How do I resolve conflicting holiday goals?
September 24, 2016 1:03 AM   Subscribe

I'm planning a trip to celebrate holidays, partly with my girlfriend and partly with my mother, and I'm having a communication / conflict issue between the two. Can you help? Details inside...

I'm turning 40 at the end of the year, and as a New Year's Eve baby, I'm planning a holiday to celebrate. And that's where things have gotten complicated a little.

I'm planning on going with my girlfriend of three years; she's amazing, I love her, she's laid back and the best thing that's ever happened to me. I'm also planning on going with my mother, who I have a good relationship with although we don't have a lot of common interests. The two of them get along fine, although they have even fewer common interests and it's a little awkward.

The first phase of the trip will be by myself, to a destination neither my girlfriend nor my mother would be interested in going to.

I'm an only child, and my mother is a widow (20+ years) with no other family nearby. I didn't want my mother to be alone on Christmas, and I don't want to spend Christmas without her, so I was planning on meeting up with her and my girlfriend in one city, and spending the Christmas season there. (My girlfriend's family is larger, so her mom and step-dad will be happy spending Christmas at my girlfriend's sister's place, playing with the grandkids.)

After that, I was planning on going to a second city with just my girlfriend and spending my birthday/New Year's there. My girlfriend has ties to both of these cities; in the second city we were going to be staying with one of her best friends. Both of these cities are in the same country, nearish to my solo destination but a transcontinental flight from home.

I was talking with my mother about planning Wednesday night, and it turns out she was under the assumption that she was invited to the second city and seemed more excited about the birthday than Christmas. Complicating matters - I last had a party for my 30th birthday, didn't invite my mother since everybody else there were my ~30 year old beer drinkin' buddies; she was hurt by the omission and told me so later and I’ve felt guilty for that. So, in the spur of the moment, I said she could come to the second city.

On the other hand, my girlfriend didn't sign up thinking she was going to spend her entire two week holiday in some places special to her on vacation with her boyfriend's mother. And I'm honestly not so sure about the two whole weeks with my mom, either.

So I'm sort of at a loss as to what to do. (It’s a much more Guess than Ask family, and I’m not the best with social cues.) I don’t want to do the same shitty thing I did to my mom 10 years ago, but I really want a romantic getaway. I’m not even sure how much I want to go to the first city for Christmas. The whole thing has really been stressing me out.

My mother’s coming over for dinner on Sunday, so I need to tell her… something then. I’ll do better in person than over the phone, plans need to be made soon, and I don’t want my guts twisting around any longer.

So, what should I be doing? Is there something I’m missing?
posted by Homeboy Trouble to Human Relations (27 answers total)
Apologize for the misunderstanding. Take the trip you want. You're seeing your mother immediately beforehand, so for her, the Christmas days are Christmas + your birthday this year. The longer you wait the more upset your mother will be, and you're clearly suffering.

For comparison: I also have a holiday birthday, so I get that you can never have a casual impromptu gathering with friends, you have to decide to make a big deal about it. For my 30th I completely skipped out on the holiday and took a 2 week trip alone. I'm very close to my mom and it's normally just the two of us on holidays , but she was happy for me -- we spent a weekend together earlier in the month and I picked out half her beach gear to borrow. Then I texted her some photos during the trip.

Boundaries and independence are great. TBH, if I were your girlfriend I would not be impressed by your inability to prevent your mother from inviting herself on our trip. Good luck.
posted by ecsh at 1:46 AM on September 24, 2016 [17 favorites]

However you decide to break the news to your mother (and you should asap), please don't take the easy route of blaming your innocent girlfriend for the 'change of plan'.

Could you try being honest with your mother about your feelings? You remember the 30th birthday disappointment, yet she's 10 years older, you're 10 years older. You may be surprised by her understanding. You may not, yet at least you'll have said your truth and will get the holiday you planned.

Don't let yourself be held hostage by your mother's (potential) feelings. They're hers to deal with.
posted by doornoise at 1:50 AM on September 24, 2016 [17 favorites]

"He invited his mother to our romantic vacation" has actually been the start of multiple breakups in my circle of friends.

It is not unreasonable for you to want this. The fact that you are seeking advice on how to tell your mom this totally reasonable thing is a little worrying to me, as is the fact that your first reaction was to appease her without checking with your girlfriend. What exactly are you afraid of? You're turning 40. She's not going to ground you.
posted by snickerdoodle at 2:42 AM on September 24, 2016 [25 favorites]

Also, it was not shitty of you to have a birthday party without your mom. It is, again, a totally reasonable thing that is done by many people who are good sons and daughters every day.
posted by snickerdoodle at 2:45 AM on September 24, 2016 [25 favorites]

I am a single mother who is kind of alone in the world -- my close friends and family have all either died or moved away. I would be gutted if my adult son ever chose to spend Christmas without me (though I hope I would survive, and not make him feel guilty about it). His birthday is right after Christmas, and if he wanted to spend that with me also, I would be delighted. I would think, "Ooh awesome -- bonus!" and I might not immediately realize that he would really prefer to spend it alone with his girlfriend or friends, and was including me out of guilt or something.

