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.”
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a friend who moved away years ago. Every year, she asks to return and stay with my family and me, at our chosen date, with her two very badly mannered children.
She has lots of old friends in town that she wants to see, and invites them for dinner at my house, generally treating my home as her hotel. And the kids are loud, draw on tables with permanent marker, and overall are bad houseguests.
Because I work from home, this is disruptive, and it’s a week my husband and I dread. Since she asks me to choose the date, it is difficult for us to get out of or decline the visit. Any suggestions for how to handle an unwelcome, self-invited guest?
GENTLE READER: Renovate your home. And acquire slow contractors.
If that proves impractical, Miss Manners suggests you simply say, “I am afraid this year is an especially busy one and we are unable to have you here. However, if you are in the area and staying with one of our other friends, we would love to get together for dinner or coffee. We’ll bring the markers.”
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)