Dilemmas: Should mum turn up in Mexico

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Indy Lifestyle Online
SHOULD a mother visit her backpacking son in Latin America? The problem touched a real nerve and provoked a blast of emotional opinions. The mother wanted to go to Mexico City and put her son up in a nice hotel for a couple of days, but her ex-husband thought the boy should be left alone. Would a visit be a selfish indulgence that would ruin her son's trip, or an enjoyable treat for them both?

Views such as 'Butt out, Mum]' and 'Leave him alone]' jostled with 'Go for it]' and 'Great idea'. Some whole families, such as the Braxteds of London SW16, were split right down the middle. First the noes. Twenty-year-old Jonathon James, of Bishopsteignton, Devon, sympathised, but wrote: 'The image of mumsy running after you with extra sun cream must be one that haunts every young backpacker's dreams.'

Lucy Bayes of London N2 agreed. 'Sometimes it gets very hard and the idea of a luxury hotel is heavenly, but the train stations, hard floors and beaches are all fantastic places to sleep in their way and help to make the whole experience more worthwhile. I'm sure that my mother arriving would have ruined everything.'

Other readers pointed out the practical pitfalls. Catherine Shorrocks of Knutsford, Cheshire, was in Indonesia when her mother suggested that they meet in Bali. Luckily, the idea never got off the ground because - like most backpackers - she found it impossible to say exactly when she would be there. 'What if the son suddenly made some friends and wanted to go off with them?' she asked. He would miss out if he was tied to the date with mum.

'Don't go - but save the cash you would have spent as extra funds for your son's university course.' That was the advice of Sally Halliwell of Eastbourne. Her son added: 'Allow the son to keep his pride and his street cred.'

Veronica McKinlay of Ardleigh, Essex, wrote from personal experience. 'Like the mother in question, I thought that after six months of hardship, deprivation and near-starvation, my daughter Kate would be delighted to see her parents. Her father had business in South America so I felt I had an excuse to see her. She tolerated our visit but refused to stay with us in what she considered 'embarrassing luxury'. She is trying to find herself and that means being as removed as possible from her roots. The only thing she misses are Marmite and M & S knickers.'

But to end the noes on an upbeat note, listen to Marion Lacey of Stockport, Cheshire: 'As the mother of three sons and one daughter in their early twenties, I have longed to share their experience but have resisted the temptation. If the mother wants to backpack to South America or anywhere else, I would love to join her. Tell her to ring me soon - my rucksack is ready]'

Now for the positive advice. Barbara Chapman and her daughter Esther both wrote from Australia, where the whole family is lurching about under the weight of their rucksacks. Describing herself as 'the oldest backpacker in town', Barbara said she had so envied her daughter's travels around India and Thailand that Esther suggested that both her parents meet her in Australia. Esther wrote: 'I'm so excited and proud my mother and father want to join me. We're all having a fantastic time.'

Theo Aronson's mother didn't visit him in his backpacking years, but he wrote from Frome, Somerset, about how much he would have appreciated seeing her. 'Researching my first published book, I went on a six-month backpacking journey to South Africa to see various Napoleonic palaces and battlefields. Nothing would have given me more pleasure than to have been put up for a couple of nights in a decent hotel by my mother. Imagine the bliss of not eating at station kiosks, of getting one's clothes laundered and of having a bath.'

And Andy wrote touchingly: 'When my parents visited me in India I have never felt so proud as when I showed them around. It was great to know all the ropes and feel, for once, that I was the adult.' But there are ways round the problem other than simply going or not going. One is to follow the advice of Phillippa Russell of Birmingham, who went anyway, and let her son know that if he wanted to meet up with her, she would regard it as an extra bonus. He came.

One of the most touching letters came from Pete Wedderburn, a vet from County Wicklow, Ireland. His mother flew to Melbourne to see a relative, simply letting him know it would be nice to see him if he wished. Since he was feeling very low, he seized the chance. 'We had a week together, and it was a week of huge value to me. We were able to talk about subjects that we had both felt inhibited about before. We had a week of late nights and long days together and by the end of it I felt fully recharged and refreshed . . . Our meeting and our talking had put my 'transition' year into perspective. I felt as if the confusion of processes inside my head had been shaken up, filtered and realigned so that they lay in a new, more ordered and more accurate pattern.'

Perhaps the best answer, which was suggested by only a couple of readers, came from Armorel Young of Nottingham. 'This mother seems in danger of overlooking the most obvious advice of all,' he wrote. 'ASK YOUR SON. In too many families parents make decisions without consulting their offspring. Learning to communicate - to listen and respect another's views, needs, opinions and personality - should be a central part of family life.'

If the mother insists on going, Armorel recommends that she book her own accommodation, then invite her son to join her for a meal so that they can agree on what to do together and what separately during the rest of the visit. 'Putting him up in a nice hotel should not be contemplated without consulting the son - he may be very happy in his youth hostel and not have clothes for anything smarter.' The best solution is to ask. If the mother has brought up her son well, she will get an honest answer.