DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband’s family lives on the east coast, and we live in the Midwest. I have spent the last few years working to overcome a phobia of flying, both to make it easier to see my in-laws and because it matters to me that we have the option to travel wherever we may wish. I’ve never avoided taking a flight, but it has been a challenging experience at times.
My mother-in-law is generally a wonderful person, but can fixate on certain topics. She hates to travel, and frequently shares stories about how travel was difficult or uncomfortable for her in the past, or shares worries about all of the things that could go wrong while traveling in the future.
This is not helpful to me as I work on overcoming my phobia, to say the least. I hesitate to tell her about my fear, because I have a suspicion that the phobia itself would become her next topic of fixation. Her worries also stress out my husband, but do not have such a long-lasting effect on him as they do on me.
Are there polite ways to ask her to stop sharing these stories and worries? How blunt should I be, with the goal of both avoiding extra worry and maintaining familial harmony?
GENTLE READER: Much like the harrowing tales of childbirth experiences relayed to expectant mothers, these stories should not be shared with anyone vulnerable.
However, as your mother-in-law does not seem able to resist, perhaps you could get her to stop by showing her the consequences of her fear-mongering. Miss Manners recommends something along the lines of, “Oh dear, you’re scaring me -- and I certainly don’t want to be frightened out of flying to visit you. We are so thankful that it has not yet prevented you from coming to see us.”