Holigay Gift Guide 2014: Winning Over the In-Laws

Feature image via Steve Cukrov/Shutterstock

You and your boo have been going strong for a while. Maybe a few months, maybe a few years. You’ve weathered a couple of holidays apart, but you just can’t stand the thought of waking up on Nondenominational Holiday morning without your favorite person by your side. So you’ve talked it through and come up with a plan to spend the holidays with their family, where you’ll gain unprecedented insight into the traditions and drunken relatives that made them who they are today.

For instance, you'll learn they all giggle uncontrollably at the thought of "carving the roast."  Via oliveromg/Shutterstock.

For instance, you’ll learn they all giggle uncontrollably at the thought of “carving the roast.”
Via oliveromg/Shutterstock.

Of course, you don’t want to show up empty-handed, especially if this is the first time you’re meeting the fam. But you also don’t want to bankrupt yourself buying elaborate gifts they may not actually like. The key is to pinpoint one fact about each family member — something you couldn’t just learn from lurking their Facebook, but rather by actually talking to your person about them — and then find a gift that nods at that interest without being too obvious. Obviously these ideas won’t ring true for every family member of every family — all families are different! — but it’s a place to start.

For their dad, who is impressed by your booze knowledge


You’ve already gotten on dad’s good side by confidently ordering one of the three beers you’re familiar with when you joined the family for happy hour. When you ordered a whiskey on the rocks, he gave you a look that said, “I’m glad my child is dating you.” Keep a good thing going by giving him things any at-home bartender would want.

1. Sipping Stones, $11.95. They’re rocks that you put in your whiskey to keep it chilled without ice, which dilutes your beverage as it melts, which you can discuss with dad after he inevitably asks you to share a drink.

2. Radioactive Elements glowing coaster set, $24.99. Sure, he probably already owns coasters, but do those coasters glow when you set your drink on them? Are they shaped like squares on the periodic table of elements? Do they SCIENCE? I THINK NOT.

3. Govino flexible shatterproof wine glass, $14.25 for set of two. I’m obsessed with stemless wine glasses, but these take the beauty and convenience to a whole new level. They’re shatterproof, y’all. You can drop them (but, like, don’t, because you’ll spill your drink) and they won’t break! The only person who will appreciate this fact more than me is your boo thang’s dad. I promise you that.

4. Bar10der Ten-in-One Ultimate Bartending Tool, $29.95. Ali suggested this on her Liquor in the Gift Guide last year, but it’s always a good time to stock up on bar tools. As with all of these gifts, suggest that you and dad try it out by making beverages for each member of the family.

5. 2012 Pink Floyd the Dark Side of the Moon Cabernet Sauvignon, $16.99This is probably not universal, but to me, red wine + rock music = dadn. And even if he’s not a Pink Floyd fan, who doesn’t love a good cabernet?

 For their mom, who just got a smartphone


She’s the last one in the family to join the smartphone era, but that just means she’s relying on everyone else to show her the most important things she can do with her new gadget. Join the effort with these helpful gifts to get her FaceTiming, Venmoing and Instagramming like a millennial.

1. iPhone 6 wallet case in pacific green, $39.99. Show her the wonders of combining your phone and your wallet with this case, which has room for three credit cards and some cash. Plus, the color is just so pretty.

2. Spotify Premium Gift Card, $30. This gift card will get her three months of Spotify Premium for ad-free mobile listening. Be sure to warn her ahead of time she won’t be able to stream 1989, though.

3. Minisuit sporty armband with key holder, $11.95. If she’s the exercising kind, it won’t be long before she realizes there’s no good way to store your phone while you’re breaking a sweat. This armband will solve that problem before she’s even had a chance to encounter it! Bonus points because it includes a pocket for her house key, so she doesn’t have to take the whole ring.

4. Anker Astro E3 ultra compact portable external battery charger, $25.99. As smartphones get bigger, their battery life is (for the most part) dwindling. This backup battery pack can charge multiple devices and will even charge your phone while the pack itself is plugged in! Like magic.

5. Sony MDRZX100 ZX Series Stereo Headphones, $15.25. For listening to music while she reads, for watching Netflix while your dad is sleeping, for keeping her ears warm during her evening walks. They’re inexpensive but good quality, and not so big that she’ll feel silly wearing them in public. Pretty perfect gift, eh?

 For their sister, who is taking her first gender studies class


She’s started reblogging bell hooks quotes and stopped shaving her armpits. She’s developing a reputation during family events because she’s not afraid to call out the racist/sexist/homophobic comments, and you’re damn proud of her for it. Show your support with these gifts, and she’ll surely see you as an ally in the good fight.

