For a lot of couples it’s not uncommon for years to pass before their parents meet one another. Sometimes it’s pretty far down the line (we’re talking wedding rehearsals) while for others it’s birthdays or other milestone celebrations.
It can be an anxious time as, more than anything, you just want your parents to behave themselves and get on. But that doesn’t always happen...
Relationships psychologist, author and Relate ambassador Anjula Mutanda says the ultimate goal of a first meeting between two sets of parents is to lay the grounds for a second meeting. “Keep it friendly and optimistic,” she says. “After the first meeting, when the ice is broken, it gets easier.”
With Meghan Markle’s mum Doria Ragland in town to meet the royal family before the big day, we thought it would be timely to share Mutanda’s dos and don’ts for a stress-free first meet.
1. Do prepare your partner.
If your other half hasn’t yet met your parents then you need to give them a head’s up on what they’re like. Are they quiet or outspoken? Are they huggers or not the touchy-feely types? This will a) help them know what to expect and b) provide insight so they can warn their parents how, and how not, to act.
2. Do give your parents the lowdown.
“The responsibility is on you to warn your other half about your own parents, but also to tell your parents about what your partner’s parents are like,” says Mutanda.
If your partner’s parents hate to be touched, then tell your parents not to go in for the full hug and kiss treatment. Likewise if one of your parents is incredibly outspoken, and your partner’s parents are quiet, tell them they’ll need to dial it down. “The more prepared you are, the less stressed you’ll feel,” she adds.
3. Don’t discuss controversial topics.
Whether it’s your views on Brexit, religion, immigration or the latest family conflict, one thing’s for sure: they don’t belong at a first meet. “Be on your best behaviour and steer clear of certain topics,” says Mutanda. “Don’t go there with the Brexit chat or discussing the fact someone’s uncle is in jail.”
4. Do make an effort.
Mutanda recommends taking flowers or a small gift for each set of parents as a gesture. She also advises people to make an effort with appearance, rather than looking like they’ve “just rolled out of bed”.
“Things like that really matter,” she adds. “Don’t go all over-the-top, but just make a little bit of an effort to acknowledge it’s an important thing.”
5. Do keep it time-limited.
To ensure the meeting is as stress-free as possible, set time boundaries so you’re not spending the whole day together. “Suggest ahead of time that they come at 12pm and leave at 2.30pm,” says Mutanda. “If you have a finite amount of time then people have that etiquette about leaving - and it stops clock-watching on your part.”
6. Do agree who pays the bill beforehand.
If you’re all going out for a meal, then something that can really prevent major headaches is discussing who pays the bill beforehand. A simple chat with your partner would suffice - perhaps you can agree that you’ll pay the bill together?
“It can be a weird one, especially if one set of parents is better off than the other,” says Mutanda. “Agree who pays the bill beforehand to prevent people from feeling uncomfortable.”
7. Don’t drink too much.
Booze is never conducive to best behaviour, so keep the glasses of wine down to a minimum. Likewise keep an eye on how much your parents are drinking and don’t be reluctant to tell them when they’ve had enough.
8. Don’t be afraid to tell your parents off.
Mutanda says it’s not unheard of for parents to become “a bit rebellious” during first meetings. “Some people know they’re not meant to swear and they do it anyway to be outrageous,” she adds.
If you feel conversations are taking a turn for the worst, take your parent to one side and tell them. “A head’s up definitely helps you set the ground rules as to what is and isn’t ok,” she adds.