Does she stay or does she go?
February 17, 2012 3:24 AM   Subscribe

18 year old daughter doesn't want to go on annual family vacation because of anxiety. How does a caring single parent work through this?

Me: single mom; three kids (20, 18, 13) who all live at home.

Every year for the past 7 years we go to the Bahamas for February vacation. A few weeks ago, the 20 year old said she'd rather just have the house to herself for the week and chill. Somewhat disappointed, but okay.

Last night the 18 year old (senior in high school) said she's been getting panicky at the thought of the flight and she can't face the idea of going either. She said she's been getting panicky at school, she also wants to stay home but she does want to get help for the anxiety (and she will call someone today to make an appointment).

Helpful info: kid in question has a history of flying anxiety, starting from the age of 4. Also, a while back I successfully completed a 12 week CBT program at the BU Center for Anxiety because I had started having panic attacks (so anxiety runs in the family). I also mention this because we know where to get her help...but she won't be treated by the day we need to fly.

However, she has a pediatrician who said she'd prescribe something for her to help her fly. I have meditation, self-hypnosis and guided imagery mp3s for her to listen to. But the kid said she'd just rather not go, she can't face it.

So how do I handle this? I don't have concerns about her safety or making stupid decisions while I'm in another country with her little brother, so I'm not worried about that, but I'm not happy about it either, if that makes sense. In other words, I'm certain she's not planning party central or other Bueller-type shenanigans once I'm away. But I don't like the idea of being in the Caribbean while she's at home with her sister (who is also a trustworthy kid).

Do I force her to go with meds? Can I force her?

Has anyone ever had a teen (or been that teen) who can help me out?
posted by kinetic to Human Relations (36 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
While the flying anxiety sounds like a totally valid part of this equation to me, keep in mind that maybe she simply no longer wants to go on family vacations. Especially if the slightly older sibling isn't going. Whenever my folks left my brother and I alone when they went away, I never had parties or anything like that, I just enjoyed having the run of the house. When I was that age, I probably wouldn't have joined my folks for a trip if my brother (a year older) wasn't going. You're trying to come up with all these solutions when it sounds like your kid might be telling you she just plain doesn't want to go.

Do I force her to go with meds? Can I force her?

She is 18 years old, which makes her an adult. You cannot force her to do anything.
posted by futureisunwritten at 3:41 AM on February 17, 2012 [34 favorites]

I believe to force an adult to take medicine, you have to have them committed. That can be done against their will, but I think a judge has to decide that it's in their best interest. I don't think flight anxiety and not wanting to go on a vacation would be a compelling argument to a judge.

It's hard making the mental transition from seeing your children as kids to seeing them as adults.
posted by Houstonian at 3:54 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

maybe you can change vacation plans and go somewhere you can get to in a car.

vacations are more fun when they involve things you want to do and are willing to do without meds.

if she still doesn't want to go you may refer to advice above about her maybe not wanting to go to begin with...
posted by saraindc at 4:03 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Would you and your 13 year old still want to go without the older two? If so then I think you should go and leave the other two at home as they requested.

Your 18 and 20 year olds are adults and are old enough to make their own decisions. Many people live alone independently at both of those ages - they work and/or go to school, pay their own bills, etc. At this point I think your job as a parent leans more towards helping your older two become more independent rather than taking them on family holidays if they choose not to go for whatever reason. Practicing for greater independence on their part by taking a holiday without them would be good for them, and for you.
posted by hazyjane at 4:12 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

You could book a refundable plane ticket, and start her on cbt. That way if the cbt doesn't help quickly enough, you can simply get a refund.
posted by Harpocrates at 4:14 AM on February 17, 2012

Anxiety issues aside, you should not force her to go on this trip. You can offer her resources and opportunities, but she gets to make autonomous decisions now, and gets to begin to learn about any consequences they may have as well - like not getting to go to the Bahamas! And, now that she's made her decision, not getting to change her mind later.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:22 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

She probably just doesn't want to go without her older sister, and the flying is just a convenient excuse (real though it may be).

I've backed out of many family plans because my brother wasn't going.
posted by Xany at 4:44 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sounds like she's being honest... and that her fear of flying is festering. I found the "rapid relief" course at SOAR to be very helpful, as a former non-flier.

