How can I manage my anxiety to make visits home pleasant?
July 22, 2012 4:47 PM   Subscribe

Only child makes depressing Christmas visit to parents. How can I prevent this from happening again?

Apologies for length: trying to pre-empt any kneejerk 'just suck it up' responses (which may be appropriate, but hear me out first).

Mid-twenties, only child, been living a 10-hour plane ride from home for a few years now, fairly happy and optimistic about my future here despite present unemployment while I'm starting out in a new career (going back home--ever--is simply not on the table and never will be). Parents both just hit 60, both recently retired, live very quiet lives save for fixing up their boat to sail the world in their old age. They're super supportive of my life out here; it was even their idea. 'Home' is a village in rural England, very quiet, very boring, local highlight of the week is Friday night down the pub.

Long story short, I'm infinitely better off out of there, but since I don't really have close friends let alone anything approaching a surrogate family here, I've always opted to go home for Christmas. Parents seem very happy to have me (will even pay for flights), so off I go. It's boring--unless I cheerlead alternative activities, the whole two weeks would slide by in TV-watching and trips to Tesco--but I get through it and it is the only time we see each other in person. The past couple of times we've even arranged to spend a few days in London playing tourists. Highlight of the whole visit for me. We generally have a great time there. I think getting away from the inertia and the same old environment has a lot to do with it. So, reasonably successful visits by and large.

Until last year. Flights booked, everything proceeding as normal. Then, shortly before leaving, I'm seized with anxiety and I can't place the cause. I get barely any sleep the night before. My appetite goes completely. So I start almost 24 full hours of travel on an empty stomach and next to no sleep. Since I can be an anxious person and I can never seem to catch a wink of sleep on planes, you can imagine how the rest goes. By the time I get off the train at the other end, I'm mentally and physically on a different planet. A very nauseated, strung out planet. Parents, however, are excited to see me, and since they haven't eaten yet, insist we go straight on for dinner at a restaurant, which I spend picking at a bread roll and responding in monosyllables because I don't know whether I'm going to vomit or pass out (in the end, I did neither, but it was a close thing). This obviously disappoints them.

So that's how it started. It didn't get much better. I just couldn't catch up on sleep, which continued to mess up my mood and my appetite. I spent the whole two weeks in some sort of anxious, resentful half-life. I didn't have the energy to cheerlead the fun things, so almost every day was spent doing bugger all, which I resented. My conversation was pretty crappy: I didn't have the mental energy to recount all the stories they'd already heard on Skype. I would occasionally feel quite ill, which made me anxious about going out and which nixed the meet-up I was planning with a couple of old schoolfriends. So I resented that too.

It got so bad I behaved poorly while out to dinner one evening. Just couldn't suppress my frustration and fatigue at the humdrum environment and the same humdrum conversation repeated ad nauseam. My dad snapped at me for not making an effort--rightly so, I realize. Later that night, I overheard him expressing to my mother his disappointment in my behaviour and that I needed to 'grow up'. I'm a grown woman, and my dad's respect is still one of the most important things in my life, so it was utterly mortifying. I spent the rest of the night sobbing and in the morning made a tearful apology to both of them. They acknowledged how I'd been feeling, but, heart of hearts, I think they've always seen me as over-anxious and tend to be a little dismissive (not in an unkind way) of my 'issues'. As though if I made an effort, none of it would be a problem.

Thankfully, it ended on a positive. We spent a couple of days in London again and had a good time. My appetite even began to come back a little. Then it was time to fly back, and the whole godforsaken experience began again. No sleep, no food. Only this time round it was twice as bad because now I hadn't eaten or slept properly for two weeks. The less said about that return flight the better--suffice to say I was on the verge of what I'm fairly certain was a panic attack mid-flight and I have never had one before. I made it through, but I had to sit in the arrivals' lounge for over an hour sipping weak tea to gather the physical strength to make it home. It took a long time to get back to normal.

