Hey, Carolyn: I always learned growing up that if I didn’t have the money for something, I shouldn’t buy it. As an adult, I make a decent salary, but my wife and I have struggled with a bunch of unexpected medical bills for the past few years. Which happens.
My parents live in another state and want us to visit often. Visiting my parents is very stressful for me and hell for my wife; she is disabled and getting her on a plane is a huge production.
When I tell them we can’t afford to come as often as they’d like us to, which is the plain truth, they turn around and send us money for the plane tickets. So we go (or rather, I go) but it doesn’t sit well with me. I feel like I can’t say no even if it’s not a good time, and then the whole time I’m there I feel like the paid help.
We could much more easily afford to fly out to see them half as often (which I’d greatly prefer) and have them come here to see us, but apparently that’s out of the question. Any advice? Maybe just a friendly word?
“Boundaries.” It’s the friendliest word I know.
Your first paragraph suggests this is a money issue, but the rest of your letter says otherwise. Your “plain truth” about not having the money for frequent visits is not the only truth; you also don’t wan to visit your parents as often as they’re pushing you to. Nor do you want to be pushed.
But you don’t want to tell them that, so you hide behind the money excuse, and they call your bluff with the ticket money, and you cave because you think that’s easier than telling them the truth.
Please use your letter as Exhibit A: Avoiding the truth is not easier. It only sticks you in situations you’d rather avoid, and with a lousy, powerless feeling as a reward for your sacrifice.
So stop ceding control of your schedule to your parents, and start saying no. It’s a good thing to be able to say outright – “No, Mom, this isn’t a good time” – but since you obviously struggle, it’s OK to give yourself some training wheels at first, to help you get used to running your life as you see fit.
In this case, I suggest a schedule. With your wife, figure out how many times a year you want to visit your parents, and can afford to. Then check the calendar for evenly distributed dates. Then clear those dates with your parents. If they won’t commit to exact dates, then put tentative ones on your calendar.
Then, when you’re under pressure to visit sooner, let the schedule keep you upright: “This isn’t a good time, Mom, but I’m looking forward to (next scheduled date),” or, “This isn’t a good time, Mom, but how about (next preferred date)? You’re also welcome here.”
Repeat, repeat, repeat – not till your parents respect your right to manage your own money and time, which they may never do. Repeat till it’s your habit to decide for yourself, and do, what works best for you.
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