Ideally you could really get into this with her, and see if she wants help. It'd be nice to have her start treatment at this age: these anxieties get worse over time, and she runs the risk of never flying anywhere again, which is a terrible way to live. You deny yourself so much when you don't treat these phobias.

And pill-popping isn't actually a treatment for fear of flying.

I'm pretty sure you know at heart that "forcing" her (!!??) to do anything is a terrible, wacko idea, both as a parenting technique and as a therapeutic technique.

Also, your children are adults now. They may still be acting like children--sounds like both of your adult children are still living at home?--and you still think of them as children, but it seems like it is time for some cord-cutting.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 4:55 AM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

If her sister isn't going, why should she? Take the anxiety out of the picture and that is the situation.

Tell the two girls that if they stay home, brother stays with them, because you feel like you need and deserve a break (you do). Chances are, they would rather go with you than babysit. If not, then sign your son up for a super cool local camp and enjoy some time away from your children because, as a single mom, you need it.

As far as the anxiety, unless big sister is going too there is no reason to force middle child on the plane. It would be helpful if you spin the story. Instead of 'she couldn't go because of her anxiety' say 'she wanted to stay home with big sis (and help with brother).' This will help with the story she tells herself next time she has to fly.

She is old enough to make her own stupid mistakes, or, the nicer way, decisions. All three of your children are old enough for this.
posted by myselfasme at 5:04 AM on February 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

Your Bahamas family vacation tradition won't last forever.

This may be the end of it.

posted by jon1270 at 5:05 AM on February 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Do I force her to go with meds? Can I force her?

As a mother of an 18-year-old who struggles with anxiety, I say please, please, please don't do this. It's great that she's on board with therapy to address her anxiety. I would do everything I could to not put any pressure on her about the trip, and focus on her getting well.

If it really is about the plane, an option is to have a roadtrip vacation instead of a flight-to-the-Caribbean one, and have her come along on that. But it might not be about the plane.

My son didn't want to go to the beach with us last summer for a week, so my younger son got to bring a few friends with him. Like you I wasn't worried that he was going to throw parties and burn the house down when I was away, I just was really sad that he wasn't going to be with us.

It's a milestone passed, anxiety or not. The reality is that your "family" vacations are over, the way you've had them before. From here on out it will be only one kid, another kid for part of the time, work schedules getting in the way, friends and boyfriends tagging along, etc. That's another reason to make vacations a drive-able distance, so people can come and go as their other commitments allow.

But there really are two issues here: one is her anxiety, which she wants to address. Let her do that. The second is that your kids are growing up (grown up) and don't want to spend a week in the Bahamas with family the way they did when they were younger. As parents we need to accept and adapt to our children's changing lives and changing priorities.
posted by headnsouth at 5:05 AM on February 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the helpful responses so far.

I know I can't force her and I wouldn't want to try. And I also understand why she'd prefer to stay at home. I think I'm just annoyed that she waited until 3 days beforehand to tell me.

I get it; that family vacation era is over. I'm okay with it and I will help her however possible so she can get over the anxiety for the future.
posted by kinetic at 5:10 AM on February 17, 2012

I agree with what most people are threading here. Try to switch something up a bit. I remember when I was 18, 19, 20 (which was only a few years ago) I really wanted a lot of alone time and also hanging with friends. Eventually though I grew out of that and went back to wanting more family time. It's just a phase.

In the future, to avoid a let down or an aggravating last minute switch-- try to feel out what everyone might be interested in doing before making plans. Don't make plans until you feel like everyone is 100%.

Don't give up entirely on the family vacation time, I think it's really great you still pull the family together each year and not a lot of families do that especially once they kids get older. I wish my parents did more family vacations and getaways.

Good luck, enjoy the time off and relax!
posted by melizabeth at 5:39 AM on February 17, 2012

Depending on the cost of the trip (and the state of your own finances) I don't think it unreasonable to ask your daughter to pay back part of her unused ticket costs, since she waited so late to tell you she doesn't want to go. I wouldn't make a huge deal of it to make her feel bad about it, though, or use it as punishment--maybe work it out in trade with chores, e.g. "since you'll have the house to yourself, I'd like you to clean this / sort this while I'm away." Then she doesn't have to feel guilty about "ruining" family vacation, because she "paid" for it.
posted by nicebookrack at 5:40 AM on February 17, 2012 [7 favorites]

I think I'm just annoyed that she waited until 3 days beforehand to tell me.