But I'm a big girl, and my current lack of connectedness is on me, not on him. And Christmas is one thing, but a birthday is quite another, lesser thing, in terms of family expectations. And anyway, more than anything else, I would want my son to be happy -- not with his guts twisting around because of me.

Just tell your mom you realized that -- while you're excited to spend Christmas with her -- you really want the second city and your birthday to be a romantic getaway. She'll get it. One thing is that I would really emphasize that you are looking forward to the Christmas part of the trip, to show her that is something you want to do. She might possibly test this by offering to stay home the whole trip so you can spend it with your girlfriend -- but don't fall for that.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 3:18 AM on September 24, 2016 [35 favorites]

When you're in the city with your girlfriend and mother, can you make time with just your mom while your girlfriend is otherwise occupied? Speaking as the mother of adult kids, nothing beats some quality one-on-one time, but your mom might be reluctant to suggest this for fear of unintentionally hurting your girlfriend (guess culture, etc).

Also, I bet lack of shared interests is less of an issue to your mom than it is to you. Parents tend to find their children interesting in and of themselves, e.g., Mom may not want to spend an afternoon participating in your favorite activities, but she would likely enjoy hearing why these things are important to you.
posted by she's not there at 3:45 AM on September 24, 2016

"Mom, when I originally planned this holiday, I really wanted: some time to myself, Christmas with the people I love most, and a getaway with [girlfriend] and her friends. I really don't want to hurt your feelings and I'm sorry for the misunderstanding but I can't have you join us for the second week. I love you and hope you understand."

I agree with others who've said that not inviting your mom to a beer bash with your friends is NOT something you should feel guilty about. I think it would have been weird if you did invite her. I get that you're all she has and you love her, but you can make plenty of time for her (one on one) outside of your actual birthday.
posted by yawper at 4:35 AM on September 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think that there is already great sample verbiage/answers for how to explain to your mother that the New Years portion of your holiday will be with your GF, but if you want to decrease the disappointment about not visiting your mother's excited-for-destination city, one thing you can do is (provided you have the vacation time and want to do this) - what about discuss future fun birthday celebrations for your mother? As in go to a destination that she picks for her birthday? Then it gives her something to look forward to and get excited about.

Nthing everything that has been previously stated - it seems more appropriate to do the New Years/Your birthday with your girlfried.
posted by Wolfster at 6:02 AM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Some of your situation is firm: you need time in the first location on your own, time with your mom (with or without girlfriend), and time with your girlfriend (without your mom). It sounds like some parts may be flexible: which places and which dates include your mom. Is that right? If so, as you've mistakenly invited your mom to the whole two weeks, can you lessen the sting of withdrawing part of the invitation by giving her some choice in the matter? If she can understand that you want some time with her and some couple time with just your girlfriend, you could let her choose whether being with you for Christmas or your birthday is most important to her.
posted by daisyace at 6:55 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

"Mom, just to be clear, Daphne and I will be with you for Christmas in FirstCity. The trip to SecondCity is just Daphne and me. Sorry for the misunderstanding but what I'm giving myself for my 40th birthday is a romantic trip with my girlfriend. I'm sure you understand."
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:11 AM on September 24, 2016 [6 favorites]

Agree that you need second trip to be w/o mum, but you need to also plan a day just for you and mum to do something together on first trip. This is your together birthday celebration, just for the two if you. Frame your explanation of the change of plans around that.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:56 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I said she could come....

Then you have to let her come. End of. You invited her. You gave her permission to get as excited as she is.

If you've changed your mind, tough shit. Your second thoughts, tantamount to dis-inviting her, are not a call to action because acting on them would really hurt her feelings. And you just can't do that your Mom, especially because you're of an age now when taking care of your parents starts becoming your responsibility.

So man up, and devise a compromise that gives your mother her two full weeks AND you and your girlfriend time for fun and romance. For example, agree that the three of you will spend the days together, but that the nights belong to you and your girlfriend alone.

You'll figure it out.
posted by BadgerDoctor at 7:57 AM on September 24, 2016 [4 favorites]

Wait wait. You said you're going to be staying with one of your girlfriend's friends in the second city? Sorry, but you can't just bring another guest without checking with them first, that's incredibly rude (more so than coming clean with your mom and telling her what your plan actually was).

