knowing the scenario that’s coming, but preparing for any possible one that could form. To gain insight on your partner’s family, ask them questions about their family dynamic. For example, does a parent that has a strict personality, or are there certain topics that should be avoided? Are they a family who jokes around with each other? You shouldn’t feel the need to change your personality to fit with your partner’s family, but the gesture of learning about them in advance will help calm your nerves and help you feel more prepared for what to expect.
- Ask your partner what they think you should know
- Focus on individual family members and begin finding similarities between them and you (for potential conversation starters)
- Don’t feel nosy for wanting to know more information—the fact that you’re trying means you care about your partner
2. Prepare for small talk
Before you set out to rehearse your carefully curated summary of the last three years of your career (and the reasons for why you’re so successful), take a deep breath. Even though it’s a smart idea to have topics in the back of your mind, allow the conversation to flow in a natural direction. Through having open-ended questions at hand, you’ll feel more at ease with the conversations at the dinner table.
- Avoid controversial issues such as politics and religious beliefs
- Have go-to conversation starters when there’s a lull in the conversation, and do not reach for your phone
- Try easy conversation starters like:
- What’s your favorite holiday memory as a child?
- What’s the side dish you can’t live without?
- What’s the last movie you’ve seen?
- Who do you think will win the football game?
3. Be mindful of your attire
There’s a time and place for your sexy mini dress or trendy ripped jeans, but it’s probably not during your partner’s family gathering. We stan self-expression more than anything when it comes to style, but think about what could also be a reason for unnecessary judgements from those who are more traditional. After all, the goal of this celebration is not to be trendy or expressive, but rather to show off your personality while keeping the peace with the family. When it doubt, lean toward the safer side with your outfit this holiday season and make a statement with your personality instead. Go for a classic LBD or trousers and a sweater, and then use simple accessories like a family necklace or colorful earrings to express your style.
- Follow the rule that if you have to question if you should wear it, don’t
- Get opinions from your significant other on outfit options
- Plan your outfit in advance so you’re not stressed out day of
4. Attempt to help out
Although your ability to converse is one that won’t go unnoticed, your gesture to help out is one that’ll make you unforgettable. Whether you ask to pass out the pie or wash the dishes, be on the lookout for ways you can offer a hand and take the opportunity to ask. And if your significant other’s family wants you to feel like a guest and serve you? Don’t continue to insist. After all, the only difference between coming off as helpful instead of hostile is your ability to recognize boundaries.
- Choose only 2-3 tasks to help with (asking to help with everything may come off as too much)
- Consider staying and starting small talk while the family member is doing dishes or finishing the dessert
- Clean up after yourself and be aware of your table manners
5. Respect the family rules
The universal rule of every household? Being under their roof means you’re also under their rules. As a similar concept to knowing the family dynamic, your knowledge on the family rules is just as crucial as your willingness to respect them. Maybe your partner’s family wants you to sleep in separate rooms or to take off your shoes to wear house slippers—rules are rules and how well you follow them matters more than if you agree with them.
- Ask your partner for specific details on the family rules
- Know why these family rules are in place to better understand them
- Make it apparent to the family members that you know the rules if the opportunity arises
6. Bring a gift
You probably wouldn’t show up to a celebration empty-handed, so don’t allow yourself to make this mistake when you attend your partner’s family event. By putting in the extra effort to be thoughtful, you’ll start off on a good foot with his or her family and continue this positive impression as the night goes on. Whether you homemake your signature side dish for everyone to try or opt for a hosting gift like a bottle of wine for a candle, the family will appreciate the extra thought and care that went into the gesture.
- Don’t cook any main dishes to avoid stepping on anyone’s toes
- Ask your partner for gift ideas if you don’t want to bring a typical one
7. Put your phone away
While you probably already know this rule, it’s important enough to be reminded. Your phone is a distraction and your use (or lack thereof) can determine your impression. While it’s a habit to reach for your phone and refresh your timeline, or maybe your go-to in uncomfortable situations is to go to your phone, but avoid this behavior in front of your partner’s family. Instead, stay present at this gathering by zoning in on the conversations and tuning out all other disturbances.
- Leave your phone in your purse
- Try to only check your phone in privacy (like when you go to the bathroom or get to the car)
- Turn off your notifications or your phone altogether
Among all of the tips to impress your partner’s family, the most important one is to simply be yourself. We get it: In between trying to not spill gravy on your modest dress and not spill your life story to your partner’s grandma, the stakes seem high, but your level of confidence should be too. Even though you may feel nervous, take pride in who you are and recognize that the right people will accept your character and appreciate you for showing it.
- Confide in your partner beforehand about how you feel
- Get a pep talk either from yourself or from a loved one
- Make an effort to participate at the holiday party and actually enjoy (play the games, chime in during open conversations, etc.)