Christmas 2012 is on the horizon. I will almost certainly be going home. How can I prevent this sorry experience from happening again? I don't especially enjoy regressing to my teenage years, and it's not respectful to my parents either. We only see each other in the flesh once a year and I don't want to spoil it again. I didn't enjoy the travel endurance test either. Is this just the world's worst jetlag? Is it subconscious anxiety about home and parents?

As for potential solutions, I have some over-the-counter sleeping tablets from the pharmacist which I have no experience with but am prepared to use if necessary. Parents coming here--which would be ideal--is not on the cards on account of expense. NOT going home for Christmas is not really an attractive option either: quite apart from the important face-time with family, I'm a fairly solitary person and as I've said, there's no one here I would like to/can spend it with. Abbreviating the visit is not really cost-effective: flights are super expensive. I mentioned the old school friends; we have little in common anymore and I'm struggling with anxiety over making social plans. Happy to have a pint with them and catch up but that's about it.
posted by eldindeer to Human Relations (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like a lot of your anxiety is around flying. I have friends that take medication to fly and do well with it. You may also want to talk with someone about some deep breathing exercises you can do on the flight to stay calm.

I travel overseas frequently and, while I don't have travel anxiety, I can tell you that bringing things with me that I enjoy help a great deal. For example, I find a book I really want to read and set a rule that I can't start said book until the flight. Or I look up movies that will be showing onboard and get excited about one of them. I also bring soft socks to slip on and make sure I wear pants that look nice, but have soft material that is easy to sleep in. Finding measures that help you feel comfortable may also help. Generally, it seems to me that if you aren't tired and frustrated by the time you get there, you may not have so many days where you are nasty and out of sorts.

You may also see if your parents are willing to do more days in London.
posted by superfille at 5:04 PM on July 22, 2012

For a while, I was an anxious flyer, due to a couple of stressful experiences. Sleeping tablets didn't work for me (YMMV), just made me groggy but not asleep. I'd suggest talking to your doctor about getting two doses of xanax or similar for each flight. Just enough to calm you down and get you through it. I do this for dental appointments sometimes. One beforehand to keep me calm during the lead-up, and one for during. Then the same again for your return flight.

As for the why? No-one can diagnose for sure over the internet, but I suspect you were dreading the boringness of the visit, and the pressure of spending your holiday feeling responsible for organising and cheerleading instead of relaxing in the way you would like. If you are like me, then you turn that stress in on yourself and end up a mess, then get anxious about being anxious, and it feeds back on itself.

How about emailing your parents and asking them to come up with some suggestions for trips out while you visit. This offloads some of the work onto them, to come up with ideas. If you start now, between all of you, you can have something ready organised to look forward to when you arrive, instead of dreading the organization duties and dullness. Is there anywhere else you might want to visit while you are back? I know the UK at Christmas is kind of cold and grim sometimes (this is why I now only go back in summer!).

Random off the wall suggestions - meet your parents somewhere else, where its warm and you can all have a Christmas holiday together. Spain? France? Cornwall? Portugal?
posted by Joh at 5:06 PM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you need to massively adjust your expectations.

For one thing, I'm guessing here that you're living in Asia or maybe Australia (e.g. somewhere to the east of the UK), and that your parents don't have a lot of experience with long-slog overseas travel.

I don't know what it is about jet lag, but for some reason the jet lag headed west is always way worse than headed east. I've seen friends who've come home to the east coast of the US from Japan laid low for days. If your parents don't expect that, it can be rough. But as an adult, it's your responsibility to remind them that you'll be feeling pretty out of it when you get off the flight, so it's best if you just go straight home to crash out. You should also remind them that you probably won't be 100% for the first few days.

Like you, I grew up in a bucolic town in the middle of nowhere, with nothing much to do. Also, it's in the US, so you can't get anywhere without a car, even if there was somewhere to go. I've come to terms with the fact that my visits home are about hunkering down and visiting with my folks. We go entire days doing nothing but puttering around the house, running errands, and watching TV. It's boring.

But you know what? It's my only chance all year to behave that way.

