my mom wants me to participate in a family vacation while I’m simultaneously running a conference in that city

A reader writes:

Three months ago, I started a new job as a conference planner for a company. The company hosts a few different industry conferences each year, and I am in charge of planning and managing each conference from start to finish.

A few weeks ago, I was on the phone with my mother when I mentioned that the company’s largest conference is during the last week of October in Large West Coast City. The conference will have about 500 attendees and 75 educational sessions over the course of three days, plus an evening reception at a famous location in the city. When I told her about all this, I didn’t even think about the fact that my mother’s birthday is during the last week of October and that she lives a few hours away from Large West Coast City (I live in Large East Coast City, for what it’s worth).

My mother emailed me last night to inform me that she and my sister have submitted vacation days for the last week of October and have booked a hotel in Large West Coast City. She said that the three of us can hang out after the event each night, ending the email with “The event website days the conference ends at 5 so we’ll have plenty of time together :)”

What my mother doesn’t understand is that just because the sessions are over for the day does not mean I am done with work. I will still have to catch up on emails, work on other projects, and manage the evening events. It’s not unusual for me to work 12-15 hour days when I’m at conferences.

The evening reception at Famous Location happens to take place on my mother’s birthday. I was wondering if it would be appropriate to ask if my mother and sister could attend the event. I would offer to pay for them out of my own pocket and would let them know that I can’t spend my entire evening with them, but that I could possibly chat with them during any downtime. The location is huge and our attendees are able to take self-tours around the area, so I would ask my family to limit their interactions with conference attendees/my colleagues and take the self-tour.

Is this wildly inappropriate to ask? I don’t want to push any professional boundaries but I also don’t want my mother and sister’s trip be for nothing.

Oh gosh.

Is it at all possible for you to push back on the whole plan? You are the conference planner for this event, which means that you’re going to be on the whole time, working long days, and running around doing stuff. You’re going to be exhausted. And I’ve got to think that it would be tough to juggle the distraction of having family there, pulling you away from an event that really does require your presence and your attention, especially when you’re trying to make a good impression at a new job.

I realize this isn’t ideal, but it might make the most sense to tell her that you’re really sorry but there’s no way that you can make this a family trip — that you’re going to need to be 100% focused on work while you’re there, from when you get up until late at night. (Since she thinks your day will be over when the conference ends at 5, explain that that’s not the case.) Tell her that you’re worried that you’ll end up jeopardizing your new job if you take time away, and that this just can’t be a family vacation. (And maybe suggest doing something else together at a different time, so it’s not just “no, I reject these plans with you.” Or maybe see about extending your trip by a day so you can see them after the conference is over but not during it?)

But if you don’t go that route … In theory, it’s probably fine to have your mom and your sister attend that evening reception. (There are workplaces where it wouldn’t be okay to do that, but you’d probably know if yours was one of them.) My worry is less about the optics of them attending (which I think isn’t likely to be a big deal) and more about your plan to try to steal minutes with them whenever you can. I think you’re going to add stress for yourself on top of what’s already going to be a stressful day (running a conference that extends into the evening that day). You’re likely to be pulled in lots of directions, and if you do have any downtime, you’re likely to want it as … well, downtime.

Ultimately, they sprung this plan on you without consulting you, and you’re contorting yourself to try to make it work — which is nice of you — but it really might not be workable, at least not without totally exhausting yourself and shortchanging your new job.

I know families are weird and there can be dynamics that make it impossible to say “no, this plan won’t work (and you should have consulted me first!)” but in this case, I’d really try.

{ 184 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. PEBCAK

    Don’t do it. You have only been on the job three months, and people don’t have a full impression of you yet. Don’t let this be part of it.

    Reply
    1. KT

      THIS. I missed that part somehow..being 3 months into the job is a lot different than a 30 year veteran of conferences…don’t give this impression!!

      Reply
    2. AMG

      This is a key point. It’s just too much and you need your head in the game. Do something special for/with your mom afterwards when you can focus on her.

      Reply
    3. The IT Manager

      Just say “no” to your Mom. Tell her and your sister to cancel their trip now; I hope they don’t lose any money, but if they do it is their own fault. It’s obvious to me (and I am not conference planner) that there is no way that you will have time for them during the big conference that you are managing. Either your Mom doesn’t understand your job or she’s likely to unreasonably demanding on your time. Given that you seem like you might be willing to try to accommodate them I suspect that your mom may be an unreasonably demanding person. Don’t risk your job over this. Given that you’re brand new, and this is probably the first conference you’re managing don’t risk being unprofessional by asking to invite your Mom and sister to famous location. And your idea to try to chat with them during downtime when you’re supposed to managing the reception is unprofessional. (This could be different if you were a long time employee and had done these before and know what to expect, but since you’re not, it’s plain unprofessional to plan to divide your attention when you’re supposed to be working.)

      The one thing you maybe can do is offer to extend your visit to the West Coast and visit with them after the conference is over if it’s possible for you.

      Reply
      1. Stephanie

        +1 to this.

