The holidays are stressful enough – now you have to make a good impression with your in-laws, too? Whether they’re the main fam who you’ve only met a few times or a new family member you’ve never crossed paths with before, getting off to a good start can have significant consequences, positive or negative.
Here are a few steps you can take to make sure your in-law interactions go off without a hitch:
- Dress the part. This is more than just the common-sense, no-Daisy-Dukes stuff; some families treat Christmas like a day at church and wear their Sunday best, while others see it as the ultimate casual event and spend three days in pajamas. Show up on the wrong end of this spectrum and you’ll look very out of place. If you’re not sure where they fall, ask your man what he’s wearing or sneak a peek through photos of holidays past and check out the wardrobe choices. (Classy makeup is necessary too – no Mimi-style eyeshadow here. Check my beauty blog Sassy Dove for some appropriate ideas.)
- Do your research. Before you arrive, do a little recon on who the principal players are and be strategic. If you’re a new wife, chances are you’ll end up chatting most with his mom, sister and other female family members. Find out a little about them beforehand – likes, dislikes, hobbies – and use this information to your advantage. Of course, you want to be yourself – too much pandering will come off as ingratiating and only hurt you in the long run – but it doesn’t hurt to find out what you have in common ahead of time so you can mentally prepare some conversational topics and avoid the dreaded Awkward Silence.
- Avoid controversy. Like a dinner party or a working lunch, family events call for the avoidance of controversial topics; the general rule is, leave sex, politics, and religion at home. These are topics that tend to divide us rather than bringing us together, and even if your new relatives agree with your point of view, they may be judging you on the inside for discussing such things during a family holiday.
- Bring a gift. It’s customary when visiting someone’s home to bring a gift in almost every culture, so regardless of your spouse’s background or upbringing, you can’t go wrong with a nice token for your host. A nice box of chocolates, cheese or luxury soaps (you can bring wine, but only if they’re alcohol-friendly – make sure first) is appropriate, or if you’re coming on a plane with no room to carry a gift, you can send flowers ahead.
- Stay positive. If you spend the whole vacation talking about your father’s recent triple bypass or even indulging his Auntie Myrtle’s bemoaning of her recent bankruptcy, you’ll seem like a Debbie Downer either personally or by proximity. Keep it light and politely steer to a sunnier subject when his relatives get too gloomy.
- Clean up after yourself. This seems obvious, but some of us have an unfortunate tendency in hosted situations to let our hair down and unknowingly leave a trail of used coasterless cups and crumpled tissues and napkins behind. This will not please his mother.
- Offer to help out. The holidays are full of tasks for the hostess, and not only is it good guest behavior to offer your services, it’s endearing as a new family member and can offer some nice opportunities for bonding time over peeling a potato or two.
- Keep PDA to a minimum. Your man’s mom doesn’t want to see anyone with her tongue down her son’s throat, not even his wife. Respect that you wouldn’t either and wait until you’re behind a closed guest bedroom door.
What did you do to ease into a positive relationship with your in-laws? What moments do you wish you could do over again?