You’ve already met her parents. Now it’s time for her to meet yours.
When you met her folks for the first time, your biggest concern was making a good first impression. Now that the roles are reversed, your focus should be on helping her make a good impression. If she’s a keeper, she’ll probably care a lot about your parents liking her. And you likely want them to give her the thumbs up too. Your folks and your significant other may not always get along, but when they do, things sure go a lot more happily.
While bringing your girlfriend home for the first time can be a little awkward and nerve-racking for all parties involved, here are some quick tips for making everyone feel comfortable and helping things go as smoothly as possible.
Be sure you’re really ready to bring her home. In most circumstances, a woman will interpret an invitation to meet your parents as a signal that you think she’s special and your relationship is fairly serious. Your parents will likely interpret the move in the same way. So don’t bring a gal home (especially for a holiday) unless you want to communicate to both parties that you’re hoping she’s going to be around for a while (and you’re okay with your mom asking about her incessantly until you break-up or tie the knot).
Prepare them. You can lay the groundwork for a smooth meeting by preparing both your parents and your girlfriend for what to expect from each other. Here are some things to discuss with your folks about your gal:
- Conversation starters. Everybody wants to avoid awkward pauses as much as possible, and your folks want to get to know your girlfriend better. But the less you’ve told them about her, the harder it is for them to know what to ask in conversation. Give your parents some background information on her that will help them come up with questions. “Rob told us you traveled through Europe for a month last summer. What was your favorite country?”
- Conversations to avoid. You should also let your parents know about sensitive topics it would be best to avoid. “So where do your parents live?” “My dad is dead and my mom is in jail.” “Oh.”
- Dietary preferences/restrictions. If your girlfriend is allergic to peanuts and a vegetarian, you don’t want your mom serving up kung pao chicken for dinner. You may even clue your parents in to a favorite meal or two of your girlfriend’s. Having familiar food in a new environment will help her feel more comfortable.
Prepare her. Just as you did with you parents, go over conversation starters and pitfalls with your girlfriend too. And fill her in about other things as well:
- Family dynamics dossier. Give your girlfriend a primer about the drama and dynamics in your family. Your mom hates your stepmom, your brother is in rehab, your dad has been out of work for six months. Those kinds of things. The more she knows, the less likely she is to inadvertently “step in it.”
- Gift. If your girlfriend would like to bring a gift for your parents, that’s definitely a nice gesture. Give her some suggestions on what would go over well. Does your mom have a favorite flower? Do they love trying new coffees? You don’t want your girlfriend to offer a bottle of wine to your teetotaling parents.
- Common ground she shares with your parents. People like other people who are like them. So let your girlfriend know a thing or two she has in common with your folks that she can bring up with them. “Andrew tells me you’re into gardening. I’ve been trying to dip my toes into it by starting a little windowsill garden in my apartment.”
- Physical affection. Let her know about how your family demonstrates physical affection. Maybe your mom isn’t a hugger and it would be best for your girlfriend to offer a handshake. Or maybe she needs to be prepared for the fact that your mom is going to smooch her right on the lips.
- House rules. Should she take off her shoes when she comes inside? Will your parents expect you to sleep in separate rooms? Do you always say grace before meals? You don’t want your gal to be digging into her meatloaf as everyone else bows their head for a prayer.
Remember to keep looking at the situation from her perspective. When you go back home you’re in your ultimate comfort zone – with people you’ve been around for a couple of decades and in the house you may have grown up in. It’s easy to forget that your girlfriend isn’t feeling the same way you are; to her, everything is new and unfamiliar. It’s a good exercise to think about walking into another person’s house, maybe even her parents’ house, for the first time, and remember the way you felt a little out of place and not so at ease. This will help guide your behavior and remind you to do what you can to make your girlfriend feel comfortable.
Offer her food and drinks. On this first visit, she’s not going to feel comfortable grabbing things out of the fridge and she doesn’t know where stuff like the glasses and utensils are. So take the initiative in offering her refreshments.
Praise her in front of them. It’s not polite for her to bring up her own accomplishments and strong points. But you can, and should. “Sophie is the most amazing cook.” “Grace started a tutoring program for disadvantaged kids that just landed a big grant.” Praising your girlfriend in front of your parents will make her feel really good, and help them see her in a positive light.
Stick by her side as much as possible. This is the most important rule. Maybe you haven’t seen your brother for awhile and you’re tempted to leave your girlfriend in the living room with your parents while you two play video games upstairs. It’s understandable, but in this situation you need to put your girlfriend first. Again, keep in mind that while you feel super comfortable, she doesn’t. Getting left alone with your folks to make small talk can make her feel really anxious and awkward, not to mention abandoned. Hopefully, after a few visits and getting to know them better, she’ll feel a lot more comfortable around them. But on this first visit (and for several thereafter), try to stick by her side as much as possible.
What tips do you have to make bringing your girlfriend home the best experience it can be?