Help! My Family Is Embarrassing

Ask Demetria: Five ways to reduce stress when you bring a mate home for the holidays.

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3. Warn your date of family traditions.

My friend Sophia was raised in America, but her parents are from London by way of Lagos; thus they don't celebrate Thanksgiving. It's no bigger deal than, say, your average Sunday dinner. Her boyfriend invited her to Thanksgiving dinner where the men cook, per family tradition.

After Sophia ate, she, a football fan, headed to the basement with the men to watch the game and hang out with her boyfriend instead of staying upstairs with the women, per another family tradition, to clean up. There's no way she could have known this without being told, but because she didn't pick up on it or offer to help with the dishes, his mother took it as a sign she was "rude" and didn't "fit" with the family and held a grudge against her for years.

4. Rescue your mate from awkward situations.

If your family is anything like mine, someone (age 70-plus) will find the most inappropriate time of the night and when everyone is in earshot to ask about some personal issue that is none of their business. For me, it was the elderly aunt, who asked my boyfriend (of less than a year) why it was taking so long for him to ask me to marry him. He sputtered for so long, I just told him, "Why don't you head to the basement ... now!"

And don't think that when you get married, you'll be immune to this. My girl Coretta is the breadwinner in her marriage. At her (bourgeois) family dinner, her grandfather asked her husband how work was going, then followed up with, "You earning any more money yet?"

As her husband stammered to figure out a way to defend himself without offending his in-laws, she came to his defense. "He works hard. I love him. That is all that matters," she blurted. Case closed.

5. Set your partner up for the win.

If there are hot-button issues that will immediately turn your family off, tell (or remind) your date. For instance, if you come from a clan of die-hard Obama or Redskins fans (that would be the Lucas household), it would be helpful if your partner knew not to sing the praises of Herman Cain or talk about how much he loves Tony Romo.

Also, give an update on any recent family developments, such as the fact that your sister is now separated from her husband. It would be helpful to know so that your partner doesn't look for him and ask the kids, "Hey, where's your dad hiding out?" thinking he's elsewhere in the house.

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