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Ask Rene: My Mom, My Kids, My Vacation NIGHTMARE!

Hi Rene:

My husband, my children and I live in East Texas while my mother still lives in my home state of New Jersey. It’s a wonderful place, right near the beach with boardwalks and amusement parks galore. Every summer we spend a good chunk of change to bring the kids out for a multi-week visit, at which time my poor, heart-broken mother attempts to cram every fun thing she can imagine into the short time we have.

Unfortunately we are homebodies. My eldest son, in particular is about to turn 13 and he has been constantly whining about every place we go. If we force him, he always has fun but it’s a nightmare getting him out there and my mother doesn’t help. Just today (for example), we had plans to do The Boardwalk tonight and go on rides. My eldest wasn’t all that into it but he agreed. Then plans changed; the cousins were coming for the night and we would be going the following day instead. I told him we’d be staying in and he was glad. Then the cousins arrive and decide they all want to go tonight instead.

My mother said don’t force my eldest so when he said he wanted to stay in, I said fine. Then, ten minutes before they go, my mother starts nagging that he HAS to go; it’s the last time he can go out with the cousins and her, we’re leaving in two days, and so on.  So I FORCED him to go and he’s miserable, stomping all around. Then my mother says “Maybe we shouldn’t make him go if he doesn’t want to.” I am ready to scream!

On the one hand I feel we spend a lot to come here, it’s once a year, and he should go out with the family not sit home on the computer or games. On the other hand I feel like we spend a lot to bring the kids to visit her and I wish my mother wouldn’t guilt me over whether my eldest wants to spend time with her at the dang boardwalk he’s been to twice already this week. HELP!

Sign me,

Weary Traveler


Hi WT:

I think there are three distinct issues here. The first is your mother’s insistence that you run, go, see, do everything while you visit. The second is handling a petulant child (I can say that because I have two; I feel  you’re your pain). And the third deals with your mother again. Let me see if I can deconstruct and offer some advice.

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No. No. NO! This is your vacation too. There are few things less appealing than going away on vacation, which is supposed to be restful, and feeling like you have to be “on” or go do everything. I like to see the sights too, the ones that we travel to and the ones that pass BY me as I’m sitting on a porch drinking a frosty, cold one. I think in your mom’s mind, she’s trying to be a good and gracious host but she also needs to understand that you can’t return home, needing a vacation from your vacation.



I cannot emphasize this enough. Talk to your mother and tell her that you would like, at least part of this vacation, to be restful. In advance of the visit, you and your mother can work on finding some high-energy fun things as well as some low-key stuff. The quiet times will give you and your mom a chance to catch up; in fact, that’s exactly how I’d frame it. Who says you have to spend an arm and a leg going to amusement parks to have fun? There’s not a thing wrong with letting the kids run up and down the street, catching fireflies until nightfall while you sit with a glass of white wine watching them.


My son HATES going into Manhattan and yet every time someone visits, that’s where they want to go. Cole drags his feet, lower lip and anything else he can think of, generally becoming a pain for the rest of us. I used to make him come with us until I realized he was ruining it for everyone, but specifically me. Now that he’s older, I let him stay home and we all go in and have a grand time.




Now there are some who will say taking this approach means Cole ( or in this case, your son) wins but you have to ask yourself is it worth the drama? I think the trick to parenting (and to life) is figuring out the hill you want to die on. Is it worth the hassle of begging, pleading, cajoling a miserable teenager just you’re the parent and you say so? Even if it makes you miserable? Personally I don’t think so. Now that does not go for every example but I do think its worth making the decision on a case by case basis.




Ooooooooh boy.. How to handle this one. Start by repeating after me: guilt is a self-imposed emotion. No one can “make” you feel guilty; that’s something you and you alone are responsible for. So the next time your mom starts laying it on thick, stop her. Remind her of the agreement you made prior to coming out there (remember?) and that you’re going to stick to that plan.




I think it must be difficult as a mother to relinquish the mother role when our own kids become parents. As much as I love my own mother, even she has problems with this. I think you can nip this with a very quick, but respectful, “Mom, he only has one mother and that’s me. He needs to listen to and abide by the decisions I make and you chiming is only making it harder. Thanks. And that’s it. No more discussion, no guilt trip. I can be done; I do it all the time.

One other thing: I would tell you mother that you’re not coming back to New Jersey to see “stuff”, you’re coming to see her. It matters not if you’re on the boardwalk or in the basement on plastic chairs looking at family photos. Let her know that she’s the main attraction the next time you head east and you can’t wait to see her.

Good luck!

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Combing the aisles at Target in search of the best deal on Cheerios, it hit Rene Syler like the stench of a dirty diaper on a hot summer’s day. Not only is perfection overrated its utterly impossible! Suddenly empowered, she figuratively donned her cape, scooped up another taco kit for dinner and Good Enough Mother was born.

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