How to arrange family vacation with adult siblings but without parents?
January 26, 2013 11:15 AM   Subscribe

My sister (married, one child) and I (married, no kids) want to plan a joint family vacation. We do not want our parents (divorced, both remarried) to come. Our mom is extremely sensitive/dramatic, and we are hoping to avoid a major meltdown from her. Help?

My sister and I get along wonderfully, our husbands get along wonderfully, and all four of us love their kid to pieces. We live about 2000 miles apart and get together a couple of times a year, usually at one of our homes or our parents' homes (Dad is within driving distance of sister, but Mom is a plane ride from either of us). This year, my sister and I would like to plan a joint family vacation to meet up somewhere in the U.S. that's new to all of us. For a number of reasons, we would like for this trip to not include either of our parents.

Dad will probably take the news fine ("Oh, you're going on vacation together? That'll be fun."). Mom will almost certainly react with anger, tears, and sadness that we'll have to deal with for many, many difficult conversations ("Why didn't you invite me? Didn't you want me there? I know you guys don't like me very much. It is because _____?" etc., etc.). She somewhat regularly complains that we don't tell her enough and must be trying to keep her out of our lives (we aren't). In previous, similar situations, she has kept up her pouting long enough and annoyingly enough that we just give in to what she wants--but then I regret it and feel like I just continue to let her manipulate me, which I hate.

I would rather be up front with Mom about this than wait to tell her about the trip until it's too late for her to join in. Past experience tells me that waiting longer doesn't really help anyway--then I also get in trouble for not telling her sooner. And either way I'm going to be in trouble for not wanting her there.

I know I can't change Mom. But has anyone figured out a mature way to handle this might minimize the agonizing dramatic fallout? How do you tell a member of your family that you don't want them to come on your family vacation?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Lie? Tell her you're going with mutual friends then after when she sees the photos oops, they had to cancel, we didn't tell you? Don't frame it as a family thing at any point at all, frame it as a group of friends thing.
posted by fshgrl at 11:20 AM on January 26, 2013

Don't call it a family vacation. Just say you are going somewhere with your sister.

I have a dramatic self-involved mom who seems to get a lot of mileage out of the degree to which me and my sister getting along is a source of both joy and pain with her because we don't want to play "one of the girls" games with her. She does not see (and over time I've stopped explaining to her) that she likes to play mean girl games, it's not fun to do these things with her and she's not, actually, one of the girls. So now me and my sister occasionally do things together with our SOs and my mom isn't invited because why would she be? You're allowed to be friends with your sibling and do things with them that do not automatically become "family" things, just find another way to frame it in your mind and then make sure that's the way to frame it with your mom. Maybe invite some other people, or claim you did, would your mom try to horn in on a social outing that you were doing with colleagues?

Make some separate time to hang out with her but otherwise just resist this mindset where she has any claim whatsoever to your time other than that which you freely give. Ignore her pouting and refuse to interact with her if she is being awful "I'll call you back when you can act like an adult about this, bye mom"

I know I can't change Mom. But has anyone figured out a mature way to handle this might minimize the agonizing dramatic fallout?

These two sentences don't go together. Agonizing is a thing that is in your mind and is not actually related to what your mom is doing. Find ways to compartmentalize her crappy behavior and make it officially Not Your Job to be responsible for her acting out when you're just being a normal adult person.
posted by jessamyn at 11:21 AM on January 26, 2013 [32 favorites]

Make some separate time to hang out with her but otherwise just resist this mindset where she has any claim whatsoever to your time other than that which you freely give. Ignore her pouting and refuse to interact with her if she is being awful "I'll call you back when you can act like an adult about this, bye mom"

Yeah, this. It's her problem that she's all butthurt that you want to have a sister thing. All you have to say is 'Mom, we decided that we just want this particular trip to be a sister thing, but we'll both be seeing you on mother's day (or whenever). Love you!' and if she whines, just be all 'too bad mom. Sister time is for sisters. We'll see you for mom time." and then don't feed into her pity-party.
posted by greta simone at 11:32 AM on January 26, 2013 [9 favorites]

My mom is kind of similar on the drama front.

My siblings and I usually just roll our eyes, say something blunt like, "Mom, this isn't about you," and change the subject any time our mom starts whipping up a family sized helping of this sort of drama.

I see that there's a kid involved, so this may not be possible, but what about doing something your mom wouldn't even want to go along on? My brothers and I occasionally riff on a family vacation to Burning Man. We don't have to worry about including our parents, because neither of them would ever want to do that. Obviously Burning Man is a bit extreme for your purposes, but either build the trip around something she's not into, or frame it that way to her so it sounds less like something she's being left out of.
posted by Sara C. at 11:37 AM on January 26, 2013

Although I agree with everyone above, could you take the sting out of it for her by planning a trip that she would have hated anyway, like camping if she hates the outdoors, or skiing if she's not athletic?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 11:42 AM on January 26, 2013

It's been said "you can either have boundaries, or care what people think."

