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.

  10. We hosted Christmas dinner at his place and invited both sets of parents – we wanted the non-neutral but also informal setting.

  11. We did a dinner a few nights before the wedding for all the parents. It helped that his and my siblings and a few bridal party members were there as well. It was at my mom’s house, but it was a bigger gathering. Plenty of time for the parents to chat, but it wasn’t just the six of us (or, in my case, the eight of us. Hooray for divorced parents!) Having siblings there kept it in the family, but also distracted everyone enough that nothing uncomfortable happened. Your mileage may vary, depending on if you have siblings or if they would help or hurt the situation!

  12. I’d recommend pooling your information and actually sitting down for an hour or two to go through your parents interests and histories. We all talk about our relatives but we don’t often take all the information in. There might be things you or your partner assume the other one knows about but that you’ve never actually discussed or that you’ve forgotten. Then you can make notes of possible conversation starters (or things to avoid) if you have any awkward silences.

    As an example we first got together 13 years ago at university (married last year) and our parents met at least once a year to help us move between accommodations etc. It wasn’t until the wedding 12 years later that we realised that our grandparents used to work together and that his granddad was my dads old boss. If we’d known that sooner (whilst my grandparents were still alive) it would probably have changed the whole family dynamic. Obviously thats a really extreme example that’s not likely to happen if you grew up in separate states, but anything in common could be helpful.

  13. I was SO anxious when I invited my mom and Writer Boy’s parents over to meet. We were not engaged yet, but I knew we were soon to be and that Writer Boy was going to tell my mom he was planning to ask me to marry me. I was a nervous wreck, and cleaned for days beforehand; I decided to cook/host, as that is what seemed to work best for all parties. It went well, my mom is a very gracious hostess herself she she is very good at getting through awkward pauses. I would say something casual is easiest to navigate…but that might not be the same for you!

    My dad did not meet Writer Boy’s parents until the wedding; I do not have a strong relationship with my dad, so I just let them talk (I was also preoccupied with getting married). Best of luck to you, I’m sure whatever you decide will work out fine. 🙂

  14. My fiancé and I recently went through this same thing, different education and socio-economic backgrounds, step parents, uncles that are hard of hearing and a variety of dietary restrictions, and parents that live on both coasts while we live in the middle, the works. Briefly here is what we did:
    My partner and I scoped out about 6-10 different restaurants. We were able to narrow it down to two or three. We went to our respective parents and explained how the bill would be split up (10 people eating, total the meal divide by 10 everyone pays the same, alcohol was separate). Then asked them what kind of price range they were okay with. We made the reservation and I sent out an email to everyone attending through mail chimp. (Mail chimp is like constant contact, but free, you just need a website, that’s where myweddingwebsite.com came in really helpful) I introduced everyone in the email, explained their relationship to myself or my partner, reiterated the way the bill would be divided up and made sure to include links to: the restaurant main page, the menu page, and the google map of the location.
    In the end we were both so proud of our parents and it went really well, but that was in large part due to our diligence in making sure the environment made everyone comfortable. You can’t make them talk to each other or like each other, but you can facilitate an environment where they probably will, and don’t forget, they’re there to support you, they don’t want to make a fool of themselves or of you.

