The holidays are a time to get together with your family—and your extended family, too! And if you’re in a serious relationship and are starting to split holidays between your family and your in-laws, that means you’ll be meeting a lot of extended family members who you may not have met before (or seeing those you only briefly met at your wedding). Nervous about spending quality time with your partner’s aunts, uncles, and cousins? We’ve got seven tips to help you through this joyful (and stressful!) season.
Review the Family Tree
No one is expecting you to memorize names, faces, and how everyone is related, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about it at all. Sit down with your S.O. to discuss how everyone is related. Is there a cousin your partner considers more like a sibling? What about an uncle who works in a similar field to you, or an aunt who always sends snickerdoodles? These tidbits might not all stick, but you’ll be surprised what pops into your mind when you finally get to meet Aunt Kathy, of cookie fame, in person.
Don’t Show Up Empty-Handed
If the event is being held in someone’s home, be a good guest and bring something along for the hosts. That could be a plate of homemade cookies or a dish for the family potluck, or a bottle of wine or flowers that are intended for the hosts to enjoy. Nothing breaks the ice like classic good manners!
Start with Close Relationships
When you arrive at the party, your partner should introduce you to those he or she is closest to, first. These relatives are probably people who already know lots about you (and who you’ve heard lots about!), making those conversations so much easier. Once you’ve teamed up with a relative who you’re comfortable with, they can help introduce you to other family members—even if your S.O. is in the other room chatting with Grandpa.
Know Who to Avoid
It might be blunt, but every family has a few family members who are tricky to get along with. They might have strong opinions or be hard to win over, which can be seriously intimidating when it’s your first time with the whole gang. Ask your partner to fill you in on these difficult characters, as well as share any secrets for getting them to warm up. And if you simply can’t get that stodgy uncle to crack a smile, excuse yourself to get a drink or a bite to eat.
It’s easy to find a quiet corner and stick to yourself, especially if you’re overwhelmed by all these strangers you’re suddenly related to. But don’t give in to the temptation! Instead, do your best to join in. Offer to help in the kitchen or volunteer as a teammate for a family card game. A little effort to participate shows that you’re eager to become a part of the family, and you’ll get to know one another much better than if you’re struggling to make conversation.
Every family has their own traditions, and if your partner’s family is from a culture or religion that is different than yours, there are probably going to be a few happenings that you’re not familiar with. Instead of stepping back and simply observing, ask the matriarch or patriarch to walk you through what’s going on. After all, you’ll be seeing all of this again in the coming years!
Find the Kids!
Do you get along great with kids? This is the perfect way to get over that awkward first meeting with your extended in-laws (and make a great impression on their parents). Get down on the floor and join in with whatever game or craft the kids are working on. Does your partner’s cousin look like she could use a drink, but her arms are full with her newborn? Offer to hold the baby and give her arms a break. There’s a lot less pressure when it comes to meeting kids: As long as they’re having a good time, you’re golden!