Ah, the first trip home with a new love. Before you back out to avoid dealing with your wacky family, check out Dr. Hick’s tips for handling the holidays.
I was catching up with a dear friend last week, and she brought up a great (and timely) topic: bringing her new beau home for the holidays for the first time. As she discussed her excitement and concerns, it became apparent that Lisa did not lack for “Bah-Humbug” stories from holidays past.
She wondered, given her family members (picture an assortment of movie family characters, mild dysfunction and a pension for telling embarrassing stories as the second glass of wine is poured for Aunt Suzie) and the unflattering family dynamics (for example, the anxiety and passive aggressiveness that inevitably surface when she gets around her family) could she and her new love survive—let alone enjoy—this upcoming trip home to meet the family?
As Lisa described to me the funny and not-so-funny stories of bringing past loves home, she turned to me for guidance on how to make this introduction of a newcomer more enjoyable than holidays past.
Preparation is key.
A little preparation goes a long way in either a short or extended trips to see your family.
Give Your Love a Heads Up: If you haven’t done so already, you’ll want to start by discussing how you and your partner’s holidays traditionally go. Each of you will want to share: What were holidays like growing up, what did each of you enjoy and dread about the holidays? This may shed some light on what is important to you, to your partner, and to each of your families.
Next, give your special someone an idea of what to expect from your family. You know, the who’s who, what to say and not to say to whom, and don’t forget, now’s a good time to plan how your honey can help you if you’re looking like you need a little saving from Uncle Larry’s incessant embarrassing stories. It’s easier to plan good outcomes when you’re not in the heat of battle.
Give Your Parents a Heads Up: Giving your family an in-road to connecting with your love will help them feel more comfortable as well as the two of you. Are there things that he/she loves or is interested in? Are there any favorite foods or food allergies/sensitivities that would be helpful for your family to know as they prepare for guests? Providing a few personal (but not too personal) tidbits may help everyone feel a bit more comfortable.
Examine your expectations.
Expectations can either hurt or help you. Checking them at the door, or rather, setting realistic expectations will help the holiday gathering run a little more smoothly.
Setting yourself up to believe that everyone will love each other and feel as if they are family already may result in you feeling let down and disappointed if things are anything short of amazing. Likewise, if you set the situation up to go poorly—like holidays past—you may miss out on enjoying any fun or excitement that could now be present. After all, you’re all a little older, and thus, perhaps, a little mellower. Set realistic expectations and remain flexible to what may come up.
It’s a wonderful practice to focus on loving people for who they are—and for who they aren’t. As we all know, this is easier said than done when it comes to family, but it’s a good thought to keep in the front of your mind, all the same.
Keep it short and sweet.
The best approach is to aim to strike a balance between staying too long and leaving too soon.
If your family lives in town, plan to stay a little while to get to know one another, help with cooking, and relax a bit. Since you are nearby (as long as things did not turn into a complete debacle during the first meeting), you will have future opportunities to have your partner and family get to know each other better.
If your family lives out of town, you should plan to stay at least a couple days. This will provide a little more time for your parents and your special someone to become comfortable and get to know each other better before you have to return home. At the same time, staying more than a few days the first go around may be overkill on family time for your loved one.
For the out-of-towners, you will want to consider carefully whether staying at your family’s home will help or hurt the visit.
Some of you may fully enjoy staying at home, especially if there is sufficient room for the two of you to have some personal space. Others may want to spring for a room at the nearest motel to ensure you have a safe place to return if things take a turn for the worse at dinner. It’s always nice to have a base camp when things get rough up on the mountain.
Plan for some alone time (if possible).
You don’t have to spend the whole day inside talking about all of your childhood memories and discussing family stories. That would become boring for anyone after too long.
To balance out family time, you can show your new sweetie around your hometown, show him/her your old hangouts, or do some research on some interesting spots to visit while in town. You can also try taking a short walk together before or after dinner. This will break up family time a bit and provide a little alone time for the two of you to take it all in.
Whether your family holidays look more like National Lampoon’s Family Vacation, Ralphie Parker’s in A Christmas Story, or involve a strong matriarchal dynamic such as The Family Stone, with some realistic and thoughtful planning, some love, and some humor, you and your new love can handle any kind of family holiday experience together, no matter what those crazy goofballs you call relatives throw your way.
[image: via Seth Lemmons on flickr]