I received the following question on the TWAP Facebook page from BrianR from Texas:

My mom passed away in early 2015 and my father has been understandably distraught. I would like to take him on a cruise this summer but when I asked him for his input, he wants to do a river cruise down the Mississippi while I was thinking more along the lines of a Caribbean cruise. I’m paying for both of us and I’m wondering if my preferences should overrule his input. I know this sounds awful, but it’s my one and only vacation I can afford and I’m hoping to do something in the sun and sand.

Thanks for your question Brian and let me say right up front, you’re not alone. I completely understand having limited funds (and time) and therefore, you want to make the most of your vacation.  Unfortunately, if you’re considering taking a vacation with your parent, my ultimate recommendation:  your parents’ input matters even if you’re paying the bill.

If that sounds harsh Brian, remember, it’s your parent’s vacation, too, so your preferences aren’t the only ones that count.

Based on Brian’s experience, a word of caution to readers: before you ask for your parents’ input, ask yourself if you truly are in a place where what they want matters. If you have your mind set on a particular destination, then don’t ask. Instead, mention to your parent(s) that you’re vacationing at this location on these dates and you would be delighted if they would accompany you (on your dime). You’ve now given them the choice to participate (or not) in your pre-planned activity or location.

Food for thought for next time

I treat my solo vacation time as an opportunity to be completely self-absorbed and do only what I want to do. When I travel with other people, I shift my expectations to include their input as well. And when I travel with Mom, I adjust my outlook even more—and therein lies the potential for conflict. Good food for thought for next time Brian.

What to do right now

You can still take the above approach and overrule your Dad. But, before you do that, ask yourself why you asked your Dad along to begin with. Are you wanting to spend time with him (as your behavior suggests) or are you in need of a getaway from all responsibility (a true vacation!)? You don’t mention your father’s health Brian, but as Mom has gotten older, relaxing while traveling with her is not always do-able. That said, I know my time with Mom is limited and I won’t regret the sacrifices I’ve made while she’s still here.

If spending time with your Dad is a priority, here’s my advice on how to reconcile the situation:

  • Ask your Dad why he wants to do a river cruise. Perhaps he’s overwhelmed by the size of Caribbean cruise ships (a very real concern for aging parents) in which case perhaps you can convince him that a smaller ship would be manageable. We took a cruise through Tahiti with Paul Gauguin Cruises and the ship carried roughly 300 passengers. It’s much more do-able for someone who struggles to walk or is overwhelmed by crowds.
  • Also ask your Dad what he’s looking to get out of this vacation. Is he looking to relax? Do fun activities or adventure? Gamble? Just hang out with you? Find out what he’s looking for during your time together.
parents' input matters even if you're paying

Ships by Paul Gauguin are typically smaller and more manageable for an older parent, particularly if they have mobility issues.

Once you have your Dad’s input, ask yourself these same two questions. Compile a spreadsheet of both answers (yours and your father’s) and look for commonalities. Then investigate options on the Mississippi and in the Caribbean to determine which cruise line meets the majority of your combined needs. What did you discover?

Discuss your findings with your father – perhaps he’ll see that a Caribbean cruise is just the ticket for him too! And if he doesn’t, then you go have a fantastic time with him on the Mississippi! As Abraham Lincoln so aptly put it:

Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.

So make up your mind that you’re going to be happy and chances are you will be.

Final thoughts

Through experience, I’ve found that the need to modify my approaches and expectations—and the need to compromise (and maybe not get exactly what I want)—varies, depending on the makeup of my travel party. When I’m traveling with friends, I’m fine with them chiming in on where to eat and what to do throughout the day. Interestingly, I don’t always give the same respect to Mom’s input. At times, for example, I feel like she’s imposing, and I think (sometimes emphatically), “We should just do what I want to do (especially since I’m the one who’s paying).” Her input sometimes strikes me as an intrusion on the great vacation I’ve planned. Through our thousands of miles together, though, I’ve come to realize that there is something in the parent-child relationship that inherently creates conflict, and my mentality of “I’m an adult now and don’t need my parents’ input any more” can still shape that relationship even when I’m all grown up.

When those feelings arise, I have to remind myself that vacation with Mom is not just about me; instead, it’s something we’re sharing together (and I need to check my attitude). I owe it to her to ensure that she’s comfortable and happy when we’re traveling together—and that I’m not suffocating her into submission. Her input matters. If it doesn’t, then I shouldn’t take her on vacation with me at all. Same for you.

Good luck and please let the TWAP readers know how it goes! I think it’s gonna be awesome! All the best, Val