So I've decided that rather than being bored and antsy to get out and DO SOMETHING ALREADY, I surrender to it. I bring a few books I've been meaning to read. I let myself surf the web all day. I help my mom cook dinner and let her and my step-dad control the remote (I don't have cable at home, so it's interesting to see what Real Americans watch even if it's not necessarily to my taste.) I read the local newspaper from cover to cover, even the high school sports section. If I run out of books, I'll dig around in the attic for some of the books I loved as a kid. One year I think I re-read the entire Anne of Green Gables series. When would I have time to do that in the city?

I can't really say what's up with the no eating thing, but it seems like if you could get to the bottom of that, things would probably be a lot more enjoyable. The travel legs won't be nearly as hellish, for one thing -- I'm a firm believer that if you simply eat what they give you on the plane, try to sleep when they shut the lights off, and try to wake up again when they turn them back on, you'll be at least less bad off than if you'd ignored it all and sat there angsting out for 24 straight hours.
posted by Sara C. at 5:10 PM on July 22, 2012 [8 favorites]

Christmas 2012 is on the horizon. I will almost certainly be going home.

Why not have them come visit you instead?
posted by headnsouth at 5:18 PM on July 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

Random off the wall suggestions - meet your parents somewhere else, where its warm and you can all have a Christmas holiday together. Spain? France? Cornwall? Portugal?

This was going to be my exact suggestion. Stop hanging out in your hometown if at all possible. Maybe you're in, IDK, South Africa and you guys could meet in Greece? Maybe ditto if you're in India? Thailand or Cambodia if you're in Australia? Iceland if you're in Canada? SOMEWHERE.

Also, do you have to go for two weeks? Even with the 24 hours of traveling, that is a LONG time. I would get anxious staying with my parents for two weeks with nothing to do except hang out, and I live around the corner from them. Could you do a few days at home- like three or four- then a few days at

My siblings and I have also started creating a schedule for when we come home, particularly at Christmas, just to avoid the kind of anxious ennui you describe. We also live in a very small town, and we embrace its small town-ness for the time when people are visiting- ie, we go to the little historical museum for an hour, we go on little hikes, we eat at every restaurant in town (there are nine, if you count the two on the roads out of town), even the bad ones, we go to every Christmas concert in a 30 mile radius. It's not because those things are so fun, but it's just something to do and it gives us something to talk about and keeps us from staring at the walls all day. At first we kind of felt like we were being jerks to our parents with the schedule, like we were saying they weren't interesting enough to hang out with, but it's not about that. It's about making the time we are together enjoyable by creating nice memories and not sniping at each other.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 5:18 PM on July 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

Sorry, that should be "then a few days in London, then peace out." in the middle graf.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 5:19 PM on July 22, 2012

Because you had a bad time last year, which as you describe involved getting off on the wrong tack right away and never quite catching up, doesn't mean it will be the same this year. The circumstances will not repeat unless you indulge yourself in a way that actually causes them to repeat.

Do this: Immediately start making plans around that London excursion. Find reasons to look forward to the visit, rather than dreading it. Your parents are grownups. If you choose to spend another day or two of the visit away, seeing old friends or doing other things, they should accept that.

It would not hurt to be up front with your folks that you were kind of a wreck last time, that you do need a little time to recover from jetlag but that, after a day or two, you'll be fine. Make up your mind that this will be true.
posted by zadcat at 5:19 PM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might want to think about talking to your doctor about a prescription for fast acting anti anxiety medicine (like xanax) for the plane and/or if you find yourself getting worked up on the trip with your parents. This might keep you from acting out at dinner and all the other things you're describing.

Also, yes, agreed that you need to reset your expectations. There are things to do where my parents live, but they really consider "family time" just being all of us sitting around doing nothing together. It can be pulling teeth for me to suggest activities all of us can enjoy.

