Etiquette for Meeting Future In-Laws

Proud Italian son introduces his fiancé to his parents

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Have you recently gotten engaged? Congratulations! This should be one of the most exciting times of your life.

Now there's one thing you might be worried about, and that's meeting your future in-laws. The worry over whether or not they'll like you can take some of the joy out of the moment.

But don't fret. Most people worry about this first get-together with the family of the people they plan to spend their lives with, but worrying is wasted energy.

Chances are, by the time you've decided to marry someone, you've met your future in-laws. However, if you haven't, you're probably concerned about saying or doing the wrong thing. Merely the thought of a misstep sends a chill up your spine.

Relax. Most of the time, in-laws aren't too bad. In fact, they can be pretty cool people if you give them a chance. Follow basic social etiquette guidelines, and you should do just fine. Keep in mind that they're probably nervous too, so part of your job is to put them at ease.

It's always nice if both sets of in-laws can be there. Maintain a positive attitude and don't sweat too many small details. If either set of parents is divorced, set up meetings based on family dynamics and how well they get along. You might have to have more than one meeting if the divorced parents can't be in the same room without arguing.

Do Your Homework

One way to alleviate your fear is to do a little homework and find out the likes and dislikes of your in-laws. Ask your fiancé or fiancée about the family's interests, what each person enjoys, whether or not they have pet peeves, and then do a little research on your own. You don't have to become an expert, but it's nice to know enough to hold a decent conversation that will interest them. And if there's anything that might trigger an argument, avoid that discussion the first time you meet them.

Set Up a Time and Place

Choose a time that is convenient for everyone, and pick a place that is easy for all family members to get to. You may want to meet at a restaurant or coffee shop but decide in advance who should pay the bill. Something you might want to consider is meeting in a place where there is an activity or type of food that everyone can enjoy. Make sure you show up on time, or even better, a few minutes early.

It's also a good idea to have a predetermined ending time. Even if everyone is getting along and having a great time, there will be plenty of time in the future to get together. Even the best of in-law meetings can be stressful.

Fun ways and places to meet the in-laws:

  • Bowling center – Select teams with members of both families on each team.
  • Backyard barbecue – If you or your intended has a decent-sized, private backyard, consider hosting a barbecue for the meeting.
  • Potluck – Invite everyone to get together for a potluck. Ask each person to bring his or her favorite dish to share and serve it buffet style.

Be Prepared

Compose a list of conversation starters. Chances are, once people start chatting, they won't need prompts, but it's always a good idea to be prepared. If extended family attends, and there are several clusters or groups, work the room and chat with everyone.

If you know that there are some issues that might upset either set of in-laws, have a discussion with the other ones in advance. This isn't the time to have a heated debate or get into a political discussion.

Dress for the Occasion

Remember that you only have one chance to make a first impression, so dress as nicely as you can, based on where you plan to meet. If you are getting together in a restaurant, wear something nice, clean, and conservative. Make sure your hair and fingernails are clean and well-groomed. Don't wear anything provocative such as low-cut, skin-tight, or see-through clothing.

Naturally, if you're doing something sporty or having a backyard barbecue, you'll want to be more casual. This doesn't mean jeans with holes or short-shorts that are appropriate. Look polished and pulled together. You want your future in-laws happy you'll be joining their family and not concerned that you might embarrass them later.

Bring Gifts

Know who all is coming in advance and bring a small gift of appreciation for each family or family member. Make the gift something based on their interests, and you'll make some extra points by showing your consideration and generosity.

Gift ideas:

  • Themed sports basket for families that share athletic interests
  • Cooking or wine basket for the gourmet
  • Basket of their favorite teas or coffees
  • Tree or live plant for those who love gardening
  • Gift cards for events based on the interests of the recipient

Call Them by Their Preferred Names

Start out calling your mother-in-law and father-in-law Mr. or Mrs. They may ask you to call them by their first names or perhaps even Mom and Dad. Tell them you're honored and do as they ask.

Send Thank You Notes

After the meeting, don't forget to send thank you notes as soon as possible. Send one to each household, and remember to mention something specific that happened or a topic you enjoyed discussing. The added touch of your outward show of gratitude will go a long way toward warming their hearts.