The Internet is full of articles about how to make a good impression when you meet your boyfriend’s parents, and you’ve probably stressed about that enough—but the inverse is an equally important issue. However, that’s no reason to stress more. At least, not now that you have our tips! We talked to relationship and etiquette experts to find out the best ways to get your parents to like your boyfriend and make him feel comfortable. Regardless of how serious your relationship is, it can never hurt to have Mom and Dad supporting it.
Prepare Him in Advance
No one likes to be blindsided, so it’s important that you take some time to prepare your boyfriend for the initial meeting. Jodi R. R. Smith, president of etiquette consulting firm Mannersmith and author of several etiquette books, explains that you should make sure he knows what to expect and has some ideas for what to talk about.
“Help him win them over,” she says. “Be sure to coach your boyfriend about your parents’ quirks in advance. Good manners are a must, but having him help clear the Thanksgiving dishes is a bonus. Or have him read your father’s favorite book before the visit so they can discuss the author.” This will not only help your boyfriend win over your parents, but it will make him feel more at ease because he’ll already feel like he knows your parents before he gets there.
Human behavior and relationship expert Patrick Wanis agrees that preparation is key. “Ultimately, you’re trying to coach the guy. Let him understand who your parents are,” he says. “Give him a couple of tips… ‘Dad’s into basketball, but he’s not into baseball,’ so that boyfriend can connect with [your] father and mother through common interests.” Having a few conversation topics to fall back on will help you all get the ball rolling and ensure that there are no awkward lulls.
Having your parents and boyfriend connect over a common interest will get them to instantly click, or at least give a natural conversation topic to get the ball rolling.
Prepare Your Parents in Advance
You want your boyfriend to know what to expect—but don’t forget that you want your parents to know what to expect, too! Psychotherapist and couples counselor Jeffrey Sumber suggests that if you haven’t done so already, you should “express how important he is when [you] bring him up to [your] parents and make sure they know this is not just a whim.” One way to do this is to send your parents “a list of 10 qualities that [you] love about him in advance and even 10 (non-intimate) things [you] have experienced together which add to [your] appreciation for him,” Sumber says.
Wanis offers similar advice. “Talk to your parents and let them know that you really like this person, you really care about him,” he says. “Ask them to be friendly to him and to give him a chance.” The more serious and genuine you are in expressing your feelings about him to your parents, the clearer it will be to your parents that this is a relationship you are invested in, which will make them more inclined to get to know him.
Sumber adds that a big part of preparing your family is making sure they will do their best to make your boyfriend feel accepted. “Making him feel welcome is expressing to not just parents but siblings as well how important it is that he feel comfortable and welcome in their home,” he says. “No expectations, just authentic wishes and hopes.”
Find Common Interests and Values
Sure, we’ve heard that opposites attract, but we all know from experience that it’s often easier to connect with people who share our values.
The experts explain that shared values are huge when it comes to your parents liking your boyfriend. Smith advises that you “extol his virtues in advance and match his virtues with your family’s values.” For example, if your parents value education, then talk about his major and academic path. If they value philanthropy, talk about the community service he’s done on campus.
Wanis explains that when you want your parents to like your boyfriend, “what you really mean is, ‘I want my parents to feel safe with him, feel that they can trust him and to feel that he’s going to take care of me.’” By making it clear that your boyfriend shares the same values as your family, your parents will be assured that he has a good head on his shoulders and will look after you. To borrow a phrase from Meet the Parents, you’ll bring your boyfriend into the “Circle of Trust.”
Have Him Bring a Gift
Who doesn't love getting a gift? Your boyfriend giving your parents a little present will be an instant signal to them that he is thoughtful and caring.
“It is important to make sure that he brings a gift to your parents if he is joining for the holidays or just a simple dinner,” Sumber says. “Some simple but well-meaning gesture goes a long way.”
Not giving a gift isn’t a deal-breaker, but it certainly can’t hurt. It doesn't have to be something expensive or fancy; it’s just the thought that counts. Some options include flowers, chocolates, homemade baked goods or candles. You can find more gift ideas here. In addition to gifts, Wanis notes that compliments go a long way, too—and those are free!
Make it a Relaxed Atmosphere
While a fancy dinner is often the go-to meet-the-parents move, it may be better to have your boyfriend and parents get to know each other in a more relaxed environment first.
“If it’s possible, make it an event that isn’t a formal sit-down dinner where all focus is on him,” Wanis says. “If you’re watching a movie or a sports game, the primary focus isn’t on him and he won’t feel like he’s being interrogated or showing up to be judged.”
The more comfortable everyone feels, the easier it will be to have a natural conversation and minimize any tension or awkwardness that you, him or your parents may feel.
Sumber says that you can make the environment more relaxed by avoiding giving him special treatment that makes him feel like an outsider. “It can be helpful to make sure he is given the opportunity to do some small task as any family member would, from clearing the table with you or getting Dad his scotch,” Sumber says.
Overcome Your Nerves and Get Excited!
The more nervous you are about the relationship between your boyfriend and your parents, the more nervous he will be. And the more nervous he is, the more likely he is to not be himself—again, à la Meet the Parents.
So make him feel at ease by telling him how excited and happy you are. “It is helpful for the girl to express to her boyfriend, without expectation, how excited you are to have him meet your family,” Sumber says. He suggests saying something like, “I know they will see how caring and respectful you are of me because that is how I feel about you.” Affirmations like this will remove a lot of the pressure that he’s probably feeling.
As important as first impressions are, they aren’t everything. Even if the initial meeting doesn’t go as great as you hoped, there’s always time to make up for it and continue to build a trusting, respecting relationship between your boyfriend and your parents. All in due time!