You just have to suck it up and be bored sometimes though because hey, it's family.
posted by sweetkid at 5:21 PM on July 22, 2012

Have you cleared the air yet about last year?
I think it might be helpful for you to "let go" of last year's anxiety and trauma as much as you can, before dealing with next Christmas.

You could write to your parents and apologise, explain that you were jet lagged and feeling ill, and that contributed to your anxiety. Tell them you understand that they were rightly disappointed in your behaviour, and say how much you want to do better this year.

I understand what you mean about the affordability of flights, but do you have to spend that whole two weeks with your parents? Can you spend a couple of days in London -"I want to get some awesome Christmas shopping done" - before visiting your parents, and a couple of days before you fly out - "I have some pub-crawling to do with old Uni friends!" Bookending your trip like this could give you some breathing space, firstly to recover from your jetlag and charge your 'cheerleading' batteries, and secondly, to have some more activity to look forward to - as well as taking a large chunk out of "sitting around the house" time. How you actually spend that time is up to you.

Is there some kind of project or activity you can take along with you, or suggest when you are there, to fill in the quiet times? Could you ask to help achieve some task on the boat refurbishment? Take over the kitchen? Television watching drains my soul too - when I visit my mother I head for the woodshed and chop her firewood - I figure a nicely stacked pile of kindling is something to remember me by.

Personally, I'm all for making things as easy on yourself as you can, and if that includes taking some prescribed medications to get you through a rough patch of anxiety and non-sleeping, just go for it.
posted by Catch at 5:22 PM on July 22, 2012

Oh, and no - don't "just suck it up" - take care of yourself!
posted by Catch at 5:27 PM on July 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Nthing the notion that your parents will probably be fine if you don't spend 100% of your time in the UK with them.

Ultimately after a few years I ended up dropping the cushions of time seeing old friends and the like (for various reasons that may or may not apply to your situation), but for the first few years getting into this Visiting Home From Far Away rhythm, the ability to do that was really helpful.

Also, if the only reason you're going for two weeks is because of the travel time, what about a week doing the holiday thing with your parents, and a week somewhere else in Europe, doing your own thing or taking a trip with friends?
posted by Sara C. at 5:31 PM on July 22, 2012

From the way you describe it: prior trips were fine (enough), and it was just this one that was an anxiety-fest, I don't think it's reasonable to suggest that it's suddenly a fear of flying. I would suggest that you chalk it up to having been ill in some way, and wipe the slate clean for the next visit.

The only other way to figure it out is to get back in your headspace during the anxiety and figure out what the root cause was. With anxiety, there tends to be some truth or feeling that you don't want to admit to, and the spinning thoughts kind of keep the mind occupied to protect that truth or feeling. So go back in time and think about all the things that were spinning in your head, write them down, and then sort of see what they were pointing at (or away from).

But also, the older we get, the harder trips home start to be. There is a stuck in time thing that happens.
posted by gjc at 5:37 PM on July 22, 2012

How about you go for less than two weeks, and make a bit more effort to recognise that seeing your parents once a year and maybe it not necessarily being a wonderfully stimulating experience for you is really not such a terrible thing? If you really can't suck it up for one visit a year, don't go at all. Better that than you upset them like you clearly did last year, eh?
posted by Decani at 6:09 PM on July 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah I have this sort of problem too. Getting together with my parents is a thing. They're getting older (in their seventies) and the parts are falling off. They don't have the get-up-and-go like they used to. They live in Dallas, TX, which in my opinion is merely an exit on the freeway.

Your options narrow. We see movies, we might go to a museum, we eat a lot, talk about eating and plan when next well eat. It's maddening. And boring. And it's expensive. And we have to do it. They're our parents, we love them and they won't be around forever.

We've had success with planning trips together, but given the fact that Mom and Dad are slow, and unable to do more than, "one thing and lunch" per day, you have to really s-l-o-w down any vacation activity.

Accept these facts and embrace what you can do. Think of all the things you can do at home. Ask your folks to plan on letting you sleep off the jet lag the first couple of days. Get an e-reader and load it with books you can read in a room with your folks. Just being together is nice, expecially if there's no pressure to perform.

