Shalom Love With Stacie Ikka- How to Introduce a New Beau (or Belle) to Your Family
With the holidays sneaking up, many of us will be introducing our new partners to family for the first time. Stacie has some tips to alleviate the stress that accompanies this big step.
If you’re anything like me,
introducing a new beau to the family for the first time is an
anxiety-ridden experience. With the holidays upon us, some of you may
find that you’re having to do just that. It’s difficult to anticipate
how everyone will behave and if your family is like every other family
I’ve been exposed to (including my own), there are certain dynamics that
are exacerbated by the stress of the holidays and by simply having
everyone under one roof.
While this topic was recommended by the lovely editors at ShalomLife, it is timely…hopefully for many of you, and for me. I will be parading a new boyfriend around to various family members’ and friends’ homes and parties over the holidays (including my parents…G-d help me). This is the first man they will be introduced to since my ex-husband. That was in 2000. I keep asking my boyfriend if he’s prepared for the scrutiny and harsh judgment that is about to be cast upon him, and he assures me he is. Has that lowered my blood pressure or alleviated my nerves? Not even in the slightest.
So…to help you (and myself) minimize the stress level and mitigate as much risk as possible, here are a few tips.
Tip # 1: Prepare
I know this isn’t a business meeting and, admittedly, I can be a little formal in my approach to most circumstances - even if they do involve matters of the heart – however, I do believe that a little preparation never hurt anyone. Ask your boyfriend or girlfriend how they feel about the introduction. Are they nervous? Do they have any concerns and, if so, what are they? What about you? How are you feeling about the introduction? Does your boyfriend/girlfriend know how you’re feeling? I can say, with certainty, that my boyfriend does not know that I’m dreading introducing him to my family and he would have less of a clue as to why. I think it’s important for me to have that conversation in advance because if it were to ever come out inadvertently – or in the wrong way – I would hate for him to think that it had anything to do with him, or how I feel about him.
Tip # 2: Manage/set expectations
This is going to mean different things to different people, however, the concept is fairly straightforward. Help your partner understand what they can reasonably expect from the introduction (in advance) and do the same with your family members. If you and your new partner have had an ongoing and open dialogue to this point, you have (presumably) already exchanged information about your friends and families, so this may not be necessary. I’ll give you an example of what I mean. Let’s say that your boyfriend (or girlfriend) is very polished, well-mannered and pays attention to dinner table etiquette, however, your family is less formal and some family members may – if the menu seemed to call for it – even eat with their hands. This is something you may choose to share with your partner in advance. Not for the purposes of putting down your family but for the purposes of avoiding the awkward moment when your partner’s jaw drops to the floor in disbelief (or, worse yet, disgust) in front of your whole family…at which point there would be little opportunity for back-peddling. Another example might be that your father is very academically-oriented and values higher education, yet your partner – despite being successful at what they do – did not go to university. This is a conversation you may consider having with your father prior to the first meeting so that he does not unintentionally put your partner in an uncomfortable situation or has a reaction that makes your partner feel badly, and that can’t be retracted.
Tip # 3: Help find common ground
In most cases, when it comes to getting to know each other both parties will play it safe and stick to the usual suspects. Here is what I mean if the parents are asking questions of your new beau. Where did you grow up? How many siblings do you have? What do your parents do? How did you and my daughter meet? How long have you lived in the area? What do you do for a living? Which schools did you attend? Have you ever been married? Do you have/want any children? Etc. Very much like a first date, while these questions may uncover a lot of basic information about a person, they can often make it feel like an interview. It isn’t always the best approach to identifying similar interests or opportunities for lively discussion. If you could facilitate your new partner and your family finding common ground, it would go a long way in taking some of the pressure off (of everyone).
Trivial, in this case, is OK. It’s almost better. Anything to break the ice. I’ve already started baiting my much younger, hyper-judgmental brother (who will forever think nobody is good enough for me) and who also pretty much grew up in a hockey rink by sharing with him that my boyfriend also grew up playing hockey. I’m hoping that by the time they meet they will quickly find themselves comparing notes and discussing their favourite teams and players. If you know that your new girlfriend and your Mom love to shop at the same store (oh my – how stereotypical do I sound right now???) or that your Dad and your girlfriend just finished reading the same book, or that your brother and your girlfriend’s brother went to the same camp at the same time…offer that information up. It’ll be even more inviting if you can present it in an open-ended way. For example: ask your girlfriend to tell your Mom about the time she went to their favourite store and had a funny encounter with a new salesperson. This is something you may want to discuss before the introduction (see Tip # 4).
Tip # 4: Be mindful of your partner’s personality and nature.
If your partner is shy, putting them on the spot may be very uncomfortable and is not recommended. On the other hand, if your partner is really chatty but your Dad is used to monopolizing the conversation don’t overly encourage your partner. Or, let’s say your partner is in Sales and, as a result, is comfortable making small talk with just about anybody. Perhaps facilitate the conversation a little less than you would if your partner was uncomfortable initiating a conversation (which is not always the same thing as being shy). If your partner is more comfortable with adults than with children, don’t sit them beside your seven-year old niece. You get the idea…
Tip # 5: Relax. Breathe. Enjoy.
Remember that your family is no less normal and no more dysfunctional than anyone else’s, including your partner’s. If you think that’s untrue, it’s only because you have not spent enough time with your partner’s family yet. ☺ Family units are like individuals in the sense that they all have redeeming qualities and they all have their shortcomings. Some families are more private, some families are more demonstrative…in front of guests. Having a guest at the table would not (and will not) stop my family from bickering. It can be embarrassing. On the flip side, I have been told that my family is the warmest family on the planet. This makes me proud to call them my family (and may very well be true). I love my family – good, bad and ugly…and I’m guessing you love yours too.
If you’re at the point in your relationship where you are introducing your new love interest to your family, I think it’s safe to say that there is going to be very little your family can do or say that will send your partner running for the hills. And, if that’s a concern of yours I would question the stability of the relationship or perhaps your sense of timing. You should be secure enough in the relationship to know that whatever happens during the first introduction will have little to no bearing on what happens in your relationship afterwards. If you are secure in that way, you should be able to relax and breathe comfortably through the introduction and, if you’re lucky, even enjoy it!
Happy Hannukah to you and your families!
Stacie Ikka is the founder of Sitting In A Tree. Sitting in A Tree is the dream job that Stacie Ikka never thought to dream. Her original career goal was to be a cardiologist, which she pursued until university. Matters of the heart, it seems, have always been her calling. Life led her on a different path and instead she earned a degree in Business Administration. In addition to four successful years as an Executive Search Consultant early in her career, Stacie went on to become a well-respected and passionate leader in the corporate sector, who specialized in: coaching and development, emotional and social intelligence, conflict resolution, effective communication, organizational design, operational efficiency and complex problem-solving.
The common thread in Stacie’s career – and throughout her personal journey (which has been a bit of a bumpy ride) - has been her talent in achieving superior results, often amidst adversity, while building and maintaining positive relationships. She has an innate ability to relate to, and connect with, others while offering insightful advice and inspiring action…making her uniquely suited as an exceptional love and life strategist.
For more information about Sitting In A Tree, please visit www.sittinginatree.com