Q: “This is the first year I’m going to be visiting my boyfriend’s family for Thanksgiving. It’s also the first time I’m going to be meeting his mom. I really want to make a good impression. They have a really close relationship, and I don’t want to step on her toes. What should I do to prepare?”
A: Your positive attitude is nice. Saying this is “the first year” you’re going to be visiting your boyfriend’s family is pretty optimistic, and I like that that’s where your head is at. It’s crucial to go into these things with the hope (and expectation) that you’ll be a regular at that holiday table. You want to go into it thinking this isn’t the only time you’re going to see these people. Otherwise, what’s the point in traveling with your boyfriend and attempting to endear yourself to his family? It doesn’t seem worth the effort for a one-off.
I realize that you’re inclined to prepare for meeting the mom, but my advice would be to not do that. At least not too much. Anytime a girl has been about to meet my mom for the first time, she has inevitably asked what my mom was like, what her interests were, etc. And that’s great. I respect that a girl would want to know about my mom so she could go into the meeting armed with some knowledge, maybe even a gift that she thinks my mom would dig.
But I’ve found it’s better to go into it with less knowledge, because then you can really, earnestly get to know the woman instead of bombarding her with pre-planned questions about her adoration of knitting or “Desperate Housewives” or cherry wine or chastising her son for drinking too much. You can have an organic conversation, an enlightening back-and-forth, where you really get to know each other. And the more you keep her talking about herself, the less time she’ll spend trying to figure out why you are not a great match for her little boy.
Your preparation should be limited mostly to picking out something nice and “you” to wear, and taking care of the other sorts of things you have to check off the to-do list before traveling for a holiday. The real testing ground is going to start when your boyfriend’s mom answers the door after you ring the bell. That’s when it’s game on.
Above all else, you should be yourself. Not specifically because you should always be yourself no matter who you’re around and blah blah blah, but because if you’re not acting like yourself, the person you’re least likely to fool is the mother of your boyfriend. Moms sniff out bullsh*t like you wouldn’t believe. They’ve been around, and they have been in your shoes before, too. They know the kind of things you’re going to try and do to seem like you’re nice and adorable and respectful. There have been times in my life when I’ll reveal something about a girlfriend to my mom and she’ll be like, “Well, yeah, wasn’t that obvious to you? It was to me!”
So be yourself, be polite, be respectful and try to enjoy yourself. Also, be as helpful as you can. Pitch in with meal preparations, clearing the table and doing the dishes. These are great times to get a little bit of alone time in with the mom, something you should definitely try and do. You don’t want her thinking you’re using your boyfriend as a safety net or a buffer, and you do want her thinking that you can fend for yourself and will address anything she wants to. You are, after all, dating her little boy.
Also, keep in mind you’re not there exclusively to forge a relationship with the mom. Make sure you get to know everyone else who has come to the boyfriend’s house for the holidays.