1. Autostraddle “Misandrist” shirt, $25. Every good budding feminist needs one.

2. Autostraddle “Safe Space” pencil case, $8. She can use it to store her favorite note-taking pens, with the added bonus of showing everyone around her that she’s cool as hell.

3. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, $9.99. This is one of the most acclaimed books of the year, and for good reason. Once she reads this collection of essays from Roxane Gay, she’ll join us in our mutual obsession with the writer.

4. Queer and Trans Artists of Color: Stories of Some of Our Lives compiled by Nia King, $20.66. Gently nudge her toward intersectionality with this anthology, which our own Mey described as “like a primer for how to be an effective artist or community worker.”

5. Autostraddle Plus membership. Do I really have to explain this one?

For their grandmother, who is tentative about your attendance at this sacred family event


She’s allowed you in the door, and that’s a first good step, but you can do so much more to win grandma over. These gifts will acknowledge that she’s still getting used to the idea while also showing her how much there is to love about you.

1. This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids by Dannielle Owens-Reid and Kristin Russo, $13.44. Admit it, Maddie’s interview with her dad and grandmother made you cry a little bit. Print out a copy of that story and stick it in the front cover of this book when you give it to grandma for added thoughtfulness.

2. Royal Dansk Danish butter cookies, $7.98. I have never met a grandma who didn’t like Danish butter cookies. They’re a guaranteed hit.

3. ViewSonic 8-inch digital photo frame, $34.99. A place for her to display all the photos of her loved ones. Bonus points if you pre-load it with some family snapshots (and maybe sneak yourself into one or two shots!).

4. Lindt Lindor Truffles, Assorted Token Gift Box, $11.44. If nothing else, she can remember you as “that nice girl that brought me delicious chocolates.” Be sure to ask if she’s got a condition that requires a sugar-free version, though!

5. Fresh Purple Dendrobium Orchids, $21.34. Of course, if you’re truly stumped, you can always just bring her some nice flowers. Pick a bright color or a particularly well-scented bunch so that she’ll be able to appreciate them even if her eyes aren’t what they used to be. Once you offer to trim the stems and set them up in her favorite antique vase, she’ll have no choice but to like you.

Which of your partner’s family members are you most nervous about impressing? Do you have anything special you’re planning on giving them to win them over? Does your grandmother hate butter cookies? Let me know in the comments!

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Kaitlyn lives in New York, which is the simplest answer you're going to get if you ask her where she's from. She went to journalism school and is arguably making the most of her degree as a writer and copy editor. She utilizes her monthly cable bill by watching more competitive cooking shows than should be allowed.

Kaitlyn has written 69 articles for us.


  1. Confession: I wanted to include a “brother” category on this list, but I didn’t know what to put in it because I don’t understand boys.* So if anybody has ideas for brothers, please share them here.

    *not that boys are all/mostly the same bc #genderisasocialconstruct but also, what are sports?

    • My brothers:

      -graphic novels
      -books about maths and science
      -cookery books for my younger brother
      -art supplies for my older brother
      -musical stuff
      -gin/twinkies (again, depending on the brother)

    • I have four male cousins and a brother, and the main thing I’ve learned is that two things are always appreciated. First, a $20 or $25 Amazon gift card. Second, a neutrally colored sweater. Although this year my plan is to do bow ties to go with the previous years’ sweaters.
      Or if the brother is just learning/just learned to drive/just got his first car, winter shit for the car. Guys don’t usually think of that.

    • I have three brothers. In recent years I have knit scarves, baked cookies, made ginger-infused vodka, and this year because gf and I both traveled a bit they are receiving luchador masks we got in mexico and Tanzanian gin. My brothers are sort of bad at presents and their idea of a good present is some very stinky weed and a copy of fantasia 2000. Which isn’t wrong, but is not what I told gf’s brother to get me (beeswax candles and earl grey tea)

    • I think a lot of the stuff for the father will work for the brother, as would the battery charger, and Spotify membership(if they don’t already have one). Also, I would add perfume, and queer lit they might be into.

    • My brother likes obscure computer items, food and keep it coming (one year, as a joke, I bought him all yummy but organic snacks and labeled it “hippie intro basket”), and pick-up-put-down books that have quirky facts (2 young kids, not much time for long reads- a Mental Floss subscription also went over well). His birthday is during hiking weather, and he often has something that needs replacing or a trail guide he’s eying. None of this is big stuff, and it’s all easy to find; if you can kind of peg an interest and run with it, that seems to work.

