Spending a couple of nights sleeping over at the in-laws for the holidays? Not sure how it’s going to go?

Even if it’s not the first time you’re meeting them, staying overnight at the in-laws (married or not) can be stressful, confusing, and turn into a total disaster if you’re not prepared. Knowing what to expect from them, knowing how you might act and react, and being ready for surprises is what will make your stay with them work out.

There’s the story of a couple who stayed in close quarters with the boyfriend’s parents, their children and another sister. In the morning, they decided that in order to save time and much-needed hot water, they would take a shower together. Ecological thinking, right?

Big mistake! While the boyfriend’s parents were not religious, they had plenty of disapproval toward a woman who would do such a thing in front of the grandchildren!

Remember: it’s their house, not yours! While you can turn around be self-righteous after they judge you on your behaviour, it’s a whole lot easier to just avoid a testy situation altogether. After all, it’s only a couple of nights, and chances are, if you’re staying there it means they don’t live close by. Visits will not be that frequent. Do what you can to make it work!

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1. Ask questions before you go

A sleepover at the in-laws requires a little bit of planning. Find out what is going to happen during your time there. Will there be many guests? What traditions do the family follow? Are they religious? Are they private people, extremely chatty, or busy? Will you be expected to find your own activities? Will you have a little privacy, or will there be constant guests? What questions might they ask? Be sure to understand what the general rules of the home are, and the culture of the household. You’ll want to know if you can wear a nightie or should stick to flannel pyjamas. If you are bringing young children, make sure to ask about nearby parks and spaces where they can get some of their energy out without feeling too constrained by new rules and a new environment.

2. Be open to new traditions

While sharing some of your personal traditions can help introduce yourself, keep it to a minimum. It’s often better to approach the in-laws as an anthropological project, with curiosity and respect for their ways of doing things. You are, after all, a guest. Enter with the attitude “When in Rome, do as the Romans do!” or at the very least, don’t criticize or comment negatively on the family traditions. If there’s something you are absolutely uncomfortable with, try to bow out politely.

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3. Bring appropriate sleepwear

This is not the time to break out the sexy lingerie! Bring the flannels and cotton. Save the baby dolls, teddies, and chemises’ for a night when you’re alone with him!

4. Don’t be judgmental

We are all different, and every household has a different set of norms. When we’re with a new partner, we scrutinize carefully (with good reason!) but sometimes have to be careful to remain polite, even if things don’t go as you imagined. Even if you’re not impressed, compliment your mother in-law on her cooking, youthful skin, or design sense. Find something, even something simple. Use gratitude. Point to her ability to take nice photos of her kids, or generosity for inviting you over. If you fall in love with them, make sure to keep yourself from gushing, feeling jealous, or cozying up too much at the cost of isolating your partner. Any overreactions –positive or negative- can be overwhelming for everyone.

Is the father ranting on about a controversial social issue? You can state your opinion, but this is not the time to judge harshly. You can talk about your convictions and criticisms later with your boyfriend or girlfriend if you feel threatened by the family ideas and values.

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5. They’re your in-laws, not your maid

Make sure you arrive on time for meals, help out with the tidying up and dishes, and use your manners. Don’t lay back and relax as if you’re in a hotel: you’re not!

Be the best version of yourself - With the in-laws, you want to be the best version of yourself, so make sure you’re ready to roll with anything, come what may.

Holidays are a time for love and gratitude. Try to give the gift of your patience and understanding.