Set up some boundaries with your folks. "Don't wake me before 9am, I'm on vacation!" "I need some alone time, so I'll see you in a couple of hours." "I'm going for a little walk, be back in an hour or so."

Stuff like that.

We all act like asses with our parents. They act like asses with us. We all still love each other.

Don't be so rough on yourself.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:27 PM on July 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

If jetlag is a contributing issue, you can alleviate it by using The Argonne Diet.

I used to take 11 hour flights to visit my parents, and although working through the four days of pre-flight special eating is not very convenient, it really does make a huge difference in minimizing jetlag. The last time I used it was on a trip to India (12 hour timechange) and I had zero jetlag on arrival.
posted by anadem at 6:35 PM on July 22, 2012

East-west jet lag is horrible. Don't underestimate its ability to lay you low. Expect it. Build it into the plan. Day 1: you sleep. Day 2: possibly keep sleeping.

Your visit will be boring unless you plan it. Buy a Lonely Planet - see what tourists do when they get to your neck of the woods. You may be surprised at the options.

If you can, buy an iPad, or at least a Kindle. Between now and your trip, load it up with every book or TV series that occurs to you. Interesting sounding current book reviews; childhood classics you remember fondly; the entire Game of Thrones series; whatever. The number of quiet entertainment-hours you can spend with these suckers is amazing. (And iPads completely transform the experience of flying. Just load it up with everything you can think of that you might like, make sure you have earphones, and its crazy battery will see you through that ten hour flight with aplomb.)

Good luck. And I'm not saying this to be stuffy - I find it helpful personally when parents make me crazy - remember how lucky you are that they are alive and love you and want you around.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:47 PM on July 22, 2012

Regarding your pre-flight anxiety... I LOVE flying - I've never really gotten over the awe at the fact that we can become airborne and travel at ridiculous speeds I guess. That being said, from time to time, I do have pretty serious panic attacks before boarding and sometimes whilst flying. I think there are a couple of things you can do to help with this part of things:

1) Do everything you can to alleviate stress prior to the flight by identifying stress-points and then eliminating them. Worried about public transport? Then catch a cab. Worried about missing your flight? Get there three hours early. Stressed about feeling sick? Go to your doctor and get some anti-nausea tablets. It will cost a little more, but will be worth every penny.

2) If your airline has a club, join it. I joined the Qantas Club a few years back and it is really wonderful. First up, the atmosphere inside the club is much more relaxing than in the rest of the airport. You generally get called to your flight so you don't need to wait outside the gate for ages. Other benefits depend on who you fly with, but they're all comparable. I've found that getting to the airport a couple of hours early and then reading a book in the airline club lounge is very helpful for relaxing and reducing anxiety.

3) Have one glass of wine before boarding (a mimosa if it is in the morning) and one on the plane with dinner. Think of dinner and your movie (on an ipad if there is no entertainment system) as your own little plane party! Don't worry about sleeping, just dozing can make a difference. I find that listening to audiobooks on my ipod is extremely relaxing and will often send me to sleep. Don't drink any coffee. Try booking an exit row if you can.

Good luck :)
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 7:02 PM on July 22, 2012

I love the idea of meeting them in the middle, so to speak, if you could agree on a location.

How about you taking a holiday of your own over Christmas and then visiting them at another time? If you think that they will be okay having their own Christmas without you, you could start a new tradition for yourself. You don't have to go somewhere alone, you could join a tour or something. Basically my boyfriend and I got sick of the Christmas stress and so we go to the Caribbean by ourselves for Christmas week, and see the family at a different time of year. It doesn't fix everything, but maybe breaking up the routine would make it more tolerable, especially if you can visit the UK at a time when there might be some more things to do (even if it's just taking some long walks on a summer evening).
posted by cabingirl at 7:10 PM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you have any hobbies? Think what you would do if you were spending 2 weeks on a deserted island and do those things. Well, one of them per visit. Work on your spanish vocabulary, practice guitar, write an essay, whatever. I've done this when visiting my folks and it definitely helped. It also helped that it was a hobby that required a little concentration and my own space, but was something they could pop in and observe from time to time.