    Things to consider when choosing a restaurant (in no particular order):
    1. Do they have a private room? – one of our guests was hard of hearing so this was important
    2. Does their menu have a vegetarian/low sodium/low carb/etc option? Is the chef capable of changing something on the menu to suit a specific diet?
    3. What is the price range?
    4. Is the restaurant crowded when you visit? Also ask them about their dinner rush on whatever night you are planning this event. What will this do for parking? Is there valet? Can your elderly grandma and her walker get up the stairs if there are mobs of people? Etc.
    5. Does the Restaurant Manager come talk to you when you are scoping out the place? – we went to several restaurants and only one manager came out to talk to us, we ended up going there.
    6. Is there a minimum order amount? – Sometimes when reserving a room there will be a minimum total order amount, but this can sometimes be waived if you ask.
    7. At what point do they start to add a gratuity to the check? – most restaurants will add a gratuity to checks for a 6 top or more, but the minimum size of that party varies from restaurant to restaurant so be sure to double check
    8. Make sure to check out the bathrooms! – If the bathrooms aren’t clean, or if they are uncomfortable you may not want your mother/grandmother/future mother-in-law to be using them. And while this is not a hard and fast rule, I have a personal bias towards the cleanliness of the staff and kitchen in a restaurant with a nice, clean bathroom.
    9. Check out the bar. – this was less important for us as my family doesn’t drink, but if you know that someone coming just has to have a finger of Bushmill’s post dinner it’ll be nice to know that they have that.
    10. Last, but certainly not least, get a feel for the wait staff. When you’re scoping out a restaurant see if you can draw the wait staff into conversation, if they seem happy and content to shoot the shit with you then chances are the manager probably treats them well. This generally makes for better service, better food, and a better experience all around, and who doesn’t want to support a place that treats their employees well? Obviously they are at work though, so if you do come during a rush take that into account when trying to talk up the wait staff.

    Disclaimer: this all comes from my own experience and you can pick and choose what you take or leave from it, you are also free to disagree with me.

    • Your comment just saved me. My boyfriend and I have been talking a lot more lately about marriage and that our parents should meet way before we get engaged. This just took away so much stress for us. Thank you so much!!!!!

  15. My partner and i have been dating for three and a half years, we live with his parents, and our parents haven’t met yet because mine are across the country. But they always tell me to send well-wishes to each other when i call home, and my mom sends a Christmas gift basket every year, so while it will still be awkward, I’m convinced it won’t be horrible. No idea when that will happen though so it is decidedly a problem for Future!Heather.

  16. Gah! I am terrified of this and have been since we got engaged!

    There is no chance of our parents meeting before wedding time hits and even if we just introduce them at the wedding itself, I can only see it as being horrendously awkward.

    Different education levels, different interests, his parents drink (heavily) and mine are teetotalers, his dad is a big clown (not in a bad way, but in a sometimes embarrassing way) and mine is… very sombre). My parents are very conservative, his smoke various things.

    I am very, very tempted to just not introduce them before wedding day, and put them on separate tables. I’m worried his will embarrass him, and mine will be way too judgmental. Cry.

  17. I was terrified of this as well. My parents are very conservative Christians and my FMIL is quite modern and currently has a live in boyfriend and smokes like a chimney. At first I was worried but then my FH reminded me how incredibly people pleasing both our mothers are. Not only do they get along famously but I think they could probably be left alone in the same room without killing each other! Hooray! Her live in boyfriend is a different story 😛 My mother doesn’t agree with FMIL life choices but agrees she has raised quite a gentleman 🙂

  18. I remember introducing my husbands parents to my parents. It was never racking. A couple of things that worked for us:

    1) We hosted the dinner at my apartment. I cooked for everyone, it took forever and I was so nervous that it wouldn’t turn out. BUT it meant that neither set of parents felt obligated to even offer to pay, and having to being in the kitchen gave us something to do rather than feeling obligated to continually smile and keep up conversations. It helped the parents talk more amongst themselves than just between us. (You footing the bill should also make asking for help with wedding costs a little smoother)

    2) Be comfortable. Another reason I had it at my apartment. It was tiny, had no dining room or table, and just barely enough seating in the living room. BUT it was my place, I could change clothes or run to the bath room or hide in the bedroom for a few minutes if I needed to. Since we were more comfortable, they were more comfortable.

    3) With any luck, you get along reasonably well your fiancés parents and your parents like and get along with your fiancé. Remind yourself (and if necessary, them!) that they are meeting the people responsible for raising the person their child is about to commit their life to. No matter how many difference they may have, they should be able to find some common ground and respect based on that alone.

    Good luck!

  19. We were nervous about this too, especially as both sets of parents were not super-happy about our engagement/wedding because of religious issues. So when my parents were in town my fiance and I picked a restaurant and we all had dinner together. Fiance and I had planned from the beginning that we would cover the check so as to avoid an awkward moment when both sets of parents offer to pay.

