When your son or daughter was a teen, you probably met most, if not all, of the young men and women they dated. That all changes when they head off to college or into the working world. Suddenly their private life is just that: private. So when a 20something introduces you to a boyfriend or girlfriend, it's pretty serious.
Not so serious that you can start dreaming about bridal bouquets or what color your future grandchildren's eyes will be - OK, you can dream, but you cannot say any of that out loud, for heaven's sakes.
Meeting a new boyfriend or girlfriend is a pretty big deal. It means that this person is important enough to your child that he (or she) wants her (or him) to meet the other important people in his life. These pronouns are going to drive us all crazy, so let's proceed with the understanding that every reference to he and she, his and her, applies equally all around, whether it's your son or daughter and his/her boyfriend or girlfriend, same sex or opposite. We're talking about love, sweethearts and the moment when a new beau is introduced to the parents - and Elizabeth Fishel has some advice. Chill out, says the co-author of "When Will My Grown-Up Kid Grow Up? Loving and Understanding Your Emerging Adult" (psst, this is a great parenting book, check out the book review here).
Whether you're meeting the new beau on a regular day or during the holidays - which is the emotionally-charged time when many of these meetings take place - it's up to you to be gracious.
Everyone's an adult here, but parents are, OK, adult-er sounds weird, but certainly more experienced in making guests feel welcome. How do you make this new person feel comfortable?
"To keep your own relationship with your grown kids strong, it's always best to keep an open heart and mind toward the boyfriends and girlfriends they bring home to meet you," Fishel says.
"Keep in mind that these are the exploring years, full of choices and a variety of possibilities so the beloved guest who comes to this year's holiday dinner may not even be in the picture next year."
Chances are this boyfriend or girlfriend is feeling anxious too. Meeting your sweetheart's parents is a milestone in any relationship. Extend the same warm welcome you would to anyone important to someone you love. Nervous? Imagine this is your best friend's sister or brother - or, hello, your best friend's new beau.
"Treat the new partner with interest, courtesy, and respect, and do more listening than talking," Fishel says. "Although you may be dying to know what her parents' door if he plans to finish college, keep the grilling to a minimum. One of my friends' sons had this rule: Only one question per night, Mom."
If that first meeting is during the holidays, it may up the emotional ante considerably - and it raises a number of issues, from bedroom assignments to holiday gifts and Christmas stockings. Should you give the new beau a gift? And if so, what?
"Check this one out with your own kids first to see what they feel comfortable with," Fishel says. "If you get a green light, consider a small gift that's thoughtful but has no hidden messages - eg.
no copy of 'What Color is Your Parachute?' for an unemployed sweetheart."
Giving your son or daughter's sweetheart a gift can be a minefield. A book about job-seeking is, as Fishel points out, a colossally bad idea, but you'll find 15 great gift ideas for boyfriends and girlfriends here.