Last year was my first Thanksgiving with my now-husband. We had just gotten engaged after eight months of dating, and he had only met my parents on one other occasion. Things didn’t go poorly by any means whatsoever, but in retrospect, it seems like he could have done a little more to “wow” my parents. After all, we live several states away, and he only had so many opportunities to make a good first impression.
That’s why I wish I had done a better job preparing him for the first Thanksgiving with my parents. If you’re about to embark on this adventure with your significant other, here are some ways to prepare him to knock your parents’ socks off. This is not a survival guide – this is a “sur-thrive-al” guide.
1. Give him the 411 on the guest list. Whether it will just be your parents or four generations of relatives around the Thanksgiving dinner table, let him know who will be there ahead of time. Share with him their names, relationship to you, and one interesting fact about them or current event going on in their lives. That way, when he meets Uncle Tom, he can say, “Oh, congratulations on your recent promotion!” What does he get? A conversation starter to avoid awkward silence, a preemptive tool for remembering people’s names, and a gold star for boosting Uncle Tom’s ego – which will probably later lead to a positive comment to your parents from Uncle Tom.
2. Help him pick out his clothes. Thanksgiving dinner dress codes vary from family to family. While the Smiths might go shirt-and-tie, the Millers might keep it casual with t-shirts and jeans. Advise your man about your family’s typical Thanksgiving dinner dress. Help him select an outfit (but don’t use the word “outfit”) that will be neat, comfortable, and either right in line or one tiny notch above what everyone else will be wearing.
3. Make sure he helps. Whether it’s carving the turkey or drying the dishes, make sure your man helps with Thanksgiving dinner in some way. Select a task that’s on par with his comfort level and abilities, of course – don’t ask him to cook the stuffing if he can barely make toast. I can’t tell you how many times my mom has told me there is nothing that impresses her more than a guy who offers his assistance around the house – even if she doesn’t take him up on it.
4. Warn him about any traditions. The fewer surprises Thanksgiving dinner brings, the more comfortable your man will be, allowing his personality to shine through. If your family typically says grace before the meal and he is not used to praying, give him a heads up. If your family (like mine) enjoys a good after-dinner card game, make sure he’s familiar with the game of choice ahead of time and encourage him to participate. This could be an excellent opportunity for him to bond with your family.
5. Teach him table manners. Don’t tell him I told you, but my husband does not always have the greatest table manners. He will sometimes burp without excusing himself or eat things with his hands that are better left for the utensils. If you’ve noticed your man has some less-than-appropriate table manners, lovingly point them out ahead of time and teach him some more polite alternatives. If he normally has decent table manners, encourage him to take it up a notch. A napkin on the lap could not only save you from some heavy-duty laundry, but it will make a great impression on your parents.
6. Encourage him to compliment the meal. After spending a day cooking, nothing is sweeter to a mother’s ears than a heartfelt compliment. Remind your man ahead of time the importance of complimenting the cooks – and, if necessary, remind him again later with an inconspicuous nudge or meaningful look. Ask him to kindly refrain from making any complaints or comparing his mom’s cooking to your mom’s cooking in any way. (This is for the benefit of your relationship, too. I am still hurt that my husband was not amazed by the deliciousness of my mother’s homemade dressing.)
7. Send a thank-you note. Yes, he will probably think it’s cheesy, but hand-written cards mean the world. Even if you have to dictate it to him, encourage your man to send a note to your parents, thanking them for inviting him into their home and feeding him such a delicious dinner. It might just solidify their seal of approval. Whether or not you get him to send a note, make sure that he certainly gives a verbal thank-you before the night is over.
Inviting a daughter’s love interest into their home – especially for an intimate holiday dinner – can be a big step for parents – and it probably feels like a big step for your man. Preparing your significant other with these seven tips will probably help him to feel a lot more confident and comfortable, and he’s sure to leave a stellar first impression on your parents. Remember, old habits die hard – so start him off right!
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