Janice writes . . .
My mother lives near me and my husband and demands my constant attention. No matter where I am or what I\’m doing she drops in to my house or calls. Last summer my husband and I took my 2 daughters and 2 grandchildren to Disneyworld for a week. I really didn\’t think it would be something my mother would enjoy since she hates noise and crowds and is never too happy to be out of her recliner and frankly, I needed the vacation from her! But when I told her about our trip, she absolutely insisted on going. When I said no, she started in on my husband and my daughters. She even made comments to my grandchildren! Finally I gave in and we all headed off. Before we left, she insisted that she wanted to chip in financially. She did give me $20 for dinner the first day but then nothing the rest of the trip. Once we got to Orlando, my mother either couldn\’t do – or didn\’t want to do – anything! We ended up having a miserable time. What was supposed to be a “dream vacation” had turned into a nightmare. I wasn\’t just “torn” in all directions, I was ripped to shreds!! By the end of the week, I was so angry, I was (fortunately) speechless and vowed never to take her on a trip again.

This year my husband and I took my youngest daughter to visit colleges. Although my mother tried to “guilt” us into taking her with us, this time I stood firm! I begged my brother to come stay with Mom for the 4 days we were scheduled to be away but he said it wasn\’t a good time to be away from work so Mom stayed home alone. Within an hour of us leaving, she started calling and she called constantly – 5 or 6 times a day! On our third day, she called saying she thought she was having a heart attack. We ended up cutting our trip short and came back only to find she had had an anxiety attack and was fine. My husband and I are retired and we want to travel but I don\’t know if that will ever happen!

On the other hand . . . .

Cathy writes . . .
My mother lives in the same town that my husband and I live. She was very active until about a year ago when she broke her hip. The year before she broke her hip, we took her with us on a cruise to the Caribbean. Originally my husband and I had planned to go to Hawaii but while having fun in the sun and romantic evenings sounded great to us, there really wasn\’t much there for my mother to do. Plus we figured the cruise would reduce the amount of work getting from place to place. We chose a cruise ship that had the most things we would all enjoy doing. My mother brought a friend with her and they shared a room. We all had a blast and other than breakfasts and a few dinners, we hardly saw each other!!!

Since then, although the hip has healed, Mom never fully recovered mentally, physically, or emotionally. She now has a caregiver who comes in during the day and I take care of her on evenings and weekends. As much as I love my mother, I desperately needed a vacation – just me and my husband this year. We had to postpone our trip by a couple of weeks so that my sister could come to stay with her but it was worth the wait for a much needed vacation.

What was different?

Well, for one thing, it\’s pretty clear that Cathy and her mother have a better relationship than Janice and her mom. Also, Cathy and her husband brought her Mom with them for the right reason – because they really wanted her to come; they all planned in advance to make sure everyone had something to do that they enjoyed; her mother brought a friend so she would have company; and they were able to be flexible with where they went. When they couldn\’t bring her with them, Cathy\’s changed the date so her sister could stay with Mom. This is not always possible but if it is, it\’s a good compromise and a great way to share responsibilities with other family members.

Time off for some fun is important for everyone and if you\’re a caregiver, it is especially important. If your vacation experience with your aging loved one is closer to Cathy\’s, go for it! However, if it\’s closer to Janice\’s, then here are some things to consider, ways to approach the decision, and ways to make the trip better.

First, think about why you are considering taking her with you in the first place. Is it to spend time with each other? Because you\’ve been “guilted” into it? (Remember that behavior isn\’t necessarily going to change just because you\’re on vacation.) Because you have no one to leave her with?

If it\’s because you really want her to go then sit down and have a frank conversation about it. As with so many things, it\’s about talking and listening and clarifying without the emotion so you can determine both person\’s needs and negotiate any differences.

Start by discussing the purpose of the trip. This may seem silly (a trip to Disneyworld with the grandchildren sounds pretty obvious but not always to everyone!) For example, make it clear that a trip to Disneyworld is primarily for the kids so most of the time – including meals – will be spent in the parks.

However, if they really don\’t want to do any of the things the destination provides, ask if there are things s/he does want to do at the destination. Help her find adult activities she might enjoy and discuss ways to make that happen (eg: arranging transportation, etc). Check out activities ahead and make reservations for those activities if possible. However, if s/he doesn\’t want to spend the days as planned and can\’t suggest any alternatives, then honestly discuss how much fun will it be to sit alone in a hotel room. Or suggest they bring a friend. If that\’s not possible, consider bringing an aide.

Money is always hard to discuss, but it\’s a lot easier to discuss before you go as part of the planning. For example, will expenses be shared and, if so, how. Sometimes they say they want to pay their way but when the time comes, they don\’t offer. With 3 meals a day for X days for example, it can add up. To help with that, perhaps have them pay for his/her own room and you pay the rest. Rather than negotiating at every meal, consider having them pay for entire day of meals for everyone rather than just them pay for their own which can be very embarrassing. For example, “Tuesday is your day to pay for the entire day” or, “Why don\’t you pay for your room and dinner the last night and we\’ll take care of everything else.”). It\’s better to know up front than be resentful every time you pull out your credit card.

If you really can\’t come to a decision about whether she should come or not, use the Pro/Con process in my book The Ultimate Caregiver\’s Survival Guide and together assess the pros and cons of them coming with you. (“I just want us to look at a realistic picture so we can discuss how we can make sure it\’s a great vacation for everyone.”)

However, if coming with you is not an option, don\’t present it as an option and hope she will find enough “cons” to talk herself out of it. Rather, be honest and direct. For example: “Sorry, Mom, this trip is my time with my grandchildren, so coming with us is not an option this time. So let\’s look at some options for you to be safe and happy while we\’re gone.”

Some options:

  • Many assisted living communities have respite care where your aging loved one can stay for a week or 2. (Plus, it\’s a good way to get them to look into moving.)
  • A “senior sitter”
  • A sibling – either they can go to your sibling\’s home or your sibling can stay with your aging loved one
  • An in-home aide
  • Get a neighbor to look in on them
  • A friend can stay with your aging loved one or your aging loved one can visit the friend

During this summer vacation season – or at any time – a vacation is a terrible thing to waste! Remember that you want good memories for you and everyone vacationing with you. Once both agree to the deal, be gracious and be flexible. Oh and . . . . have fun!

© Copyright AgeWiseLiving® 2008 You can find information about “The Ultimate Caregiver\’s Survival Guide: The step by step blueprint to resolving your eldercare issues by choice, not crisis” WORKBOOK, AgeWiseLiving® seminars and free teleseminars, and to sign up for Barbara\’s free monthly newsletter at www.AgeWiseLiving.com or by calling toll-free (877) AGE-WISE. Barbara E. Friesner is an author and the country\’s leading Generational Coach and expert on issues affecting seniors and their families. She is an adjunct professor at Cornell University, where she created and teaches “Seniors Housing Management” at Cornell\’s School of Hotel Administration.