Nthing everyone who says to tell your mom that you're excited to see her, but week #2 is just you and your girlfriend.
posted by AV at 8:19 AM on September 24, 2016 [11 favorites]

For what it's worth, not dealing with your accidental invite could very easily see you single for your bday/New Years. Sharing a huge holiday between your girlfriend and mother (when you also managed to carve out some time for you to be alone) is already pretty questionable. If your mother really needed more time with you the only thing you could have done is dropped your solo travel time to be with her. Making your GF spend her whole vacation with her boyfriend's mom would truly ruin her vacation and if she'd posted this question we would all be suggesting that she DTMFA for this behaviour.
posted by saradarlin at 8:23 AM on September 24, 2016 [15 favorites]

Agree that, at a minimum, you can't invite your mom to stay at your girlfriend's friend's house without getting both their permission well ahead of time! If I were the host in that situation I would be absolutely furious, since having a good friend and her boyfriend stay with me is an entirely different kettle of fish to having the two of them plus his mother, who belongs to a different generation and whom I do not know personally, in my home. Trying to do that is likely to leave you without either a girlfriend or a place to stay during your second week of holidays.

You need to have the conversation with your mom asap and explain that you realized you don't have the right to invite extra guests to your host's place and you want the second week to be a romantic vacation. Tell her how much you are looking forward to spending Christmas with her and perhaps suggest that you do an additional special something or activity to mark your birthday early.
posted by rpfields at 8:31 AM on September 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

Hit post too soon... Just expanding on that point, since you mention ask vs guess: etiquette is generally more guess than ask and I'd think it would be rude to even ask your hosts in the second city to host a third guest (unless they had originally extended the invitation to your mom as well). They will probably feel obliged to say yes if you ask, even if they don't really have room or hadn't budgeted the time or money to feed and entertain a third person. For example, what if you and your girlfriend want to have an evening out, just the two of you, as suggested above? Must your hosts entertain your mother for the night? I think that's too much to ask.

If you absolutely feel you must accommodate your mother on the second week, I'd pay for a hotel for her and make it clear to your mother that you and your girlfriend will not be spending all of your time with her.

I hate to say this, but I'm pretty chill as girlfriends go, and if my boyfriend did this and didn't fix it I would have serious concerns about his ability to set boundaries and our long-term future.
posted by AV at 8:31 AM on September 24, 2016 [9 favorites]

Offer her a heartfelt apology for saying she could come to the second city. The arrangements are really not satisfactory for that and you can say you were not taking those into account when you extended the invitation. Maybe also consider giving up the first part of your trip, or one day of it, and spending that time with her. Being disinvited is probably going to sting and it might help if you could demonstrate your willingness to adjust your plans to make up for it.

I can't tell how much she pushed for the invitation, and how much of it was you being optimistic, and how much was both of you just getting carried away, but it does sound like you genuinely want to spend time with her and that should count for something.
posted by BibiRose at 9:58 AM on September 24, 2016

"Mom, you caught me off guard last Wednesday wrt CITY TWO. I had planned that to be a romantic getaway for me & GIRLFRIEND. Christmas is all about us as family, but we were planning NYE as a couple, and I shouldn't have blurted out an invitation on the spur of the moment like I did.

"I love you, and we're gonna have a great Christmas. But having you come to CITY is not going to work. I'm sorry I mistakenly made you think that."

Because it's that or you're single again by January.

Best of luck
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:19 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I also think a good way to put it would be that you liked the idea and got carried away, but that on reflection it won't work because you are staying with these people. In my family, we do end up making some plans that are overly optimistic and cancelling or changing them, and everyone seems to know that is what is going on. Depending on what your mother is like, saying she can't come because you want to be romantic seems unnecessary and may make you sound a little more exclusionary than you need to.
posted by BibiRose at 10:33 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Your mom wanting to come to your thirtieth birthday beer bash is weird and if she's been making you feel guilty about that for a decade that just shows she has poor boundaries, not that you did something wrong. You have to tell her that you really would like this birthday to be just you and your girlfriend. If she gets upset that does NOT mean you've done something wrong. (Although you definitely flubbed it when you invited her in the first place.)
posted by MsMolly at 10:43 AM on September 24, 2016 [11 favorites]

First, I want to say that I really feel for you. You're in this mess because you're a people pleaser, I suspect, and don't want to say no, and didn't think this through to its final conclusion. Your mom didn't invite herself: YOU invited her. (I feel like the people raining down on your mom in these answers are being a little harsh; she thinks she's invited, and she's excited. That's not her fault. It is, actually, your fault for not being way clear about the plans were when you told her about them! Your mom isn't pushing boundaries to be excited about a trip she believes she was specifically invited on.)

