In the last chapter of my book Planes, Canes, and Automobiles: Connecting with Your Aging Parents through Travel, I ask seniors for their advice on managing conflict when traveling with family. The majority of my book is from the perspective of an adult child helping their aging parents, however, a lot can be gained from learning from our elders on how they put up with us…
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When I asked Mom if she had any concerns about traveling with me, reminding her that I can be in a bad mood at times (particularly when I’m tired!), she replied, “Yes, you do get crabby. But I figure we can work through it, because we both love to travel together and see new things. That’s what we did on our first trip together, and we’ve done it ever since.” When I’m in a foul mood, Mom’s strategy for handling me without making my mood (or the situation) worse is to avoid addressing concerns “in the heat of the moment.” When things have calmed down a bit (perhaps as we’re having a cocktail), she’ll ask if I’m having an issue with her or if there’s something else going on that she can help me resolve. Her “let me help” approach reminds me that there’s not much we can’t figure out together—a team mentality that usually helps us laugh about the situation (and my overreaction).
Mom offers two additional recommendations for avoiding conflict when aging parents and their adult children travel together:
- Have some time to yourself, even if it’s just 30 minutes or so a day. That little bit of space will do wonders—particularly if the other person is starting to get on your nerves.
- Get a room with a separate seating area. Even if you don’t spend much time in the room, being on top of each other in a small space can cause tension even in the best of relationships. If possible, book a room with enough breathing room for everyone.
Like Mom, most of the survey respondents consider communication the best tool for handling interpersonal conflict, with more than half of them saying they “talk it out” if a problem occurs or if they and their children are getting irritated with one another. Many also recognize the value of taking a break in order to calm down. “Take time outs!” urged Sally (72) from Indiana. Sylvia (57) from Rhode Island offered a similar recommendation: “If [my son] gets me mad, I still tell him off and then take a time out—away from him!” Clearly, travelers of all ages can benefit from a good old-fashioned time out! Respondents shared other thoughts on dealing with interpersonal conflict during trips with their children:
- I stay firm on what I feel is best, but try very hard to make a conflict [into] a compromise. (Mary Louisa, 55, Florida)
- I’m the parent! They wouldn’t dare argue! (Robin, 58, Illinois)
- Change the subject. (Diane, 70, New Jersey)
- I just keep my mouth shut. And let them do what they want. (Frances, 83, Louisiana)
- Never argue. (Oralia, 61, Texas)
- Give them space. (Debbie, 55, Michigan)
- Love, patience, and respect. (Reta, 60, Alabama)
- Same way I always have: I bite my tongue—a little more since they grew up. (Ann, 62, South Carolina)
- I ignore her. (Edna, 64, North Carolina)
Many respondents mentioned one particular area of potential conflict: fear of being burdens to their adult children. Patricia (67) from Georgia wrote, “I don’t like to feel like I slow [my children] down”—a sentiment shared by many aging parents. Early on in our travels together, I learned that if Mom thought I felt hassled by having her on vacation with me, that feeling would destroy any chance she had of having fun. So when we travel together, I make it a point to reassure her (through both words and actions) that she’s not a burden to me. Communication is key: if you’re worried that your adult children perceive you as an inconvenient annoyance, speak with them about this in a quiet moment. Explain how you’re feeling and ask what you can do to make things easier for them. Taking the time to “talk it out” and make adjustments that help each other feel included and welcome can ensure that you all have a great time during your travels.
Nearly all (97%) of the survey respondents said that they love to travel with their adult children even though interpersonal conflict does arise from time to time. Mom says that when conflict arises, parents and children alike “should either talk it out or have a method for letting go and not engaging in the heat of battle,” and I think she’s absolutely right. Knowing that conflict is a possibility—and that everyone encounters it at some point—and having a plan for dealing with it will go a long toward keeping tempers calm (and the trip a success) if it occurs while you and your child are traveling together.
As we gear up for holiday travel, offer respect for your parents’ input, just as you ask the same in return. Good luck and happy holidays! Val