Our parents are meeting for the first time, what should we do?

Posted by
Jenny and Damon wedding April 14, 2011
I've been engaged for almost a month now and since my fiancé's parents live out-of-state, they let us know they'll be coming to town for a visit. We're going to introduce both sets of parents to each other, and I'm probably thinking too hard about how to organize this.

While dinner sounds fine, I don't want anyone to be uncomfortable when one person reaches for the check at the end… I also have a tweenage moment thinking they are just going to totally embarrass me. We're also dealing with different education backgrounds and I'm not sure what they'll talk about. I really want this to go well (first impressions and all), especially since afterwards my fiancé and I will be approaching our parents about helping with wedding costs. Any suggestions/ideas/personal experience or other tufts of wisdom to share? -romanholiday

The biggest thing to remember with anxieties like these is that (in most cases) all parents involved are adults, and don't want to embarrass themselves any more than you want to be embarrassed. You can do your best to encourage conversations towards issues the sets of parents might have in common, but ultimately you just have to let it happen.

Any suggestions for how to make a parents-meeting-parents event as low-stress and easy-going as possible?

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Comments on Our parents are meeting for the first time, what should we do?

  1. We introduced our parents at the wedding. I think I had some more concerns than my hubby did, as I feel my father can be quite troublesome (kinda like the father from Big Fish, only not at all Southern or charming). They also have very different backgrounds in concerns to education, and how they grew up.

    We decided to just seat our parents and godparents together at the same table during the wedding and just ignore anything that happened after that. But then again we are both weird like that, and neither of us wanted to bother with troublesome things like this during our special day. We just wanted to eat our cake and drink our wine.

    It wound up working out ok for us. And since both our families live in different states we figured even if something had happened it’s not likely that the two would ever meet again. Or at least not often.

    I say just relax. Maybe make arrangements before hand with the restaurant to use your credit card to pay the bill. You could give your card to your server a little ahead of time so you don’t have to worry about fighting over the bill.

  2. If you are worried about the check you can do one of several things. First you can host. Either make it clear that this dinner at a restaurant is on you (if your parents ever let you pay, mine don’t) or host a dinner at your place. We had both our parents to our house for a kind of Christmas dinner and it worked out really well. (We had been engaged for over a year when our parents finally met!)

    Another option is to do something less formal. An outdoor concert or music festival, ball game, ice cream? Since your in-laws are from out of town what kind of things would you want to show them? They are the guests so do something that interests the out of towners and invite the other set of parents along. This way everyone can buy their own ticket to the event without a big “who’s paying for dinner to do” plus if it gets awkward, no one is trapped at a table until the check comes.

  3. As much stress at it could involve, we hosted the meeting dinner instead, so no check involved for them. It also put the territory squarely in our court – not a neutral restaurant. Of course, instead of trying to cook the food and choose dishes everyone would eat, we picked up a catered meal (Boston Market, Subway, local restaurants like Hard Times Cafe all do things like this).

    It also served to remind them that they were meeting because and for us. They could look at our place (if they’re cool with the living together bit – or do one of your places), we put on music we liked (which helped some bond together on our tasted and others against it!), we had some games (apples to apples and a ‘get-to-know’ game option). We also have some very unique and fun pets, a place full of crafts, and some awesome toys for the nieces and nephews. It was crowded, but that only seemed to help! People could easily mingle with those they liked and not be forced to sit near people they didn’t for a whole meal.

    However, we did a more formal dinner with the older members of our family. We arranged the check before hand to go to us (everyone ended up giving us money at the end ‘for their part’ and we actually made money, which we used it towards the wedding).

    My mother disliked most of the people, but she also hated my husband. Well, dislikes, and at least less strongly now. She was polite, but embarrassing as her being upset was clear. It mattered not as everyone else got along and many matriarchs saw me as a stronger person after that.

    Just breathe, what happens happens. You don’t choose family, you only choose to have them in your life – which will speak volumes of you and yours. Family is usually the most important thing to people. It’ll be fine!

  4. I just did this!

    My partner’s family live in another country and when they were visiting recently we took them to see each of my parents, who live four hours away. This made it necessary to stay over at my Dads, which was less than neutral but it was ok. We did dinner at my Dad’s then lunch the next day at my Mum’s then got the hell out!

    It went so much better than I thought it would, I tend to over-manage in these situations and I made the biggest effort I’ve ever made. What I totally didn’t expect is how great it is that a) it’s out of the way so I don’t have to worry about at my wedding and b) it’s actually really great that these two completely separate parts of my life have connected. They are not new best friends or anything but the cultures have (somewhat anti-climactically) clashed and we all survived!

    I kept it short and sweet which is my best advice. If when it’s over you think, hmm could of spent more time then you’ve got it right. Good luck!

  5. We introduced our parents (and my uncle) a few days before the wedding. My mom and his mom had talked on the phone and chatted on Facebook. Again, very different backgrounds – my parents are aging hippies, his parents are suburban-Midwestern types. My mom’s a feminist, his mom doesn’t *get* that I’m not using their last name (she started addressing cards and such to me using their name, eight months before we got married).

    Anyways, the trick is to find things, even small ones, that they have in common. Our dads are both interested in woodworking. His dad used to race motorcycles, my uncle used to build them. Our moms both quilt and drink scotch. Everybody likes camping.

