"And you thought your parents were embarrassing." That's the slogan for thefilm Meet the Fockers. Movies and books make it seem like the challenge ofbringing a new beau home is in getting your parents to approve of your boyfriend. But thereal challenge is in getting your boyfriend to like your parents‑- not to mention the rest of your crazy clan. Will your family's eccentricitiesscare your new man away? Not with the help of our old friend: damage control.
Your first move should be to give careful thought to whether you really want to bringtogether these potentially combustible forces. Says dating expert April Masini(www.askapril.com), "Introducing your boyfriend to your family for the first time is amajor step that announces, 'We're serious,' as in marriage or a long-term committedrelationship." Are you really ready for that?
If you answered yes, that your relationship is grounded, not fly-by-night, then bringinghim home is inevitable, and we shift into phase two: Plan now, suffer less later. Notonly do you need to prepare yourself emotionally, you also need to guide your guy, aswell as your family, when it comes to the best things to do and say ‑- and to avoid‑- on the big day. Tina Tessina, LMFT, PhD and author of The Unofficial Guideto Dating Again, adds, "Find out his expectations beforehand and share yours." Anddon't forget to (diplomatically) suggest that your guy bring a hostess gift ‑-always a big step toward a positive first impression. Who knew a fruit basket could carryso much weight?
Quirks Are Us
Let's just say your little brother is a relentless practical joker (frogs down shirts,whoopie cushions on chairs) and your father dislikes anyone who doesn't whip out thepom-poms for his favorite sports team. These are factoids about your lovely family thatshould be shared with your man ahead of time, not withheld from him. Just tell it like itis.
That means not keeping him in the dark about wacky family traditions. Lori Goggan, a24-year-old account executive, learned this the hard way. When she brought her boyfriendto her parents' house on Halloween night, the couple were handed "seasonal" pants tochange into. "It was game night," Lori recalls. "Not only were we expected to playPictionary, we had to wear special team uniforms." Luckily, the boyfriend in question wasa good sport, which won him points with both Lori and her family. And best of all? "Ourteam won," Lori says proudly.
Lay Down the Law
When the latest Bachelor brought his top two contenders home to meet thefolks, a major reason the meetings were such perfectly cringe-worthy television isbecause he didn't say a thing to his parents beforehand about how to behave. TV producerslive to showcase the awkward moments ‑- but good ratings are no reason foryou to up the anxiety quotient.
Clearly you want to lay down a no-drinking rule to a parent with tipsy tendencies. Samegoes for recommending that the folks clear a little space in your brother'strophy-crammed room so your boyfriend can at least unpack his suitcase. Tess Marshall,psychologist and author of Flying by the Seat of My Soul, strongly suggeststelling your parents which subjects are off-limits. "You don't want your mom going on andon about how much she loved your ex, and how heartbroken you were when he dumped you twoweeks before the wedding. Likewise, stay off hot-button subjects like politics, sex andreligion."
Another wise move: Alert your parents beforehand if your boyfriend's values or lifestyledon't conform to their expectations. Jean Schmidt, a 32-year-old options trader, recallswryly, "I forgot to mention to my father, who is very traditional in outlook, not to makea big deal about my boyfriend being a standup comic. The first words out of Dad's mouthto Greg were, 'So how is a starving artist like you going to support my daughter? Are yougoing to get a real job?'" Jean adds, "I only got Greg to agree to a return visit afterhe was booked on Conan, so he could prove he wasn't a failure!"
Psych Yourself Up
It's likely the scenarios you're imagining in your head are far more disastrous than theactual event will be ‑- remember, this isn't a big-budget movie and your beau isn'tBen Stiller at his all-out wackiest. So try to stay calm. Tess Marshall suggestsvisualizing the meeting going well. See your guy arriving and everyone sitting down toeat, laughing, talking. Once you can imagine the meeting being a bearable, even funevent, you might actually start looking forward to the get-together. (That's calledseeing the glass as half full, folks.) And if you're the type who needs to verballyshare, then pay attention to April Masini's tip: "Tell your boyfriend ‑- or, betteryet, someone who won't be part of the event, like a girlfriend ‑- what your fearsare. Get them all out. Everything. Once you talk it through, the big scary fears can bedeflated." If you do tell your guy, beware of an unintentional side effect: Sarah Foulesfound that talking to her boyfriend made the thought of his upcoming visit much moretolerable. But as a side effect, the 32-year-old nurse began dreading her eventualmeeting with his family. "Listening to him talk about his family made me feel mywar stories were no big deal. His parents sounded like a total nightmare!"
In the end, when the meeting is over and your family has managed not to humiliate youtoo badly, your boyfriend will still love you. After all, he's dating you ‑- notyour sister, your Aunt Sally or your mother. And if he wishes he were dating your mother,well, that's another article. All of that said, don't feel compelled to apologize foryour family. They may be a bit strange, but they're still your flesh and blood ‑-so acting ashamed of them really doesn't reflect well on anyone, including you.