Guess culture + your guilt about your 30th has put you in more of a muddle than you would have been in if you hadn't been trying to make everyone happy. Please know that I say this with love because I can totally see myself having done this same thing. But now you have to unravel this. Have you talked this through with your girlfriend? What does she say? (I would personally be very sympathetic to my boyfriend not wanting to disinvite his mother on a trip for which she was excited but not thrilled that she was randomly coming on my romantic vacation, and, more than anything, put out on my hosting friend's behalf.)

Can you just be scrupulously honest with your mom about this? Trying to please everyone has gotten you in the mess in the first place, so maybe don't try to get in front of it this time. Can you just tell her, "Mom, I did something dumb," and then lay it all out for her, explaining that you did this because you love her and want to see her and feel bad about your 30th (which I suspect it's possible she's totally forgotten about), and sort of...ask her advice about how to handle it?
posted by Countess Sandwich at 12:12 PM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I last had a party for my 30th birthday, didn't invite my mother since everybody else there were my ~30 year old beer drinkin' buddies; she was hurt by the omission and told me so later and I’ve felt guilty for that. So, in the spur of the moment, I said she could come to the second city.

Wow I am sorry about this whole thing but just wanted to add

- Mom wanting to come to your all-younger-people party is a little odd (but hey she feels what she feels), sharing that hurt with you was maybe a little guilt-trippy, but you holding on to it for a decade is also a little red-flaggy
-If I were your girlfriend at this point I would be having very serious "maybe this isn't the right relationship" thoughts if you had spur-of-the-moment invited your mom along to our romantic vacation and I would be wanting to know how you were planning to make it right.
- Also concurring with others, you can not invite another person along when you are staying with people you don't know well. So this is your out, imo "Sorry checked with people we're staying with, they can't put up another person" and if you really want to be mushy on this maybe have her stay in a hotel for a few days and you hang out and then she LEAVES and you and GF get quality time together?

I don't have much of a sense of how far all these locations are from each other and how weird all of that will be, but if you are a person with a serious girlfriend and you want to be a person with a girlfriend and not a guy with no girlfriend and a slightly too-close relationship with his mom, I'd try to find a way to finesse this that shows you respecting your mom but also finding a way to put you+girlfriend time as an obvious priority. Sounds like you and your mom could use some better boundaries and this might be a good time for getting started with that.
posted by jessamyn at 4:14 PM on September 24, 2016 [10 favorites]

Maybe being on her own and only having one child, your mom has become more dependant on you that she would otherwise have been. So you did nothing wrong to not invite her to your 30th but you understand that she was upset and you don't want to hurt her feelings again. But there comes a time, and 40 is a good time, to recognise her stuff is not your stuff. She has to deal with her disappointments or whatever in life and you have your own stuff to deal with. Being upset about not being invited to your 30th is because she hasn't dealt with her stuff, not because you did anything wrong. Same again if she's upset about your 40th.

Break it to her gently, tell her you want to be with your girlfriend for the second city, frame it as romantic time, tell her how much you're looking forward to Christmas away together. Hold your boundaries. You deserve it.
posted by stellathon at 5:12 PM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've been married for a while, and we probably each spend more time with the others' parents than we would like, and *definitely* more of our vacations are Family instead of Romantic than is easy.

But. This is part of how I know my husband won't drop me when I'm not the most fun thing: he is kind and committed to the people in his family. We are first with each other, but only first in times of need, not fun. Fun we share out.

I'd give your girlfriend dibs on the best time she wants for couple-time in the NYE city; tell your friends your mother will be in town for your birthday and ask beseechingly that there be a nice chair for her at the party; tell your mother that your friends can't put her up, and you have a romantic time with girlfriend, as scheduled; and live up to the outcome.
posted by clew at 7:23 PM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Just another voice to say: it was a mistake to invite your Mom to the romantic togetherness part of your trip, and the least damaging thing you can do is sincerely apologise and rescind the invitation. I would add: i went on a trip with my partner and his mother, and I spent a serious chunk of the time willing it to be time to go home. I normally get on fine with his mother but travelling with her for 2 weeks was too much. It could have been different, but she is the kind of person for whom too much togetherness is barely enough, and she would not take the broadest of hints about alone time, and my partner did not want to rock the boat. I suspect some of these same problematic things are present in your story! Seriously, even if your girlfriend agrees to the change she will likely have a crummy time and be annoyed at you. Don't do it!
posted by Cheese Monster at 7:34 PM on September 24, 2016

I think the best way you can deal with this easily is to tell your mom that accommodations don't actually allow you to invite her.
posted by corb at 8:49 AM on September 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the advice, folks. Was helpful to confirm what I thought I should do and particularly the advice to own my own decisions. I've marked a few answers that were helpful, although the general/favourite consensus was helpful in and of itself. And maybe I'll wind up enjoying my first-ever Christmas by myself.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 5:22 PM on September 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

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