She waited because she knew you'd be annoyed no matter when she told you.
posted by davey_darling at 5:41 AM on February 17, 2012 [13 favorites]

I think it's pretty unsurprising and forgivable for someone with serious anxiety problems, especially someone so relatively young, to feel great hesitation and, well, anxiety about revealing them to you. Especially if it would interrupt what seems to be a pretty important family tradition to you. Man, anxious-me gets a panic attack just thinking of how anxious-me is inconveniencing you in that situation. It seems that this was so much so that she waited until the material circumstances (i.e. the date of the trip) forced her to make this confession.

I think she could conceivably resent attempts to make her go as minimizing of her problems. Let her make her own decision, and let her know that her mental health is more important to you than a vacation.
posted by Keter at 5:48 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do you or your 13-year-old have a friend you could invite to use the 18-year-old's plane ticket if it's not refundable? The travel agent ought to be able to change the name on the ticket.

It's just a phase.

Or it's not. There's no way to know. I was a little older than your daughter when I figured out that family vacations made my anxiety worse, and I haven't been on one since. Life's been immeasurably improved.
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:59 AM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think the plan of having this adult pay for the inconvenience of backing out at the last minute is a good one. (Even if you are able to find someone else to use the ticket a responsible adult should be responsible for the cost of the work on your part to find a last-minute replacement.)

Whatever you do - please continue with the plans to address the anxiety. The worst thing you can do for these types of disorders is to start arranging your life around avoiding triggers. (There's some wiggle room on that if, for instance, one has profound PTSD. Presumably you would have mentioned it if your daughter's issues were from combat duty or a hostage situation.)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:21 AM on February 17, 2012

She is 18 years old, which makes her an adult. You cannot force her to do anything.

Um. Well, Actually... She's in high school. She's living in your house, under your care and support. She is dependent upon you. She's not an adult.

You may not be able (or want to, for obvious reasons) physically/legally make her go by FORCE, but you are still the decision making party.

The plan ride is a brief part of the whole vacation experience. I go overseas quite a lot and have had terrible and traumatic customs experiences, but I don't skip the trip because of it.

I can almost guarantee that if she stays home, she is going to be sad and regret it (even if she doesn't verbalize that)... At this age, you're not going to have many more opportunities for family vacations. You can also (if it's true) tell her that tickets are already bought, plans are already made, and it's selfish of her to look at the little picture when she is old enough to have a more big-picture worldview.
posted by sarahnicolesays at 6:30 AM on February 17, 2012

You're likely to have to take a much smaller, possibly non-pressurized flight from the US into the bahamas. Even for longtime fliers, this can be stressful and seem less-than-safe. Don't make her.

If there weren't a history here, I'd be pretty sure the girl is just trying to dodge to go to/host a party, though
posted by MangyCarface at 6:38 AM on February 17, 2012

Oh god please do not ask her to pay the cost of her unused ticket. As an anxious person I just beg you, please no. Do not teach her that standing up for herself has that kind of cost attached to it.
posted by bilabial at 6:55 AM on February 17, 2012 [25 favorites]

Best answer: Three things:
(1) Speaking as someone who has been around many individuals with panic, I could very conceivably imagine that, with enough pressure, she could keep it together on the plane, and then proceed to have a severe panic attack in private (in some weird sense so as not to inconvenience you).

(2) There's a world's difference between forcing someone either financially, emotionally, or both to get on a plane ride and trip (and who knows what else) that gives them palpable anxiety and panic, and the guided approach and exposure to internal & external triggers that would occur in standard CBT therapy for GAD or Panic Disorder or Phobias, etc. I think the important thing is that this young woman wants to get therapy. I don't think there is evidence that the situation is such that the OP is likely to start consciously or unconsciously structuring her life around her daughter's triggers in some sort of pathology-continuing way.

(3) I think it's better to assume no malice or deceit on the part of the OP's daughter. The emotional benefit of trusting your daughter's feelings about herself is far better than the victory--or whatever--of catching her in a lie. If she's lying, it's going to be awful whether or not you trust her.

Also, bilabial's comment, over and over and over again.
posted by Keter at 7:11 AM on February 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think that you might want to consider sitting down with your two eldest and discussing whether the era of family vacations is really and truly over, lest you have this occurance again next year. Could be time for a new vacation, or could be time to just not do that every year, but as the actual anxiety is addressed and dealt with you might just want to take the temperature of how they feel about going to the Bahamas every year.