  6. We had been dating for a couple years before all of our parents met each other (our moms meet once before). We all went to the state fair for the day. I thought it worked really well because we always had something to talk about (plenty of distractions), we could separate when needed, and it was of course super casual. I would recommend having people meet at something casual and distracting to alleviate some of the pressure. And if you go to a fair, you can get fried Oreos!

  7. I think it’s a question of attitudes–if your parents are well-intentioned and enthusiastic about the meeting, it will be fine even if it’s a little awkward and they don’t have much in common. Most adults are familiar with making small talk with people they don’t know. My parents very kindly hosted when his parents visited from across the country, and though everyone was pretty nervous, they mainly just talked about how much they like being our parents and how happy they are we are getting married.

    As another commenter said, they’re not new best friends, but it was a nice step and I wouldn’t have skipped it. It made the rehearsal and wedding dinners much more relaxed and comfortable. We’ve been married a year, and both sets of parents send each other holiday cards and the occasional little gift–I really appreciate the effort they make to be friendly. It feels like family.

    That said, if there is the potential for drama, you’d be in a completely different boat–and then I’m not sure how I would handle it. I guess I’m pretty lucky!

  8. I’m also super nervous about this. My parents are pretty much the most miraculously awesome ever and his are in no way awful, but there are some HUGE differences in ideology as well as geography. The other thing that I’ve found insanely frustrating is that they are only coming for the rehearsal dinner and wedding and leaving the next day (they live in Texas and we are in Oregon). I also know that my dude’s father doesn’t quite “approve” of his job and neither parent has ever visited him in the 6+ years he’s lived here. The whole idea of all that is so alien to my family experience that I’m having a hard time dealing with it. (My family would travel at least a week ahead of the wedding and stay at least a day or so afterward, and always managed to come visit me at least once when I lived somewhere far away.) So the first time everyone will get together will be the rehearsal dinner, which is being (rather firmly) run by my future father-in-law. Probably somewhere super poshy. Honestly, I’m more nervous about that aspect than any other part of the wedding. By far.

    I just tell myself that they’re all nice people and they all love my fiance and me, so things should work out just fine. Probably. I think.

    (I think I just peed a little from terror.)

    • Does your dude feel the same way about the amount of time his parents are with you or he less bothered by it? Is that just how his family do weddings? Have you been to any of their family weddings or spent much time with them and seen how they interact?

      I ask because this rang a bell. I’ve been stressing recently about the fact that no one in my partners family will make a speech at the wedding, they don’t do that at weddings in their country and they are quite shy and conventional so it’s no good trying to persuade them to break the mold…. My partner is not bothered because for her that’s normal and she wasn’t expecting it, but for ages I was (despite what she said) feeling bad that no-one would speak for her, because you can bet your life my lot won’t shut up about me. We spoke though and I listened this time, had a good think, came to the conclusion that although if no-one in my family spoke for me I’d be crushed because in family it would mean they didn’t care, I can’t really take the same meaning from my partner’s family not speaking.

      I may be way off but could that be happening a bit here? Btw it’s great your dude’s family are engaged and involved enough to be hosting the rehearsal dinner, maybe let them go to town, you still get the wedding and that’s what it’s all about. When your brain is frying trying to think what on earth they have in common try these: a) the obvious answer is you two and the wedding itself, b) they are grown ups they will find it if you let them free a bit. I’m speaking as a reformed micro-manager…….
      When my in-laws to be and both of my divorced parents and their new partners met recently, it was so much better than I had worried about and I saw new sides to every single one of them. Good luck!

      • Thanks for the insight! And yes, I have given up all ownership of the rehearsal dinner (which is more of a relief than anything; I am fine with having pretty much no part in it and letting him go nuts. Just sort of worried it’s going to be in the kind of place where I won’t be able to figure out which fork to use and will look like more of a spaz than usual).

        As to the normal wedding behavior, there’s a bit more drama involved than all that (because of course). There’s weird favoritism going on with my dude’s dad and his disapproval of my dude’s job but wholehearted approval of dude’s brother’s job. So… yeah. Luckily, my dude and his brother get along fairly well despite this, but it’s a little on the face-slappy side that his dad has shown almost zero interest in dude’s life here in Oregon. Dude wants to not make a big deal of it, and I respect his wishes, but it makes me upset that despite all his amazing work in a super difficult industry his dad still thinks he should “get a real job.”

        Anyway, I’m getting ranty. I think my best strategy is to turn up the charm to 11 and not drink at all that night. I will play the 50s hostess and try to monitor conversations and gently steer them away from awkwardness. It may be a white-knuckle ride, but it’s a small price to pay for marrying the best dude in the history of ever. And weddings (including rehearsal dinners) are no place for the airing of family laundry; we save that for Thanksgiving dinners. 😉

      • I went to a wedding where some but not all of the bride’s family was there and at the rehearsal dinner, there were several “tributes” to the awesomeness of the groom, but very few for the bride. The groom (who is also going to be our wedding officiant) took it upon himself towards the end of the evening to talk about how awesome the bride is. I thought that was just the raddest thing.

  9. Our parents could not be more different but we took them out to dinner anyway and they got along so well. In general, adults know how to keep a conversation going and can suffer through one meal even if they don’t get famously. Ultimately, it’s like an hour of everyones life if it’s not going well.

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