      • You are all my favorites. I’m definitely gonna steal some of these ideas for the brother I have to impress.

    • Bucket hat with a cool print
      Comfy hoodie
      College dorm stuff (obviously depends on your brother)
      Funky tee shirts
      Cologne (but get his input, since cologne tastes vary from person-to-person).

  2. I’ve already got the grandma on my side after last year’s discussion on how to *really* make a fruitcake (none of her bio-grandkids were interested, but if there’s one thing I learned from my own Granny, it’s how to soak a baked good in booze).

    I’m fairly certain the only way I could *actually* win over my inlaws is by somehow magically becoming a Conservative Christian male overnight.

    But, y’know, wine couldn’t hurt.

    • Grandma totally has our backs. Hopefully one unexpectedly super supportive relative makes up for a bunch of… not super supportive relatives?

      Also please don’t magically turn into anything overnight.

      • Yeah, Bernice is our homegirl. I totally owe her a fruitcake. Maybe being supportive just skips a generation?


  3. For grandfolks who are happy about your attendance at the family event: a framed photo of you & your partner! Grandmas love photos.

    And a safe go-to for everyone else on my list: fancy coffee beans or teas.

    • My mother in law was very happy when we gave her a picture. Normally my wife looks away from the camera but a friend took one of us where we were both smiling into the camera. It was the perfect gift!

  4. I think I’m destined to be confused and terrified of my quasi-inlaws. It’s been 8 years. They always seem underwhelmed.

    • Make them mustard! It’s super super easy, fancy because it’s homemade, and if they’re being shitty, you can rest well knowing that they might put too much of it on a sandwich one day and that will be unpleasant so haHA!

      • I like that! They’re never shitty though, just like “oh…”. I made ceramic star tree ornaments last year and gave them to them, the underwhelmed response sucked, those things are hard to glaze dammit. I think they want me to spend money (which I wish I had)…or maybe blood, option 3, which I’m rooting for, is putting both our names on the from section of all tags to both families this year. I get on great with them for the rest of the day post gift hour, like really great…its just the gifts ugh.

  5. This will be my first Christmas at girlfriend’s family’s house. At the moment, my present-buying plan is “hey, here are some European things from Europe”. Other than that, I’m a little stumped.

  6. My biggest in-law gift success was probably when I got my partner’s mom a package of really fancy organic jasmine pearl tea. She burst into happy tears when she opened it because apparently when she was a college student she and her friends would go to political protests together and then sit and drink jasmine tea afterwards to calm down and debrief from the intensity of the events. So basically what I’m saying is a) fancy tea might be a good bet and b) my partner’s mom is really awesome.

  7. For Thanksgiving I got to meet my wife’s conservative relatives. We brought flowers, which I think helps. (One of my friends read in an etiquette book in middle school never to go empty handed and recommended the flowers. It at least made me a little less nervous to have something to hold.) All in all I think the relatives were pleasant and we stayed away from talk about politics and religion, so it’s all good.

  8. Last year I made a clay penguin Christmas ornament for my girlfriend’s mom and she kept it out all year. Two years ago I gave her a decorative tea towel and it’s been hanging in the kitchen ever since. So yeah, I have it super easy.

    • Honey you forgot to mention that my mom also takes people directly to the penguin and/or brings it out to them and goes “Did you see what Lauren made us for Christmas last year? My daughter-in-law MADE this! She MADE it for us! Lauren MADE IT OUT OF CLAY.” With her best “be-fucking-impressed-seriously-my-daughter’s-dating-a-fucking-ARTWIZARD” voice/face.

      She was just so astounded that you had MADE it when they opened it. :P

  9. I’m mostly nervous about what to get my girlfriend’s dad this year. He’s a whiz at models of WWII planes and weaponry, but as a true hobbyist he has every book on the subject known to man and has his preferred, specialist brand of tools and supplies. Even my girlfriend’s mom and my gf look at each other in horror when they try to shop for him, since he also has a terrible habit of buying himself stuff around the holidays.

    I know her mom will like the mints I got her, since they’re a Christmas tradition, but I’m also nervous that the Tinkerbell ornament I’m getting her won’t be the right Tinkerbell ornament, since she’s an enthusiast. But, since I live at my gf’s house pretty much half of the year, I really wanted to get them something to show my appreciation.

    Maybe the “buying yourself gifts at Christmas” thing runs in the family, though, because my girlfriend just bought herself the Liara T’soni shirt I got her for Christmas three months ago. I foolishly thought, “It’s so close to Christmas, she wouldn’t spontaneously buy herself Mass Effect gear!” Alas.

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