Hi, Carolyn: My mom was always strict and overprotective. I wasn’t allowed to do a lot of things that other kids my age were doing growing up.
Now I’m 37 and know this stems from anxiety. I’m planning my first solo trip and I’m very excited about it, but I hate the thought of telling my mom. I want to give her enough time to get used to the idea, but I’m dreading the months of hearing about everything that could possibly go wrong and trying to talk me out of it.
She has serious boundary issues and will expect me to manage her anxiety, but I know it’s not mine to manage. Plus I have some anxiety of my own and adding hers on top of it can be too much. (I’m in therapy.)
I know I can’t change her reaction, so how do I handle the next few months? Any advice is much appreciated!
Solo: Wait a minute. Why do you have to “give her enough time to get used to the idea”? It’s not her trip; it’s not your job to manage her anxiety, as you say yourself; and it’s going to cost you dearly over these next few months to do so. So, why do that to yourself?
And, why do that to her? For someone with anxiety, advanced notice usually means just more time to worry. Let’s say your trip is a week long and you tell her about it the day before you leave (which I don’t recommend either, by the way; this is just a hypothetical). That’s eight days of stress for your mother and one lousy conversation for you. Hold that up beside the months of mutual agitation and inappropriate risk-haggling, and it’s an easy call. Less is more.
If you were traveling with your mother and your mutual ability to enjoy the trip hinged on a carefully managed rollout of the itinerary and other arrangements, then, okay — I could see giving her some adjustment time.
But you’re a midlife adult and you’re going by yourself. Sharing is either need-to-know or just no.
Certainly you’ll want someone to have your itinerary in case of emergency, but one’s anxious, boundary-challenged mama sounds like the last person you’d ask to serve in that role.
In fact, I could argue that your mother doesn’t need to know anything about your trip until after you’re back. Have you run that option by your therapist?
And in general, have you talked with him or her about the gap between the healthy things you say about not being responsible for what your mother feels and the things you’re doing that read like a user manual for being enmeshed?
You’ve got the right ideas. You’re taking on solo travel, which isn’t easy for most people. Now it’s time to update your relationship with your mother to reflect who you’ve become.
Re: Solo Traveler: Go on your trip. Send you mom a postcard saying, “I’m here. Wish you were wonderful.” Share pictures with her upon your return.