How can mom travel if dad depends on her and is afraid of terrorism?
September 18, 2016 12:51 AM   Subscribe

My mom is nearing 70, and she wants to travel. For example, she really wants to go on a cruise in Europe and see the Vatican. I very much want her to travel because she does so much for our family and no one is more deserving. My dad, though, is afraid of terrorism and the unknown.

* My dad is nearing 80 and has symptoms of Parkinson's. He relies on my mom for cooking, cleaning, etc.
* My dad is worried about his health and doesn't want to leave the house if he can help it. He especially doesn't want to travel far because of the chance of getting caught in a terrorist attack (he watches a lot of news on TV and seems to have a predisposition to think of the worst case scenarios - he's always been like this). It is not possible to change his perspective on this particular issue - doing so only leads to frustration. Still, I could see myself feeling the same way if I were old and in sketchy health. However...
* My mom has suggested to my dad that he could stay on the cruise ship while she goes on excursions with other people. This seems very reasonable to me, considering that he would essentially be doing the same thing on the boat that he does at home (eat, take naps, watch TV). However, he is certain that there is a "50/50 chance" (his words) that a terrorist attack will occur on either the airports they use or on the cruise ship itself. If it is an airport he has used before, he is slightly less worried; so there is definitely a fear of the unknown here as well.
* My dad knows that his not going on the trip will be very disappointing to my mom, especially since there have been at least 2 other trips that he prevented from happening (one of which I booked for them and he then canceled). Yet his fears are very strong - he has trained them for decades - and, coupled with his health issues, are essentially insurmountable.
* Sister and I could take trips with mom, but it depends on our work (we both work full time). Furthermore, who would take care of dad while we're away? One of us could maybe stay at home, but again it depends on whether work will accommodate. It would also be nice to use our limited vacation time for trips that aren't for my mom, but it doesn't seem like we have many options, and I want my mom to travel, so I'm willing to use it for my mom. However, I'm not sure whether I can swing it for this particular trip, which is happening in either November or December (2-3 months away), because of work deadlines, and my sister just started at her job.

Do you guys see other possible solutions?

Also I have no idea how to categorize this.
posted by wuMeFi to Human Relations (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Does mom have any friends that she might like to go travelling with? I bet she's not the only older lady around with wanderlust whose husband would rather stay at home.

Can you afford to hire help for your Dad while Mom is away?
posted by emilyw at 1:27 AM on September 18, 2016 [21 favorites]

You say the trip is happening in November or December, so...the trip was planned but the Dad is having second thoughts now? I guess I'm having trouble understanding why this was booked before these issues were settled, especially with the knowledge of the Dad's history of scuttling travel plans on previous occasions.

I think your only option is to have a caregiver for your father at home while your mother takes the vacation. If that caregiver can't be a family member, you'd need to hire somebody, or arrange to have your father stay with someone (extended family, or a close family friend, perhaps?).

I think you're right that trying to change your father's mind is not wise at his age and with his health conditions.

Your mom deserves her trip, I hope you can work it all out, and good luck!
posted by Klaxon Aoooogah at 1:30 AM on September 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

The trip hasn't been booked. It's a cruise with a particular itinerary that has sailings in November and December.

posted by wuMeFi at 1:54 AM on September 18, 2016

Right, so there are two issues, Dad and Mom. I think the needs and wants of both can be accommodated, if they're willing to be apart. Are they?

Dad Options
1. He travels with mom. I'd rule this out even if he's being unreasonable, as it seems unfair to push this with an older fella in poor health.
2. He stays in his home and you or your sister stays with him OR you all hire someone to cook and clean.
3. Your dad compromises and stays with you or your sister while Mom is away. Is he up for that? You could still hire some extra help during the day, if need be.

Mom Options
1. Someone travels with her -- a child or a friend. If she has a friend interested but who can't afford it, perhaps she could help pay part of the way? She'd be saving if your dad doesn't go.
2. She goes alone. Are there groups for older travelers on the cruise so she could hook up with a new lady friend? Is she willing to do this trip alone? Is there a cruise for seniors at another time that might be a better match for her?

I very much want her to travel because she does so much for our family and no one is more deserving.