        I used to be in this industry. You can do it after the conference is completely over, but definitely not while in session, or even in the evenings/nights afterwards.

        While the conference is running, you will absolutely not have time for them, so inviting them would not only come off as unprofessional, but it wouldn’t help you anyway. Afterwards, you will be exhausted AND still working.

        I’ve seen a lot of instances where the conference planner will extend their stay (usually the company only asks to be reimbursed for any additional costs to the plane ticket if there are any) and has a little mini-break for a few days afterwards. This is most likely your best bet. Hopefully, your family can still change their reservations. I would explain the situation, offer to extend (after checking with your boss), and go from there.

        So sorry you are in this situation!

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        1. HigherEd Admin

          Ditto. I used to also plan conferences like this. Your day begins at 6am and ends at 1am. You will have no time for your family; you will barely have time to run to the restroom.

          Ask if they can change the dates of their travel. and extend your trip, if you can.

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        2. ElCee

          I manage the photography for our very large annual conference–that’s just one small cog in the machine, and I am local, and even then I clear my calendar socially and premake/ freeze dinners and sign off all dog-care duties to my spouse. Once I attempted to see some friends in the evening and was so tired the next day I knew it had been a big mistake!

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      2. Stranger than fiction

        Yes, in my experience these tradeshows/conferences last well into the evenings with team/company dinners, sometimes dinners with clients and what have you. Not to mention what you’ve already said, Op, about having other email and work to play catch up on. And everyone is right how exhausting it all is. If your mom is reasonable she’ll understand because she clearly doesn’t see the big picture here.

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        1. jmkenrick

          Exactly. And even if there’s nothing official on the calendar, you might want to be available for impromptu opportunities.

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    4. AcidMeFlux

      Having read, and participated in the thread below this response, I still think it’s the best, most complete (and obviously most succinct.) A full and perfect way of saying “don’t”.

      Reply
  2. Rat Racer

    …and especially because it sounds like the OP has only been in this job for 3 months, I would assume this is the first conference she will be managing for her new company. All the more reason why trying to manage a family event simultaneously is extremely risky.

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  3. KT

    This is a horribly bad idea all around.

    You have to tell your family this plan isn’t going to work. You’re going to be dead on your feet. The fun of being an event planner is that your day starts hours before the event opens and ends hours after the event ends (if at all…I’ve worked events where I’ve gone to bed at 1 after dealing with last-minute sound issues, only to be woken up at 4am by my boss because our speaker backed out last minute and we needed to scramble).

    I think you are vastly underestimating how intense conferences are to manage. Any downtime you have is going to be needed for you to pee, get a drink, maybe eat if you’re lucky.

    I think it’s a bad idea to have them come to the evening event…you really won’t have time to spend with them and it will just lead to hurt feelings.

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    1. Shan

      I’m an event planner for an association and I agree with this completely. My family attending my events is like parents visiting their kids at college during their finals week. Family just wants to see you, but you’re stressed and working hard, focused on something else, and having family members follow you around waiting to hang out can be distracting, which takes away from the whole reason you’re there. Additionally, tickets to our events can be really expensive and sometimes exclusive – at my organization, you get a plus one for your SO, but asking for a free pass for friends or family is kind of frowned upon. Despite years of experience I’ve never felt comfortable enough to have a guest essentially visit my workplace on my busiest days of the year. OP, be honest with your family now and avoid hurt feelings later!

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      1. Honeybee

        And then some unreasonable family members will get irritated and annoyed with you because you aren’t as available as they anticipated, which just feeds your stress. Bad idea all around! Think about it like your mom visiting your workplace if you were an accountant during April, or a professor during finals week. Just because you will be out of your own town and regular office doesn’t make it a vacation/not your workplace, even though it’s hard for family to understand that sometimes.

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    2. Koko

      In a former position I was only responsible for planning small board meetings, or at larger events we’d simply have a booth to run during the day and perhaps host a cocktail hour on a single evening – and even on that small of a scale, each day when I was finally relieved of my work duties for the day it was all I could do to order room service and stay awake long enough for it to arrive while rubbing my aching feet.

      I heartily agree with you and Alison – OP, you will not have the energy to entertain your family after a conference day. I like the idea of extending your trip by a day to see them instead. It’s commonplace for an event planner to take a day off just after a big event because of how stressful those last few days before and during the event usually are.

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    3. Artemesia

      This. The last major conference I managed my keynote speaker was in the hospital in New York with emergency gal bladder surgery the night before the conference began and I had to scramble to find a new keynoter. That is parr for the course for conference planning. It literally was either me giving the keynote which I could have done (but of course would have been up half the night planning) or find someone else, which means hours of phone calls. Luckily I did find someone who could do it.

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    4. Dynamic Beige

      Another person in the biz, but on the technical side.

      You will not have time to visit with your family. Period. It’s lovely that they want to see you but in their minds, that means they’ll be spending time with you all day, every day (or your job ends at five like “normal” people) and unless they’re aces at handling a registration desk, they are not welcome. It sucks, them’s tha breaks.

