The In-Law Holiday Survival Guide

Among the myriad of potential minefields that lay in wait this holiday season, time with the in-laws (or your significant other’s parents) is very high up on that disaster list. Whether these folks are sweet or sour, intelligent or dumb, liberal or conservative, offensive or politically correct, here are some tips (outside of a bottle of bourbon and a box of candy, of course) on how to successfully navigate the upcoming holidays in good order.

Know Your Greeting
When in-laws are coming over, sometimes the potential for awkwardness begins at the jump, right when they walk in the door. Are they a handshake-among-gentlemen kind of family? A three kisses on the cheek kind of family? Are they bear huggers? It’s enough to drive a man insane, and we’ve only just begun. Plan accordingly as it’s important to know ahead of time. The awkwardness that could ensue when you go in for a bro-hug with Hank and he shrugs you off like Marshawn Lynch in full Beast Mode could put a damper on the situation. If you’re hosting, always offer to take coats and packages right out of the gate, it’s the gentlemanly thing to do. From there a no-fail follow up is to immediately offer a drink. I mean hey, everyone loves a drink right? There’s a lot to think about with the in-laws as they enter, and this is before they’ve had a chance to even hint at their potential disapproval of you, so be prepared.

Compliments, Compliments, Compliments
It can be good to compliment both in-laws, but you also don’t want to over-compliment or they might recognize that you’re blowing smoke up their asses. Keep it balanced. When in doubt, go the semi-humorous. A dash of self deprecation never hurt either.

Editor’s Note: Our top three Mother-In-Law compliments are:
1. “Wow, everytime I see you I always know where (wife/girlfriend’s name) gets her amazing looks.”
2. “You look lovely, not a day over perfection!”
3. “Man, (Father’s name), I married the wrong (Wife’s maiden name/Girlfriend’s last name)!”

Show Some Style
No father-in-law wants to come over to see his daughter married a slob. Even if he loves you dearly, even if he’s kind and considerate, he’s definitely wanting you to look like you earned his daughter’s affection and didn’t just luck out or wear her down. Put on something nice, keep it simple. An easy bet is a nice pair of chinos or dark denim, a crisp buttondown, and a blazer. Don’t neglect your shoes either. For more tips, check out our Holiday Style Guide video.

Drink Up, But Just Enough
Let’s just say drink smart, kind of like you’re at your company Christmas party. It doesn’t hurt to have a few drinks to build your confidence, cut the anxiety of in-law interactions, and give you a little liquid courage. Few mother-in-laws want to see their son-in-law sloshed, but completely sober holidays can be grueling. Maybe take your father-in-law outside for a beer or two and a respite from the kitchen conversation. Do some research and find some common ground, things you both are interested in. Sports, scotch, woodworking, whatever, a little thought goes a long way. Once you hand him a glass of his favorite booze and ask him a thoughtful question everything’s gonna be alright.

Eat Whatever the In-Laws Bring & Eat a Lot of It
Even if they bring the inedible cranberry sauce or some strange-tasting fruit cake, eat it. Broccoli with a sauce of unknown provenance? Your favorite damn food ever. And don’t just eat it, tell them how great it was. Sure, it might be painful and you’re definitely supporting someone who obviously is a terrible cook but you know what? It’s the right thing to do, you’ve got to pick your battles. As Mr. Miyagi once said, “No mother-in-law has ever hated a son-in-law who compliments her cooking.” Editor’s note: Mr. Miyagi did not say this.

The Three G’s - Give Great Gifts
It may seem obvious but we’re talking about putting some real thought in here. Do some digging, remember what things they are interested in. A gift from the heart can really mean a lot. There shouldn’t be any pressure to spend excessively though, in fact, a thoughtful gift trumps an expensive one every time, but you definitely don’t want to be “that damn cheapskate”. If there is a no-presents rule in effect with the family, never show up empty-handed, a bottle of wine or something similar is always in order.

Seriously, No Politics
Sure, it’s obviously the ultimate rule of family holidays, we’ve said it here numerous times before. But, it’s going to happen though, be prepared, just don’t let it be you. Obviously someone is going to rip off some comments like: “Would America ever elect a self-proclaimed Socialist like Bernie Sanders?” “Do we want more Clintons or Bushes in the White House?” “Could someone born in Canada like Ted Cruz legally be president?” “Is Donald Trump serious about [insert crazy statement here]?” But these questions are not questions for the holidays. Holiday questions are: “Could you pass the gravy?” “Who wants another Scotch?” “Who made these delicious rolls?” “When should we do the gift exchange?” “Did you hear about Uncle Jeff's new job?” “Where does Tommy go to school now?” “How ‘bout dem Cowboys?” “How did you know I wanted this for Christmas?” You get the idea. Keep it clean. Just not your head indiscriminately, take another sip of your drink, and attempt to change the subject gracefully.

Challenge Them a Bit, But Let Them Be Right
On topics like politics or religion, it’s best to switch topics gracefully using the tactics described above. On other topics, like say sports or movies, obviously it’s cool to be yourself. We’re definitely not encouraging you become someone you’re not, especially someone who just constantly defers to your in-laws. Say what you think and say it clearly and passionately. That said, after you’ve made your point, if they’re still battling you about it, just let them win the argument. No film or football team, no matter how good or how much a part of your life, is worth getting into a heated debate with your father-in-law. Sorry Red Sox/Patriots fans.

The Right Way to Exit
After you’ve offered to help clean up repeatedly (you did, didn’t you?), it’s time for a graceful exit. If you’re the host, never kick your in-laws out. Subtle hints like serving coffee/tea, turning down the music, and cleaning up the table can get the message across. Skip the obvious, “Well, we gotta wake up early tomorrow, so...”. If you’re a guest, make sure not to overstay your welcome. If the tide turns and other guests start leaving, feel free to join the herd. Being the first guests to leave can be dicey so tread carefully, but once you’ve committed, see it through and make it quick.

Hopefully our tips have left you standing and un-injured after what was no doubt quite a battle. Stay safe out there.

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