Sometimes your travels take you around the world, to dangerous locales where you don’t know the customs and need to always be on your guard to ensure your safety. And sometimes, they just take you to a visit with the in-laws, which can be equally awkward, confusing, and downright dangerous. Here are eight tips to help you survive a visit with you in-laws with your dignity, and your relationship, intact.
Bring a gift.
Whether this is your first time visiting your significant other’s family or your tenth, it’s always nice to bring a small token of your gratitude as thanks for the family’s hospitality. Flowers or a nice bottle of wine is a good, safe first time gift (unless the family doesn’t drink, then nix the wine idea), but you’ll earn bonus points if you bring something a little more personal.
Ask your significant other for details about his or her parents and buy them something that you think they will enjoy – perhaps a favorite bottle of scotch for Dad or the latest cookbook for a Mom who fancies herself as the next Martha Stewart. If the two of you have recently been on a trip, be sure to bring back a few little souvenirs for the family. Keep the gift to a reasonable amount though, generally under $20. Showing up for a first meeting bearing elaborate or expensive gifts screams “desperate to be liked.”Stick to “safe” conversation topics.
Politics, religion, money, unions….we all know these are sensitive subjects, but sometimes we get sucked into discussing them with near strangers anyway. Don’t fall into this trap, even if you think you know (and agree with) the position of your partner’s family. Until you’ve known them for a while, and know whether or not they can calmly have a debate or disagreement without taking things personally, just change the subject. Unless the family says something completely unacceptable (and even then, let your spouse take the heat for voicing a dissenting opinion for the both of you) just bite your tongue and never take sides. And remember, if you find your SO’s fam completely vile in their political or religious views, that doesn’t mean that your partner feels the same way they do.
Remember some conversation starters.
Have your spouse help you out with some safe topics you can pull out if the conversation starts to wane. A quick rundown of current family events (who is about to have a baby, who just got married), the latest news in each person’s life and the hobbies and jobs of each person should suffice. Come armed with a few anecdotes of your own, like a quick synopsis of the duties at your new job or a few highlights of the latest trip you took with your partner. This way, even if you get nervous, you have a few topics you can fall back on to avoid any awkward silences until you get to know everyone better.
Bring everything you need to feel comfortable.
This includes bringing your own toiletries, hair dryer, and any other items you need and which might not be provided by your hosts. Since you are sleeping in another person’s house, you may need to rethink your PJs as well. I sleep in a tank and pajama pants; at my in-law’s house, everyone gathers for coffee in the kitchen first thing each morning. After being the only person fully dressed on my first trip, I learned to bring a hoodie to throw on over my tank so I could join the PJ party and not feel uncomfortable. Just don’t overdue it; there’s no need to bring your own pillows or roll in with two suitcases for a weekend trip.
Verify sleeping arrangements before arriving.
This is a job for the spouse or partner. If it’s the first visit (especially if you aren’t married) and the house has multiple sleeping arrangements, be sure to verify which bedrooms you’ll using when you are in town. It’s embarrassing to arrive only to find that the girls will be bunking (even worse if that means literally in bunk beds) in one room and the boys in the other. Make sure your significant other checks out the sleeping arrangements in advance, and if the two of you aren’t comfortable with them, opt to stay in a hotel.
Bring snacks if you are a picky eater.
When you are staying at your in-law’s house, you are at the mercy of their taste buds. While you can sometimes run out for a bite, other times it’s just not possible. You may find yourself stuck in a house with nothing you care to eat, especially if your idea of a “healthy snack” and theirs differs significantly. Play it safe by stashing a few power bars or some almonds or crackers in your bags so that you have an emergency snack if needed.
Plan some alone/out-of-the-house time.
Like being stranded in a broken down car on the side of the road, spending time at the in-law’s can make you feel a bit trapped, maybe a little claustrophobic. Be sure to schedule some time alone with your partner out of the house. Even if it’s just a trip to the grocery store for some milk or a quick walk around the block with the dog, a few moments away from the pressure of impressing your family will allow you both to relax and reconnect.
For the hosting spouse – remember to have your partner’s back.
If it is your family that you and your significant other are visiting, try to remember that this can be a stressful time for your partner. Try to make it as easy as possible on him or her. Help him remember the names of all your aunts and uncles. Remind him which cousins to avoid after they’ve been drinking. Help her get into a conversation with your grandparents. Think about how you would feel in the situation and do what you can to make it a more comfortable one for the person you love.
Stick to these tips in the beginning, tready lightly with your new in-laws, and soon you may be one big happy family. If the in-laws are coming to visit at your house…..these rules still apply, plus one more.
Go out of your way to be the best host you can be.
Think about all the little things that would make you even more comfortable as a guest. Lay out fresh towels for the visiting family members. Stock the kitchen with their favorite foods. Leave some quality toiletries in the bathroom and a bottle of water by the bed, and put a few books from their favorite genre out on the bedroom. Put together a city guide for them, complete with pre-paid transit card so they can get around easily. Do your best to make them feel as welcome in your home as you would like to feel in theirs.