BY JAMIE FLATHERS
FOR INLAND 360
Because Inland 360 wants you to have the best summer ever, we’re arming you with tips in Surviving Summer, a series of stories about staying alive while living large in the Inland Northwest.
Summer travel is great. Summer travel with family — maybe not so much. Still, most of us will find ourselves, at least once in our summer lives, on a car ride or in a hotel with relatives who, no matter how much we love them, can drive us up the wall. The question then becomes: how do we cope? How do we take pleasure in that rafting trip we’ve been planning since January without tossing Uncle Bill and his MAGA hat into the rapids? In my experience, when it comes to family travel, it’s best to keep two things in mind: That it’s okay to set boundaries, and that you know better than anyone else when it’s time to leave.
The setting of boundaries makes many people nervous. They may have been socially trained since infancy to be pliable, considerate, and selfless (hello, women!), or they may believe that the anger some people experience when being told no is their fault. Luckily, neither of these things can prevent you from deciding what you are and aren’t comfortable with. It can be difficult to speak up if you feel uncomfortable — you might feel like you’re overreacting, or it isn’t worth it to make someone else feel uncomfortable by speaking up. Remember, though, that your feelings have value, and if someone is making you uncomfortable, you are allowed to speak up, or even to leave. If you’d rather not talk politics, for example, it’s okay to find another spot on the beach and pitch your tent there.
Boundary-setting need not be confrontational, though. It can be as simple as taking time out for yourself. Take a walk; listen to some music; read a book. Because you know best how much me-time you need to preserve your sanity, it may be a good idea to consider how to carve out that time before you find yourself in the middle of the family whirlwind, which can be loud, hug-intensive, and full of questions about when you’re going to become either married or pregnant. This can still mean having to say no to things or people — maybe you’d rather stay at the camp site instead of going hiking; maybe you’d rather hang out at the hotel pool instead of going to lunch. It might be a good idea to talk to some family members beforehand about how much downtime you’re going to need; they may be willing to relax a schedule if they understand it’s too much for some people. Try not to feel guilty about this because you’re worried you aren’t maximizing face-time with the fam. If maximizing time with the family means you have to put your own mental stability at risk, then the cost is too high, and you aren’t obligated to pay it.
Finally, consider what my family likes to call “the gospel of leaving.” This good news is incredibly simple: you are allowed to leave if a situation makes you uncomfortable. The most important thing to remember here is that your needs have value, too. Gritting your teeth and bearing it can be admirable in some situations, but when it comes to family, that mindset can breed resentment and contempt. The trick is to leave a back door open. Drive yourself to the event, if you can, so that you can leave even if other people aren’t ready. If the air mattress at a campsite means you can’t sleep, go to a hotel. And, most importantly, if you don’t want to go, don’t go. Spending time with family can be fun, but you are allowed to balance the emotional equation. If it will be more damaging than fun, if it will compromise your wellbeing more than it will make you smile, then maybe you can skip it this time.
Flathers is a Moscow resident and University of Idaho alum. She does a killer impression of a corkscrew. She’s a Ravenclaw with Hufflepuff leanings and is usually reading two or three books at a time. Questions or glad tidings can be sent to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.