Dear Carolyn: My sibs and I (coming from three different continents) are planning a vacation for our mom’s upcoming 70th birthday. We all agree it would be a wonderful surprise. This would be the first time the four of us, no grandkids or significant others, would vacation together since we were teens.
When I voiced that I hoped we will not include her companion of four years, Older Sib pushed back – it’s Mom’s party and she should do what she wants to.
We only see her companion during our short annual family reunions and he’s, well, pushy and demanding. I really had hoped we would have one “just us” vacation to make new memories with our mom, and not have a stranger around. Older Sib thinks I am selfish, and Baby Sib doesn’t care.
I really don’t care to spend any additional time with her companion. Any sound advice?
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Troublesome Middle Child
Yes: Never go into a group vacation hoping it will go your way.
That’s not what you meant, though, is it.
You want a ruling on your mother’s pushy companion, so here you go: In support of your argument to exclude Mom’s plus-one, you have the decision by the three of you to leave kids and partners at home. You plainly intend this to be a reunion of the nuclear family.
To back up your sib’s argument, though, there’s the point of this whole celebration: Mom. When you presume to dictate her guest list, you make her party about you.
That ends it right there. Mom’s party. Companion included.
But even if it were a close call, you’d still have to pick one because you can’t have co-top-priorities. It’s either an event to serve the hosts’ own needs and you invite guests to take it or leave it as planned, or you celebrate a guest of honor in a way said guest would appreciate – and the hosts take that preference or leave it.
One kernel of opportunity is that you can still present the just-us version of the trip for Mom’s consideration. Maybe: “We thought it might be nice to have just the four of us, but of course it’s your celebration so Companion is also welcome.” To pull this off, though, you need to approach your mother with love and support for the life she’s choosing to lead, not barely veiled contempt. Remember, your mom welcomed “strangers” into her family each time her kids chose a mate.
While we’re talking assumptions and mindsets, please rethink the “surprise” thing, too, unless you know your mom to be both an eager traveler (now, not 20 years ago) and a sucker for showy surprises, since for many they’re flat-out jarring.
A commitment to serving her needs might come around to serve you as well. Fates and conditions permitting, you can ask to celebrate your next milestone birthday with just Mom and the sibs – a request they’re more likely to grant if you’ve put lots of goodwill in the bank.
Hi, Carolyn: Recently my in-laws bought a time-share-type thing and informed us we would be taking a family vacation together. This was a genuine attempt on their part to create a low-cost trip for the family. However, they never consulted us, so we are spending a week in a place I have no interest in visiting that is not at all convenient for us to travel to.
I’m prepared to go and have a wonderful visit. But the last time we saw them, they told us this was an annual trip.
While I have no problem doing this occasionally, there is no way I want to use over a third of my vacation time to do this every year. My husband and I told his parents we would go every few years or maybe every year but for fewer nights. His parents were really upset and told us they spent a lot of money on the time share to bring the family together. I understand the sentiment but they never asked us if this was something we were interested in. Am I being unreasonable? Is there another compromise I haven’t thought of?
Yours was the perfect response to a forehead-endangering set of circumstances. As you already understand, the way they spend their money confers no obligation onto the way others spend their time.
Your in-laws have made it through a good chunk of their lifespans without grasping this simple reality, though, so anticipate more of the same. They’ll complain, possibly with renewed fervor at travel-booking time every year, but they invited these consequences themselves.
When they re-argue that they spent big money, your husband is the one best positioned to say, “And I know you meant well, but you also assumed we’d come every year instead of checking with us first.”
Remain gently steadfast as you plan your vacations as you like. The occasional kind-indulgence visits to their time share aren’t necessary, but you’re good sports to factor them in.
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