    So pick a restaurant you can afford and then cover the check. If you think you’re families will be likely to insist on paying, you could tell them in advance that it will be your treat.

  20. Nobody should resent you if someone from your family embarrasses themselves. They may despise that person, not you. Everybody knows you don’t get to choose your family.

  21. I am worried about this too, in part because my man’s parents are divorced; they’re amicable, but I don’t want to force them to hang out, ever. Also, while my parents are relatively chatty types, his mother is really quiet and his father is a talkaholic – to make up a term, he’s a Chathulu, devourer of conversations – so even if they meet my parents separately it’s going to be a bit awkward.
    But they’re all nice people from Ohio, so at least they can discuss the weather with genuine interest.

  22. AT this point it seems like the lowest stress, lowest anxiety method for us would be our parents potentially never meeting- so I can really only offer commiseration vs. advice. They may meet at our wedding, but I feel like there’s a good possibility that they will either choose to not come (v. frugal and we live in another part of the country, plus his step mom isn’t a huge fan of me-we were just visiting for a week and the wedding/engagement was not mentioned by either of them) or my fiance may decide to not invite them and no longer have them as a part of our lives (it’s a complicated stressful relationship). Should they meet, I would probably invite them to our apartment and make a casual meal for everyone with the hopes that its the best way to even out some of the obvious differences between our two families.

  23. It may sound a little silly but when my now husband and I approached this subject, we took our parents to Dave & Busters (you know, the Chuck E. Cheese for adults). We thought it was a bit of a risk but it worked out so perfectly. This way, if our very different parents had nothing to talk about there were plenty of activities to do. When it came to the check, we just all paid for our own (because it also included the cost of games). We treated it more as just three couples going out to dinner together rather than a big scary meeting. By the end of the night the dad had played electronic poker together, the moms had done some skeeball, and everyone was happy. I was shocked at how much fun everyone had and how our parents were able to let loose and act like kids.

  24. We introduced our parents as soon as hers came back to the country for a visit. We invited them to my parents’ house on the farm where I cooked the meal and let the parents loose with talk. Surprisingly they seemed to get on really well. My (s)Dad and her Stepfather are both educated and have different religious beliefs, mine used to own and run a business and now milks cows and hers does financial planning for a Tasmanian DHB but they found a middle ground for good chat and humour while the Mums had a wine each and talked about everything from cows and gardening to kids (I have 4 yo brothers) and grand-babies.. And Mum was excited to have them back around when they visited the following year.
    I think I’m pretty lucky, I have the coolest parents and in laws (to be).

    • I Think in our case the situation was nerve-wracking just because it felt like it made the wedding thing very Real and we wanted it to be a positive experience in general because it was showing off our hosting skills. Our parents had been exchanging Christmas gifts crosscountry for 4 years already, and none of them are big on drama or scenes even if they couldn’t get along.

      We took them all to brunch two days before the wedding when they were all in town. My parents didn’t get lost on the bus, no one made it past the top section of the menu before they found a dish they just HAD to have, and afterward I gave everyone a little tour of our places in the city like the mister’s work and his cousin’s mural on the side of the Mason’s lodge (my dad’s a freemason and we’re all very proud of the cousin’s work). All in all a very good day.

    • I’m sorry, I’ve no idea why this posted as a reply to you, I tried to reply to the whole post. Blasted mobile!

  25. Sorry about commenting on an old post, but newly engaged here, I’m reading EVERYTHING xD
    Me and my fiance joked about our parents wouldn’t meet until our wedding, and now we’re engaged, and they still haven’t. So now we’re trying to make it happen in a month and a half! Super nervous about this. His parents are AMAZING, I love them so much, we try to see them as often as we can (they live a 7 hour drive away). My parents live very closeby, but we don’t see them as often. They are just not social people at all, and honestly pretty weird. So this will be awkward as fuck, and pretty much a culture clash. But I guess it’s better to rip the bandaid off asap instead of letting it end up with them meeting at the wedding! I don’t even wanna think about how awkward it will be regardless.

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