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Taking Mom on Vacation -- and Actually Enjoying It

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Several years ago, when my children were young, we would often visit my parents in Florida in February, eagerly looking forward to shedding our parkas for shorts and t-shirts, and spending some quality time with the folks. But as soon as my kids walked in, throwing their shoes all over the tiny condo, it was clear we would be living under my mom's rules. "Take your shoes off at the door!" was an initial greeting. My parent's preferred late-night restaurant outings were the norm, where my kids grew cranky waiting for their kid's meal well past their bedtime.

As summer arrives, you may be gearing up for spending some quality time with your extended family, including your mother. Perhaps you're renting a house together on the beach, or maybe your mom has decided to visit you for a few weeks or you're heading to her house. While some daughters may be eagerly anticipating this time, for others merely the thought of having mom in close quarters, scrutinizing every decision brings a feeling of dread.

Many mothers, accustomed to running the show, continue that pattern. And they may still see you as a child. I recall when I was about to swim laps, my mother questioned why I didn't wear goggles to protect my eyes. Her remarks served to bring out my rebellious inner child and undermined my self-confidence as a parent. I wanted to treasure the time with her, so it was a source of frustration at the time.

Mothers may be more inclined to micromanage on vacation, when they witness more issues worth critiquing, says Roni Cohen-Sandler, a psychologist and author of several books, including I'm Not Mad. I Just Hate You! A New Understanding of Mother-Daughter Conflict. She says that vacations, typically considered a time of rest and relaxation, can actually be more stressful, since they're unstructured and represent a change from the normal pattern.

Mothers tend to return to the controlling "mother" role they're most familiar with, even if their child is grown, says Renee A. Cohen, a California psychologist specializing in couples and family issues. Following are some ways to help achieve a harmonious vacation with your mom.

Set boundaries and guidelines. Speak with your mother in advance about how the vacation is going to work, and your respective expectations, as well as what issues might arise and how you should handle them, Cohen-Sandler says. For example, a daughter might say, "If you see the kids misbehave, I'd prefer you tell me directly so I can be consistent in disciplining them." And the daughter can ask her mother if she is concerned about anything regarding her daughter or grandchildren that might interfere with her enjoying herself on vacation, like being asked to babysit too often. Renee Cohen says you should make clear to your mother that she should respect your rules, saying, for example, "Mom, I allow them to eat in the family room, provided they sit at the table." She suggests deflecting criticism by expressing your gratitude, saying, "I know I'm not doing as good a job as you did raising me, but I appreciate you allowing me the opportunity to raise my children," The goal, she says, is having her see you as an adult with children and getting her to respect that role.

Just say yes. Renee Cohen said she learned to diffuse a situation by responding to her mother with one word: "okay." "It wasn't worth the argument and it wasn't worth taking it personally," she said. Happily nodding your head in agreement, provided you don't feel strongly about the issue, diffuses the situation.

Maintain your sense of humor. When things get sticky, state your concerns in a lighthearted way, Cohen-Sandler says. You could say, "Mom, you are officially relieved of your maternal duties. Go relax!" or "What would I do without you reminding me to wear sunscreen? I might burn to a crisp!" Just make sure your mother is the type to laugh at her own foibles.

Keep Mom busy. Reverting back to the role of mother gives a mom purpose, especially one who is lonely or widowed. So think of ways that she can stay engaged, like spearheading an arts and crafts project with the grandchildren. I found my mom got along best with my kids when I wasn't in the middle, micromanaging, so I encouraged her to take them on outings, solo. Or you could suggest your mother to partake in activities she'd enjoy, like seeing a play.

Chill out. The women who aren't overly sensitive and are laid back and flexible are best equipped to thrive with mom. So remember you're on vacation. Go to your Zen place and surrender to the calm surroundings. With the right attitude, your tensions may just melt away.