There's probably not a solution where 1) you can have a mother-free vacation, and 2) your mother is not offended at not being invited on vacation. It's probably worthwhile to consider which one is more important.

You and your sister have decided you want a parent-free vacation. That is a boundary. If you do that, your mother may "react with anger, tears, and sadness". That is fine, that is called setting a boundary. In that case, what she thinks is subservient to your desire to have a parent-free vacation.

a mature way to handle this probably begins with the correct locus of I also get in trouble. Children 'get in trouble'. Adults make decisions. You do not need to justify anything to your parents at this point. You are simply making a decision. Your mother's reaction to that decision is her own. If she gives you trouble or becomes dramatic, that is her decision to make. You are not responsible for her decisions, any more than she is responsible for your decisions.

has anyone figured out a mature way to handle this might minimize the agonizing dramatic fallout?

Accept that you are not responsible for how other people feel. You are entitled to make your own decisions for how you would like to conduct your life. Other people's reactions are their own, and they need to own them. That being said, there may be consequences for your actions, but that is a different conversation.

If your mother is supporting you financially, for example, then the real concern would be that choosing not to invite her on the trip may imperil your financial survival. In that case, the issue is not boundaries, but keeping your investor happy (so to speak). If that is not the case, then the previous applies.

You can either fulfil yourself or fulfil your mother. You did not decide that the two were mutually exclusive, but rather they happen (in this instance) to be thus.

I regret it and feel like I just continue to let her manipulate me, which I hate.

There's your answer. She is not manipulating you. You are allowing yourself to be manipulated. If you stop allowing yourself to be manipulated, she will not manipulate you. As mentioned, that may upset her quite a bit, but it's a choice. If you decide to stop being manipulated, she will probably be upset. Which one matters to you more? Authentically living your life according to your own choices, or ensuring your mother is not upset?

How do you tell a member of your family that you don't want them to come on your family vacation?

"We're going on a sibling's holiday! It's going to be great. We're really looking forward to it. I'll tell you all about it when we get back."

Any that happens after that re: drama is not your responsibility. Unless you accept the responsibility for it.
posted by nickrussell at 11:42 AM on January 26, 2013 [20 favorites]

Damn, should have previewed.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 11:43 AM on January 26, 2013

As jessamyn said, definitely minimize the extent to which this is presented as a "family vacation," or even something else where the goal is still family + fun (like "sibling vacation" or whatever). Your mom definitely sounds crazy and dramatic and all, but if she's also lonely and doesn't get to see a ton of you guys, then I can kind of understand her feeling a bit hurt or sad at being left out of events where family bonding is the main goal.

Along these lines, the idea above about including a couple of same-aged friends (either real or fictional) to make this into more of a "young couples vacay" is solid. Alternatively, you could present it as an individual vacation your sister was planning, where you and your husband just decided to tag along at the last minute to be helpful because they desperately needed babysitters. Or two individual family vacations... that coincidentally happened to be planned for nearby each other, so you just decided to club together and stay at the same place to save money. Either way, if you can present the impetus for the joint vacation as something other than family bonding per se, it'll be easier to explain it to your mom as an experience not logically linked to her at all, rather than a fun experience from which she's been deliberately excluded.
posted by Bardolph at 12:11 PM on January 26, 2013

When parents (or anyone) use their bad feelings to manipulate their children (or anyone) into doing what they want, it is their own fault when their children must then decide they cannot care about that parent's feelings anymore.

My father was like this about some things, my mother is like this about many things, and my husband's mother has been like this about a lot of things her whole life. There is not a solution where your mom doesn't feel bad and try to manipulate you. You want this solution because you're a reasonable person who thinks this ought to be able to be resolved reasonably. However, your mom is not a reasonable person and does not want this resolved reasonably. The only solution is you quit caring when she acts like a baby.

Years from now, when her daughters no longer even feel bad when she's raving about something, it may hit her how her own actions have alienated you and your sister. My mother-in-law had to have her kids out of contact with her for years before she started to quit exhibiting bad behavior all the time. Now my husband can have pleasant conversations with her about half the time, but that was not possible ten years ago. Even now, she slips up sometimes and my husband tells her she's being unreasonable, explains why, and hangs up on her. She many never improve much past this point, but it's been something.