Secondly, as a person with anxiety, please don't make your daughter pay the cost of your unused ticket. If the money is lost, that truly does suck, but I don't think this is a good and clear-cut example of "actions have conqequnces." If you believe that she is being honest about her anxiety, don't punish her for bringing that to you, but stress to her that she needs to be (and can be, without fear of repercussions) more forthcoming about these issues in the future.
posted by sm1tten at 7:45 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was a similar age when I bowed out of a couple of family vacations. The thought of being crammed into a car with the rest of my family for a 10-hour trip, plus sharing a single hotel room, with no transportation of my own and no money to get my own hotel room (if I had even thought of that), felt like a boundary infringement - though I didn't think to put it that way at the time. I probably said I wasn't feeling ok. They let me stay at home and I really appreciated it.

It may be that it really is all about fear of flying, but it may be a bit more than that - but she may not quite be able to explain all of that to you. It's great that she's willing to seek therapy.

If they had forced the issue, I would have been immensely uncomfortable and resentful and would have likely ruined the trip for everyone.
posted by bunderful at 8:00 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can almost guarantee that if she stays home, she is going to be sad and regret it (even if she doesn't verbalize that).

Please don't assume this. Put me in the "era of family vacations are over" camp on this one. From now on, with your oldest kids, things are going to be in the category of "travel to the same area and meet up as a family for part of the trip."

As far as anxiety issues, I think the policy from now on with these things is, "you can come if you are able to take responsibility for yourself to get yourself to the airport and on the plane." Otherwise, you're going to enter into an era of everybody's schedule revolving around whether your 18 year old as an onset of anxiety. And that's going to require treatment to get her to a place where she can take these responsibilities for herself.
posted by deanc at 8:13 AM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

What's more important: having your traditional family vacation, or acknowledging that your family dynamic is changing as your kids get older, and now you have to work with (two of) them as adults who have their own minds (your 20-year-old) and their own needs (your 18-year-old)?
posted by davejay at 8:25 AM on February 17, 2012

If you can transfer the ticket to a friend of your 13-y-o that will make the vacation much more fun for him/her. Being there w/o your siblings isn't much fun.

If you can't transfer the ticket, swallow the cost and tell your 18-y-o that you love her very much and she never has to keep from telling you anything for fear of your response. Tell her that there is a cost involved, not to make her feel guilty but so that she understands that putting things off due to anxiety makes things much worse than they need to be. Ask her to talk to you sooner rather than later the next time she has something troubling her.

My family's situation is somewhat similar to yours, and I sometimes find it difficult to separate my son's anxiety/depression from his age. Telling you at the last minute might be anxiety-related, but it also may be that she operates on teen-time. It's a tough line to navigate, holding them accountable while helping them deal with their issues, and the line moves all the time! But both are important. They do have to be responsible and accountable, and at the same time they have to feel safe and unjudged.

Good luck to her and to all of you with her therapy, and be sure to keep up with your own therapy as well. Your kids are looking to you as a model, even when they're legally adults.
posted by headnsouth at 8:45 AM on February 17, 2012 [7 favorites]

I can almost guarantee that if she stays home, she is going to be sad and regret it (even if she doesn't verbalize that).

When I was 18, I stayed home from a planned and paid for trip to Europe because of anxiety. Now, more than a decade later later, when I think about it, I still feel absolutely nothing other than the overwhelming relief I felt at the time when I was able to pull out of the trip. No regret, no sadness. I have never felt anything other than glad that I was able to stick up for myself. If anyone at the time had told me I was being "selfish" for taking care of my mental health, I can almost guarantee that the relief I feel now would be tempered, not with regret, but with anger at the person who tried to tell me that a vacation was more important than my feelings.
posted by decathecting at 8:48 AM on February 17, 2012 [15 favorites]

I missed some family vacations around that age (not because of anxiety, or maybe a little bit because of anxiety but mostly for other reasons), and I regret not going, but I also know that not going was absolutely the right decision for me. Don't make her go, but yeah, when you're back, it's probably a good idea to sit down and talk about what kinds of vacations are good for you guys now.
posted by mskyle at 8:53 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

My main thing would be to find out if she's getting into one of those patterns of anxiety attacks that people sometimes have around the age of leaving home. (I'm not an expert of any kind, just thinking of myself, some friends and family, and anecdotes from others.) Since you've been dealing with anxiety you know a lot already. If she is at a point where anxiety attacks are just starting to creep up on her she is probably in a bit of denial and was hoping it would get better in time for the trip. Coming clean about this to you will probably help her deal with it.
posted by BibiRose at 10:42 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I also was thinking, because you said she's a senior in high school, if she's involved right now in finding out where she'll be going to college in the fall (if she is), will she be going away to school, etc. This is a VERY (very) stressful time in her life! So going away, even on a vacation, may have extra-anxiety-provoking meaning to her.