Given this, I think you should either bring your dad to your house or travel with her, whichever is the bigger barrier to your parents both getting what they want. The kicker is if your mom is willing to go on this trip without your dad. If she's not, then I don't see much good coming out of pushing him.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:12 AM on September 18, 2016 [16 favorites]

If your dad really believes a terrorist attack is likely, i.e. he doesn't know on some level that his anxieties are irrational, then he won't want your mother to go anywhere regardless of whether he (or you, or anyone) goes with her. That would mean that this can't happen until your mother is willing to travel without him whether he likes it or not. Is she ready to do that? If not, then she'll need to find some way to think about it that makes it okay to do. That might be a long shot on such a short time frame.

There's been a similar dynamic in my family. My mom is several years younger than my dad, and while he isn't dependent on her in the way you describe, he's been less and less willing to travel for reasons that are persistently vague and impossible to pin down or address constructively. Two things seem to have freed her up to do things without him: she has gotten involved with a social group of old college classmates who still live locally, and my brother and sister in law had a child. Mom has yet to plan any trips that are nominally for herself, but on several occasions my brother's family has invited her along on his family's trips, which by all accounts have gone very well. I think that that spending time with the grandchild, and being available to help care for her, has made the idea of traveling without dad easier to justify.
posted by jon1270 at 3:33 AM on September 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

I've found a number of elderly people of my acquaintance, no matter how spry or sharp-witted they are, feel very vulnerable and anxious, and in the worst case irrational and delirious, in unfamiliar surroundings - google hospital delirium for an example. (It's not quite the same thing, but routines and locations would be similarly turned upside down while on vacation.) Sounds like it would be best given your Dad's anxieties not to force him out of his comfort zone and it might also be a good idea to tell your Mom that so that she doesn't feel too disappointed by the fact that he does not want to accompany her - he would have a bad time anyway and she'd be stressed out. So at least she could reframe it in her head as a necessity and not a disappointment.

If you have the funds I would definitely pay for someone to stay with him while Mom is travelling. I don't know your extended family situation but this seems like the kind of thing I'd ask around the extended family and close friends circle instead of assuming it all falls to you and your sister. I would also investigate the possibility of an older person-friendly tour group for your mother. I did this when my mother and grandmother were travelling abroad - I couldn't accompany them, so I made sure they had tour guides who knew they were two elderly ladies travelling abroad and I planned out every day for them, organised all transport and accommodation and activities, to make sure they knew what was happening from hour to hour.
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:00 AM on September 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

Your mother should go. Think about hiring help during her absence.

My folks are exactly in the same situation (down to same age, reluctance to travel, etc) except my father is less dependent on my mother... so whenever she is away, he is left in the hands of the cook and the house help, and my aunt checks in on him every other day.
posted by Kwadeng at 4:24 AM on September 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have a cousin who stays with elderly men when their wives (or children) are out of town. He cooks, he cleans, he enforces med schedules, runs errands, drives to the doctor or the community center, and spends a lot of time sitting on the couch watching sports and shooting the shit with his charges. He's usually hired through community eldercare services. He can stay in the house (question, couch, whatever) or go home at night depending on needs. (He enjoys it quite a bit; he wasn't ready for college and this has been a good job for him while he worked towards that in a few years and he loves hanging with his old dudes and has become an excellent cook.) Local elder services groups/hotlines can help you find people like him to stay with your dad.

(He is with a service, they are insured, and they have nurses on call.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:48 AM on September 18, 2016 [47 favorites]

Father stays home. Why fight it? Hire help.

My MIL has been on several international group trips organized by the local senior center. Works out great.
posted by LoveHam at 6:53 AM on September 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

FWIW, I know a lot of older women who travel on their own because their husbands don't fancy it for one reason or another - my own parents and so many of my friends' parents included. It seems an incredibly common dynamic. So if that's any comfort to your mum, I don't think people will find it strange that she's travelling without her husband (and especially if he has some health problems).
posted by penguin pie at 7:04 AM on September 18, 2016 [10 favorites]

People your mom's age often reconnect with old friends they've fallen out of touch with decades ago, and end up doing stuff with them. Is there anyone like that you can think of, like an old neighbor whose kids you are facebook friends with? You might be able to find a travel buddy for your mom who is in a similar situation.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:13 AM on September 18, 2016

What is this "symptoms of Parkinson's" piece? There might be medication to help him if you got him diagnosed. But with this, I particularly wouldn't push him out of his comfort zone.
posted by slidell at 7:57 AM on September 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Would your parents be willing to compromise on the destination? For instance, there are U.S. based cruises.
posted by oceano at 8:52 AM on September 18, 2016

Would your mom be into taking a tour with an outfit like Road Scholar that caters to elder travelers? My parents liked to take tours with them when they were ElderHostel, and loved it. They went to different destinations in Europe, China, Canada, and Mexico with them, and made some new friends on the tours as well!