Right now your mom has little incentive to improve because when she feels left out, she plays the pity card so she can see evidence that you feel bad when she feels bad and therefore care about her feelings -- but that's a black hole you cannot fill, because she still tries to manipulate you into doing what she wants instead of what you want.

You already know this is manipulative behavior on her part, but start internalizing how she doesn't care about making you feel bad, that she is being extremely selfish, and that people who act that way bring it upon themselves and are not worth your pity because you aren't worth theirs. The longer this goes on, the more you will naturally just not care much anymore when she feels bad -- very sad, but also true and inevitable for anyone with a sense of self-worth -- and then she will not get anything from the manipulations except a much worse scenario than she had to begin with. You will still care on an intellectual level, like you'll wish she wasn't ruining her own life, but that awful feeling that used to go along with it won't be there anymore. You can feel peace, but it won't come by figuring out some perfect phrasing to break news to your mother, because no phrasing exists. She is insecure, not caught up on semantic definitions of the activity you're doing with your sister. You could tell her you're going on a work trip to clean sewage and nuclear waste in the middle of nowhere with your sister and she would probably wonder why she wasn't included.

I'm very sorry you have to deal with this. One of the worst things, starting out, is feeling like you're having to turn off your empathy. It's hard to see someone act this way and not feel bad for them. But you're not turning off your empathy, you're reframing the situation to be fair to yourself. Someone has to respect you, and it's not going to be her.
posted by Nattie at 12:30 PM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, don't frame this as a "family vacation." Frame it as a "sister bonding time." If the subject comes up with your mom, head her off at the pass by telling her how grateful you are that you are your sister are so close, and throw some props your Mom's way- she did a great job when you were kids, isn't it great we want to have some sister time as adults!

Then change the subject.
posted by ambrosia at 12:30 PM on January 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Can you plan two vacations at the same time? One with her and the families, in addition to this one? Like

"Oh, but we're all so excited to see you at Thanksgiving! I know that Niece is really looking forward to getting to spend time with Grandma." or something whenever she starts talking about your summer vacation plans?

and just don't talk to her (much) about the sister vacation plans?
posted by leahwrenn at 12:55 PM on January 26, 2013

The fact that you want to vacation with not just your sister, but with your husband, her husband, and her child somewhat complicates/renders implausible the line that "It's just sister-bonding time!" and might give an unreasonable person (such as your mother) some basis to claim, "I wouldn't expect to be invited on a sisters-only trip, but this is a family vacation to which I could have been invited (because I am as much family as your brother in law), but you have excluded me."

If she tries that argument (and you do not respond by more prudently sticking to your boundaries and closing down/changing the subject), you may try to reframe the trip neither as "sister-bonding time" nor as a "family vacation," but a trip on which you, your sister, and some other people are going. I imagine there have been times, perhaps going back into your childhoods, when you, your sister, and others went somewhere without your mother. Like an overnight trip with a school club or church youth group in which you, your sister, and 10 other kids went somewhere without your mom. Maybe you could compare this trip to that one.

If she continues to protest that she didn't go with you on your Sunday school trip to Branson because it wasn't a family vacation, point that that even so, you still went on family trips with her. So even if this trip excludes her, you can still promise other trips or visits in which she'll be included (if you are willing to so promise without lying).
posted by hhc5 at 1:14 PM on January 26, 2013

You know, I used to be kind of like this when my younger sisters would make plans that didn't include me. I would feel hurt and sometimes whine about it. But basically they just kept being themselves and I had to get over it and I actually have a better relationship with them now thanks to it. (I kind of grew up raising them so I have a similar "mom" role and in their case was seen as kind of a censorious influence, i.e., if I hung out with them they couldn't smoke cigarettes or talk about drinking alcohol or whatever.)

So I guess do the same to your mom? I mean, what's she going to do about it? You can only say so many times, "mom, I like to spend one-on-one time with my sister, but I'll be excited about spending one-on-one time with you soon too."
posted by stoneandstar at 1:17 PM on January 26, 2013

(Also I don't think taking your sister's family means it's not sister bonding time-- people go on double dates all the time as "bonding" time, this is just a bigger version of that. If you mom just goes "AHA family vacation!" because your brother-in-law is there, she's missing the point and I wouldn't knock myself out trying to explain. Don't negotiate.)
posted by stoneandstar at 1:19 PM on January 26, 2013

As you are the couple without children I might say that you are joining your sister on *their* summer vacation to help and visit with the kids.
posted by saradarlin at 12:05 AM on January 27, 2013

Call it a "Sister Spree" or a "Sibling Sabbatical"....and bring your mother back some gifts you know she'd like, like cookbooks or small local paintings or some such, to show her you were still thinking of her.
posted by DisreputableDog at 1:47 AM on January 27, 2013

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