Great that she's going to get help. Also I TOTALLY agree that she should not be asked to pay for the ticket. She didn't tell you not just because she was afraid to, but probably because she was in conflict about it herself.

I think the more you let her make her own decisions about things like this without her feeling pressured and that she'll "Regret it later", the less anxious she'll have to be about separation-related issues (such as flying). Also agree that, basically, two of your three kids are "gone" now in signficant ways, and this is all the harder for a single parent.
posted by DMelanogaster at 2:49 PM on February 17, 2012

During my first year of university, my mother pressured me into taking an overseas trip with her despite my fear of flying.

I had a massive panic attack in the terminal just before our flight home. I was so hysterical that the airline staff had to get involved, and we missed our flight. It took three years, months of CBT and a diazepam before I was willing to fly international again.

Let your daughter stay home, and make your agreement conditional on her taking the CBT course. Don't exacerbate her anxiety just because the timing is inconvenient.
posted by PercyByssheShelley at 2:55 PM on February 17, 2012

Only you know your daughter and whether this is based more around anxiety or more around "family holidays are for BABIES!". People are really understanding in here, but I would be righteously pissed off if I had a teen that waited until three days before to tell me no (which anxiety, or not, is let's face it pretty typical teen behaviour), and would probably be inclined to either a) Call the bluff, and organise a driving holiday let's see you weasel out of that, b) Try to guilt both my elder children that younger child looks up to them and wants to spend time with them as do I, is a few days so much to ask for? Or c) That's fine, you can stay home but when we get back, I want the gutters cleaned, the garage tidied up, the lawn mowed, all floors mopped and here's some money for food and stuff, the rest of your "holiday" money is gonna be with me in the bahamas so if you wanna go to the movies etc it's on your own dime. PS Grandma's coming to stay while I'm gone, isn't that awesome? Imagine, if only I had known you felt this way more than three days before the trip this would not have been so painful for everyone.

Of course, this is probably tremendously harsh, and I don't have a child with anxiety (at least I hope not, she's only four months old!), a fear of flying etc, and probably reflects more about my upbringing than anything else. But, I could totally see our non-anxious 17 year old niece pulling something like this, and my rule is generally that if teens want to act like adults, they have to deal with adult consequences, which means people sometimes get pissed off.
posted by smoke at 3:23 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Only you know your daughter and whether this is based more around anxiety or more around "family holidays are for BABIES!".

Actually, only your daughter could know root of her anxiety. If you let her stay home and she regrets not going, she will always, always know that her mother respects her mental health and her desires. That's a powerful gift to give to a daughter, one well worth the cost of a plane ticket.
posted by mmmbacon at 10:01 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Problem solved this way: she has a CBT therapist appointment next week, is staying home, and 13 year old son found a friend who will join us. Everyone wins.
posted by kinetic at 3:51 AM on February 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

Glad it's solved. I know some people have fond memories of family vacations, but I hated them even when I was a young child, and I know a lot of people who felt the same way.

She's 18, it's not like she'll starve to death if you're not with her for a week or two. It doesn't matter why she doesn't want to go; she's an adult and she believes she won't enjoy it. It's not a personal attack on you, so don't personalize it.

If she's exaggerating the anxiety issue, that goes to show you what lengths she has to go to get around this vacation obligation you have given everyone in the family. That's probably the same reason she waited to the last minute to tell you; she probably had to screw up her courage to do it. You seem like you would have had a problem with this no matter when she told you, so it makes sense to only have to deal with you for a few days.

However, as you stated, she has a history of plane anxiety. She's taken a step to manage her issue. Open and shut.

Going forward, don't assume adult children want to go on a family vacation. One of the biggest perks of adulthood is not having to go on those trips anymore.
posted by spaltavian at 6:22 AM on February 18, 2012

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