This is assuming that your dad can stay home with someone to look after him - you, a sibling, another relative, or you can hire someone like Eyebrows' cousin.

You are most likely looking at "mom travels while dad stays home." This is very common with older couples.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:44 AM on September 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm unclear why your mom needs an immediate family member or two to travel with her? There are lots of tours geared towards seniors, and assuming she's in good health and doesn't have mobility or memory issues, I don't see why she can't just go on a guided tour either with a friend or with the assumption that she will make friends on the tour.

You and/or your sister can stay home and take care of your dad while she's away.
posted by Sara C. at 9:47 AM on September 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

How much does your Dad rely on your Mom? Is he incapable of dressing himself or too wobbly to wield a paring knife or is he just old and set in his ways such that cooking and cleaning are women's work?

Because if you start with the fact that most meals can simply be ordered in, and all he has to do is eat/reheat, from there, the amount of cleaning that has to be done in the span of a 2 week (or whatever) cruise is negligible. A few dishes will likely have to be washed, a few trash bags empty, a load or two of laundry depending on how much clean underwear your dad has. These are not huge amounts of work for either your father to take on, if he can, or for someone to do by dropping by of an evening or a Saturday afternoon.

It's certainly likely that your mother does way more cleaning than that, but no one ever died from their carpets not being vacuumed for a couple of weeks, you know?
posted by jacquilynne at 11:35 AM on September 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

I also wonder what you mean by "symptoms of Parkinson's". Does this mean he's physically unable to care for himself and his fear is based on his weakening body? Or is there Parkinson's related dementia? Once you address this and clarify what care means for your dad, you can make a better decision.
posted by A hidden well at 12:46 PM on September 18, 2016

There are several tour companies that have women-only tours; your mother might be more comfortable with one of those. I've looked briefly at:

Sights and Soul
Women Traveling
Gutsy Women Travel

and am sure there are others. I've been told by the first two that the majority of people on their tours are women traveling on their own, not with partners/friends/relatives.

As several people above have said, your father isn't going to be comfortable traveling, no matter how much what he does is similar to what he does at home. It's not what he does that's reassuring to him, it's doing it in his very familiar, very safe, place. No trip is going to be enjoyable for your mom if your dad is in the cabin, completely anxious and flipping out (speaking from experience). Encourage her to go on her own, and find some good care for your dad.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:13 PM on September 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

My mother is nearly 70. She's been on lots of solo trips including cruises. Some cruises can put you in a shared cabin with someone else traveling solo and they try to match you up with someone of a similar age or whatever. My mum has met some nice people this way and they become buddies for each other so they're not eating alone etc. Others are right, lots of tours etc are geared to seniors and there will be others travelling alone. The travel agent will know. There will be lots of different ways to get your mom to the Vatican. Do what you can to find her a trip she'll be comfortable with.

Then arrange it so you can stay with your dad. Can you do some of your work remotely? Can any friends or neighbours help?

My mother loves to travel. So do I. It would be sad that she spends her last chunk of healthy years nursing someone's fears. I understand your dad and how crippling his fears must be, but he needs to be helped in enduring a bit of discomfort so your mom can have the richness of travel in her life.

Good luck. You and your sister sound very caring of your parents and that's really special.
posted by stellathon at 4:39 PM on September 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

If your mother is your father's full-time caregiver, I think it's even more important that she gets a vacation away from her responsibilities. Traveling without your father, if she knows he's being taken care of, should be a great way to recharge her batteries.

I agree with others' suggestions about arranging care for your father well your mother is away. Staying with you or your sister seems like it might be a good option, if you can also arrange for help for while you're at work. It might also be good for him to get him out of the doldrums of his routine - sort of a mini-vacation that won't excite his worries about terrorism.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:26 AM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

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