Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Family Wants to Exclude Grandmother from Family Trip

family on beach
Photo by Ruslan Huzau/shutterstock

Dear Dr. Gramma Karen, 

My husband Greg and our two children, Robb, 11 years old, and Angie, 9 years old, live with my widowed mother Maureen, “Grandma Mo” to our kids. We have lived with her since my father died 15 years ago. Greg and I were going through some tough times financially, and since my mother had a big house and was well off, she invited us to move in, rent-free, although we do pitch in for groceries and other household expenses.

It has been a great arrangement – we have the advantages of living in a wonderful community with an outstanding school system. Greg and I both have demanding jobs and my mom has been a huge help through the years taking care of Robb and Angie. She adores her grandchildren, and they adore her.

Through the years my mother has been very generous in so many ways, e.g., taking us on really nice vacations and cruises, paying for the kids’ summer camp programs, starting and donating to their college funds.

Here is the problem. Several years ago, she developed arthritis in her toes and feet, and it has become quite severe, causing her to walk extremely slowly. (I’m not sure she appreciates it, but the kids now call her “Grandma Slow Mo”.) As the Covid-19 pandemic winds down, she said she would like to take us to Disney World for the Christmas holidays. She is very excited about this. However, because she has become such a slow walker, often in pain, we are thinking it would be better if she didn’t come. She wouldn’t be able to keep up with us and it certainly wouldn’t be much fun for her to be alone in a hotel room while we’re out and about.

So, can you help us figure out how to let her know that we’d rather she didn’t come on this trip?

No, I won’t help you figure out how to exclude your mother from a family trip to Disney World. However, I will offer some suggestions on how you can include her.

But first I would like to respond to you thinking that maybe your mother doesn’t appreciate her grandchildren calling her Grandma Slow Mo. To be clear: I’m sure she doesn’t appreciate this. She knows she’s slowed down, and she doesn’t need her grandchildren reminding her every time they address her. Saying that your kids don’t mean any harm and they are just teasing her does not excuse the hurt and disrespect that this behavior most likely causes. It’s not as if she nicknamed herself and invited her grandchildren to use this nomenclature, so please, explain to your children why they may not call their grandmother “Slow Mo” anymore. She is Grandma Mo.

Now I will respond to the situation for which you asked my advice. I have several suggestions.

First, make it very clear to your mother that you and the family are going to do everything possible to make sure she has a great time on this wonderful trip she is planning. Assure her that although you know that walking around is often difficult and painful for her, you want to work with her and her physicians to come up with ways she can enjoy the trip in ways that are satisfying to her.

Walking Devices

Her medical team can best advise you and your mother on whether using a cane or a walker are practical under her particular circumstances. Another suggestion is a wheelchair, although some people have very negative reactions to using one, as they associate it with being old and a loss of their independence; suggestions to use one can result in angry reactions. This is why I suggest you have your mother’s doctors make these suggestions and not you. After all, her docs are the experts, and it might be easier for her to take their advice over yours.

If a wheelchair becomes the device of choice, you all will have to take turns pushing her around, and it is important that each of you is willing and cheerful about this task. If your mother is like many others who require wheelchair assistance, she may feel like she is a burden, so the attitudes and behaviors of the wheelchair pusher are critical. She needs to know that you all are so pleased that a wheelchair makes it possible for you to be together.

Another suggestion is your mother’s medical team may suggest your purchase or rent a mobility scooter. There are many options available regarding their price points, weight, ease of use, and flexibility for folding up and transporting in car trunks or in the baggage hold on an airplane. I checked: you can rent wheelchairs and mobility scooters at Disney World.

Invite or Hire a Companion

Once your mother and her medical team make some decisions regarding devices for her getting around, you may want to think about inviting a companion for her. For example, your mom may have a good friend she would enjoy having on the trip. She and her friend would have the option of accompanying the rest of the family on daily adventures, or they may opt to do their own thing. Of course, your mom’s friend would need to have the physical ability, energy, and stamina to help your mom with whatever devices she’s using to get around.

If your mother does not have a companion she would want to invite, another option is for you to hire a companion to be with your mother during the trip. If you contact Guest Services at Disney, they can help you locate agencies that provide companion services.

Your Kids Are Watching You

I hope my suggestions on how to include your mother, rather than to exclude her, are helpful. Your kids are watching you, so it is important that they see you and your husband treat their grandmother with the love, respect, and support she deserves. You are role models: fast forward a few decades for a preview of how your children might treat you …

Wishing you, your husband, your children, and their grandmother a great time at “The Most Magical Place on Earth.”

family walking on the beach
Read Next | Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Grandparents Vacationing with Family

Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.

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Dr. Rancourt’s most recent book is,

It’s All About Relationships: New Ways to Make Them Healthy and Fulfilling, at Home and at Work

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