Dear Family Advisor

I don't want my fiancé to stay with my parents over the holidays.

Last updated: Dec 08, 2010

My fiancé is coming home for the holidays with me this year "“ and I'm seriously thinking about staying in a hotel instead of at my parents' house. I don't want him to meet them for the first time with us staying there. Their house smells musty, and it's not as clean as it used to be. All we do is sit around and watch television for hours on end. My dad is wheelchair-bound due to an accident that happened years ago and left him paralyzed from the waist down with a colostomy bag. A care aide visits five days a week for eight hours a day, but it still feels so dark and depressing there.

How do I break the news to my parents that we'll be staying at a hotel and that we're also going to do a bit of sightseeing while we're in town? I know I need to visit with my parents and help them out some, but can't this visit be an exception?

It sounds like you're a bit embarrassed and uncomfortable about your parents' situation. That's perfectly normal when introducing someone new, and it's a lot for your fiancé to take in at one time if you're nervous. So yes, it's okay that this visit is the exception "“ so long as you don't turn your back on your parents for good. Your fiancé needs to get to know all of you. And if he's the real deal, then he'll find a way to accept your family.

Approach your mom and dad in a casual way ahead of time. Let them know that you and your fiancé plan to bunk at a hotel for this visit. (You have told them you're engaged, haven't you?) Explain this will be less stressful than if they felt they had to tidy up or entertain. Explain, too, that this is a special trip for you, bringing your guy home for the first time, and that you'll be coming and going more than usual because you want to also show him your town. Invite your folks to join you for some of these outings. Assure them you'll still have lots of time together.

And emphasize that you'll visit again soon with a focus just on them and on helping with their care needs -- and keep your word.

Also talk candidly with your fiancé about your parents' situation before you go. He deserves to know what he's getting himself into. Don't overworry about his reaction; remember, he has family, too, and caregiving days eventually come to both sides of a family. But do hold off on the complaints for now. Sure, you have lots of issues with your parents (the non-stop TV, the musty smells) but going on about them is unnecessary and could sound like you're being ugly. Better to vent those to a girlfriend or someone who's walked this caregiving road with you for awhile

During your visit, give everyone chances to get to know one another in pleasant circumstances. Visit for a couple of hours at a time, maybe for something that has a natural time limit, like a brunch or dinner. Do things together: Ride around and look at Christmas lights, rent a holiday movie, piece together a puzzle, or make popcorn balls. Your fiancé may bring out a freshness and happiness in your parents.

Try to squeeze in a little alone time with each parent to be sure they don't feel like you're avoiding them. Take a walk to the mailbox with your mom or sit and chat with your dad.

Will it all go perfectly? I'd be surprised if it did! But it will be good enough, if you go in with a smile and a "welcome to my wacky family" mindset. Be real and show that you really love each other. Talking openly about your loved ones is a great way to start this new relationship on solid ground. What you really hope for is that, years from now, you have a spouse who loves you and your parents, and gives you strength and support in all you do. That starts today.