If your parents have hobbies maybe you can take on a project with them.

Taking a couple of days off from being with your folks to go and do your own thing can be an amazing help, too.

I dislike flying and can't sleep on the plane. I pack for myself as if I were a 4-year old and bring a "comfort bag" on the plane with my kindle, iphone, headphones, anti-anxiety meds, and anything else I can think of that will keep me relaxed and distracted from my worries. I load up my iphone with interesting games. This stuff really helps.
posted by bunderful at 7:19 PM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I definitely understand some of the difficulties of the "only child with parents and no one else" sort of Christmas. I've been through them myself, and some have gone better than others. I agree with possibly having them come out to visit you or all of you mutually agreeing on another city to visit and spending a vacation there together. Make sure to work in some alone time for yourself to explore where ever you are vacationing.
posted by NikitaNikita at 8:07 PM on July 22, 2012

Sounds like they like the excitement of dinners out and you both like London and the city excitement. It also sounds like they can pay for flights and you hate flying. Why not have them come to you? It might be better than you think.
posted by bquarters at 8:09 PM on July 22, 2012

Or skip it and do something else entirely. I have spent the last couple skiing. If you have a hobby you can just say I'm doing x at that time. Or I am staying here and volunteering in a kitchen. Whatever you want. As an adult, you get to decide. If it's not fun for you, it's actually not fun for them don't feel like 'you're doing it for them'. Decide what works best for you and I'm sure they will literally or figuratively meet you half way.
posted by bquarters at 8:12 PM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Many, many thanks for all the great suggestions. Definitely some I hadn't thought of. Not intending to threadsit, but I would absolutely love them to come to me and I know they'd really enjoy it too. But the cost of two transatlantic flights + accommodation (I'm not in a position to put them up) is a bit too much. And they're trying to put as many pennies towards the boat venture as possible. Don't think it's on the cards, unfortunately.
posted by eldindeer at 8:39 PM on July 22, 2012

When I get panicked on the airplane. I make a steward(ess) sit with me and tell me stories about how ridiculously safe I really am.

Yes. A few have held my hand during turbulence. It's OK!!


That said, I want you to mega dose vitamins before your next filght - a good multi-vitamin 2x's per day for a day or two prior to flying will be fine. Then take your multi 1x per day regularly while on your trip.

This often helps mood disturbances and anxiety.


I haven't taken Xanax in years and years, but I remember it was pretty delicious! I absolutely plan on getting a script for a few tabs for my next overseas trip. I know I'm not the badass I used to be.


Your trip home will go SO much better if you arrive in good health.
posted by jbenben at 8:45 PM on July 22, 2012

This sounds a bit like me (....only with much, much less support from my parents - two years ago they begged me to come home and stay with them but they didn't help me get there and when I arrived they didn't even have a bed for me - they'd sold my old bed and simply laid down a comforter on the hardwood floor....for a two-week stay....and then they got hurt and angry when I declined to stay with them the following year....)

If you're in your mid-twenties, and you've been living on your own, it's incredibly difficult to go back to - as you say - your teenage years. At least in my personal experience, when I came home, after five years of living alone it was annoying to be asked, "where are you going?" again. As an adult I understand they're just concerned and want to know when to expect me back, but it's quite stifling. Almost 100% of my anxiety about going home is dependent on where I'm going to stay, and if I'm going to stay with my parents.

Last year I saved a large amount of money and just rented a place. It was well-worth it.

