Sofia Lozano and her husband, Anand Ganesh, are taking his parents to San Diego over the Fourth of July weekend, and she asked for advice on two topics:

  1. How to overcome her mother-in-law’s reluctance to use a wheelchair
  2. Activities to do in the San Diego area

I put the wheelchair question to Mom, because I felt that her perspective would be invaluable. I asked her how she felt about the first time she used a wheelchair, which was only a few years ago:

Overcoming a Parent's Reluctance to Use a Wheelchair

Although mom initially protested, I think she now sees it as a tool to help her flirt with all the men who offer to help push!

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Mom: I was actually mad and couldn’t believe you would do that without asking me first!

Val: If I had asked you, you would have said no!

Mom: Exactly! A wheelchair is for old people!


Sofia, I suspect that your mother-in-law is experiencing similar feelings. Using a wheelchair means someone is “old—and who wants to admit that? When I quizzed Mom a bit more about that first wheelchair experience, it was clear that her pride had been hurt: she didn’t want to be seen as someone who couldn’t make it on her own. (Heck, she still feels that way years later!)

I learned from Mom that overcoming a parent’s reluctance to use a wheelchair is a very personal decision, and I encourage you to not push your mother-in-law if she does not want to take this step. These suggestions, however, may help her make that decision:

  • First, review the list of possible trip activities with Anand’s parents, noting the physical activity level of each item. Get their input and pay particular attention to what excites them the most. (If they’re interested an activity that’s a stretch for your mother-in-law’s physical abilities, for example, that knowledge might help her decide to try a wheelchair.)
  • I’m a little conflicted about whether you should bring up the issue of using a wheelchair at this time, even if you know that one or more of the trip activities will be strenuous. You know your mother-in-law a lot better than I do, Sofia, so you’ll have to make that call. You may decide to play this by ear. For example, an opportunity could arise to discuss renting a wheelchair only for a particular location to ensure that she can see and enjoy it in its entirety.
  • Another idea is to rent a wheelchair prior to arriving at a destination and then, if your mother-in-law cannot keep up, mention that the site has wheelchairs and offer to go grab one for her (knowing that you’ve already made arrangements for one). If you don’t think she’ll be receptive to the idea until she gets to a site and has difficulty there, this option might work well for you.
  • Would your mother-in-law be more willing to use a wheelchair if the request came from her son rather than from you? Often people are most receptive to feedback and requests from certain friend and family members. This is definitely true in my family, and my brother and I use this knowledge as our secret weapon: if Mom refuses to do something (in the “we both know it’s best for her, but she’s being stubborn about it” category) that I’ve asked her to do, I ask Eric (my brother) to step in, and invariably she’ll actually listen to him. I’m not necessarily happy about this situation, but through the years I’ve lightened up a bit and learned to accept it as one of those “that’s how it is” things. And ultimately, getting her to fulfill my request is more important than trying to avoid bruising my ego slightly by having to get my brother’s help.
  • Anand might also want to ask his mom about the wheelchair privately, rather than putting her on the spot in front of everyone and making a big (and public) deal about the fact that she cannot keep up. Emphasizing that he wants her along to see everything he sees could help persuade her.
  • You or Anand could just go get a wheelchair and bring it to where she’s sitting. Tell her about something exciting coming up right around the corner: “Grab on, and let’s go for a ride! “ If you make using a wheelchair something fun (instead of something that seems punitive) that could make her more likely to give it a try.
  • Most importantly, respect your mother-in-law’s wishes. If she truly doesn’t want to be in a wheelchair, don’t force her to use one. She’ll get there at some point—just perhaps not this trip. Until then, consider finding a nice spot for her to sit and people watch occasionally while the rest of you explore a site. My mom’s interest in sites varies (she’s so not into looking at temples or other religious sites), but she still wants to come along—and she’s as happy as a clam to hang out and people watch on her own while the rest of us take our time checking out a site. This is really a great option—and one I deploy at least once during every vacation with Mom.

Here are a few more non–wheelchair-specific thoughts to keep in mind as you plan your trip:

  • Avoid scheduling nonstop activities. Everyone (not just your parents) benefits from breaks and downtime during vacation.
  • Plan the most physically strenuous activity in the morning (or whenever your parents are at their peak)
  • Contact the hotel and request the room closest to the elevator and the front entrance. There’s no reason for your parents to wear themselves out just from going to the lobby!
  • If you’re interested in activities beyond your parents’ capabilities, discuss with them how they would feel if you and your husband went off on your own for a couple of hours while they hung out by the hotel pool (or some other low-key activity). Who knows—they might be happy to have some time to themselves!
  • Plan on slowing down. Remember, you’re on vacation! Your parents (and you and your husband as well) will have a better time if they don’t feel like they’re burdens because they can’t keep up. You’ve scheduled this time with them, so use it to relax and just hang out together. Find great restaurants and enjoy long delicious meals together! They will probably enjoy those shared experiences just as much (if not more) than the greatest of tourist sites!

To help you dial down your expectations for this trip, take a peek at an earlier post I wrote, “Adjusting Your Activities (and Expectations) When Planning a Trip with Mom or Dad.” Hopefully, Sofia, you and Anand will find a few ideas in there that might help you with this issue. Please let me know how it goes!

Tune in tomorrow, when I answer the second part of Sofia’s question in a post with plenty of ideas for things to do in and around San Diego!