If last year was the only year with anxiety, and you're otherwise content with the situation, I would suggest just giving this year another try as is....but if you get another bought of anxiety, it might be worth it to check into some alternate lodgings.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 9:55 PM on July 22, 2012

I'm surprised that no one seems to have so far made the suggestion: therapy, perhaps? Unless I missed it. Simply because you describe having such a severe reaction but appear to not be consciously aware of the cause. Maybe it all has nothing to do with your parents themselves or the Christmas trip but is precipitated by something else going on in your life.
posted by XMLicious at 2:23 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with XMlicious, I think the fact that you are asking this in July suggests you've now built it up in your mind to such an extent it is interfereing with your life. Take steps to deconstruct this before it becomnes this thing that stops you going on a plane! There are quite practical interventions that may not take too long (maybe 608 sessions) to see an improvement.

What if you skipped this year? How bad would that be?

One other practical thing. No matter how small your village is, there are sure to be some areas worth visiting nearby that locals never go to. One of the things that struck me when I moved to the UK was how negative everyone seems to be about their hometown and yet when I ask them have you done this? been to that? Tried the new X?.... they say No, that's for tourists.

You mention they want to do a boat trip, there are so many nautical or maritime sites in the UK both past & present that might offer interest. How about researching people who've done this kind of trip, theres likely to be a web forum for restirees who want to sail around the world. Maybe you could put them in touch with people via the internet and open up a whole new "thing" for your guys to focus on around Xmas? If you were the conduit (let's say you joined a web forum and put up an ask saying you worry about your parents doing this, eventually make friends with people who have done it, and for bonus points, you might be able to introduce your parents to them next time you're home!) then your visit home becomes the opportunity to shine in your parents eyes in a way that is meaningful to them.

tl:dr make it about THEM, not about YOU. That might remove some of the panic
posted by Wilder at 2:42 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

should read, 6-8 sessions.....
posted by Wilder at 2:43 AM on July 23, 2012

I'm an only child and I really have had these sorts of visits, too, also when living overseas and going back for holidays. There can be a lot of weird pressure on only children to be perky and happy and generally entertain the parents. I will say, with I hope a lot of understanding, that there is a level of "suck it up a little" you have to accomplish. But bear with me: by "suck it up" I really mean "take care of yourself to the utmost degree so you do have as much positive energy as possible left over for them".

And lots of folks in the thread have given you great advice:
  • Don't underestimate the jetlag! Take some drugs if you need to, and eat regularly. Low blood sugar is bad for the human animal.
  • Don't underestimate the culture shock, either.
  • Bring books, sooooo many books. Maybe suggest some TV shows, too? I gift my parents with DVDs of TV shows I've enjoyed that I think we'll all like, so it's sort of a project to watch together.
  • Put a little responsibility on them: ask your folks for ideas on what to do, and if you need some quiet time to recover from jet lag and nap and whatnot, ask them. Communicate as you would to another adult.
And, just my experience, it has sort of shaken out that I do most of the planning. And folks really have fun when I do that, but it can be a little draining, in that I start to feel like I'm responsible for everyone's happiness. Don't do that. But me taking on most of the planning responsibility seems to be the cost of doing business.

So for me, I accepted that I have to visit armed with as many ideas of what to do as possible, and suck that up, while also coming to realize I can demand some alone time or jet lag recovery time or just generally say "really nervous about the flight tomorrow, love you guys but forgive me if I'm a little distracted today" and leave it at that. Exercise is good for this, too: "oh, I have to go take my walk/ride my bike/do some yoga like a weirdo in the back yard".

And if they come visit you, you just have to plan EVEN MORE entertainment.

Good luck! *only child fist-bump*
posted by lillygog at 4:30 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

It sounds like London is usually the highlight of your trip. Maybe this year, fly into London and have your parents meet you there, then spend the first few days doing touristy stuff, instead of waiting til the end of your trip.

Then reframe the remaining 7-10 days at home with parents as your time to relax and recharge - embrace the solitude and lack of activity. Take lots of long baths. Bring along all those books you've heard about but haven't gotten around to reading. Maybe (depending on distance) plan one or two other day-trips to nearby cities or historical locations other than London.

If necessary, cut your visit short by another day or two and go back to London early, be a tourist again by yourself for a day or two until you fly home.
posted by trivia genius at 8:11 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

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