      You are going to have to push back with them, today. No matter what they say, they are either going to have to postpone their trip so they arrive the last day of the conference or that they are willing to hang around in the city without you and you will join them when the job is over. So many people do not get that conferences are tonnes of work. It sounds glamourous: you get to travel to distant cities and plan parties! But the reality is not like that at all. I can’t even count the number of times where all I saw of a city was the drive from the airport to the hotel and back again. The easiest way to explain it to people not in the biz is to ask them if they’ve ever planned their own wedding. Most people have, or have witnessed a close friend or family member go completely insane over seating plans and RSVP lists. They want things that are out of their budget or the caterer backs out at the last minute or the DJ booth falls over. That is what you do, essentially, you manage all of that for corporate clients so that they don’t have to. And it’s damn hard work.

      As for bringing your family to the event at Famous Place… unless this is a public event, like a charity ball where anyone and their uncle can buy a ticket — no. That is just Not Done by the workers. The CEO of the company may have brought his wife, but that doesn’t mean you can bring your boyfriend, you’re there to work. You very rarely find the tech crew eating with The Client and in this situation, your family — while you love them dearly and they are very important to you — ranks lower than the tech crew. In over 20 years in this, I can’t think of one time someone has brought a family member with them onsite. It may have happened during setup or teardown because our family members are often curious about these things but during the event? No. There have been a few occasions where someone’s spouse has flown in and is staying in the room with their partner, but usually they’ve flown in for the last night and the two of them are planning to rent a car and take off after the show is over the next day.

      My advice to you is: be firm with your mother. Tell her you will be busy working until October X, but you will be free to join her for dinner the evening of October X. It is very common, I know because I do it whenever I can, for someone on the job to take a few days after it’s over. You should be able to arrange the time off and ask if your return ticket can be for November Y instead of October X when everyone else goes back. As you’ve only been there a few months, I don’t know what their policy is, you may have to take it unpaid — but IMO if you’ve just worked a set of 12-16 hour days on salary a few days shouldn’t be anything that someone gets in a twist about. You might want to speak with a coworker about this, just to confirm. While this should be obvious, I’m going to say it anyway, whatever you do in those days off is on your own dime. The only thing you might be able to charge back would be your cab to the airport.

      After you’ve confirmed that you can take however many days off after the conference, that is what you can tell your mother. “Mom, I’m sorry but I’ve reviewed the work schedule and I’ll be too busy working during the conference (do not send her the schedule, even if she demands it). But, I can take X number of days off after it’s over so we can spend some time together. I’m sorry that the conference falls on your birthday and you know I would love to spend time with you that day, but I just won’t be able to. If you can move your reservations back to October X, that would great! Please understand, I’ve only been in this job for three months and I’m still trying to make a good impression on the company. On all the jobs I’ve been on so far, no one has brought a family member to them because they know they will be working so much they won’t have time to see them. Look on the bright side, I could have been sent to Alaska at that time and we wouldn’t have been able to connect at all.” If your mother is a reasonable person, she should understand. If she isn’t, she’ll do whatever she wants to anyway and learn the hard way when security marches her out of the building (no, I have not seen that happen). Also, take lots of pictures. If your mother is “normal”, she’s probably just proud of you having a job and is curious to understand what it is you do.

      Oh, one other thing. You are in a business where you get paid to travel, so take advantage of it when you can. Not in a crazy way so that people get upset about it but think about the other places you may go. If you can afford it, take a few days after the job and see the surrounding areas if it’s a place that’s interesting to you or you’ve never been before. Next time you’re going to be somewhat in the area, expect that your mother will want to see you (she is your mother after all) and plan for that. If you can’t take the time, don’t mention it to her!

      Reply
      1. JGray

        I completely agree. I think that the family has no idea how conferences work for the conference organizer with the comment about the website saying the conference ends at 5pm so we have plenty of time. No you won’t because the job doesn’t end at 5pm for the organizer. I used to do lots of fundraising events and depending on which event it was I usually worked 45+ hours in the two weeks leading up to the event and then the day of the event was a 15 hour day. I was allowed a guest to attend the event but I actually only did that the first year I organized the event because I couldn’t talk to the person at all since I was running the event. I also think that the mom & sister are probably going to blame the LW for a horrible time or ignoring them if she allows them to take a vacation while she is in the city for the conference. Negative work things aside I think that this is just going to end up bad for her as far as family relationships.

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  4. Not the Droid You are Looking For

    People do not seem to understand that for an event planner, the work starts well before the event starts and after the event begins.

    I have always refused to have friends/boyfriends at work events, because people do not seem to understand that “I’ll say hi when I can,” really means “if we are lucky, I will have a quick minute to say hello before moving on.”

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    1. AnonAnalyst

      Yes, this. I am reminded of the time (in my former event-planner life) that we had an event in the major U.S. city I lived in and my team went to stay in the conference hotel because we were all there so much and for such long hours that it was way less stressful than going back and forth (and I lived within 15 minutes of this place!) My partner came to visit me some of the nights when I was finished before 11 for a quick dinner before I collapsed into bed. It wasn’t stressful because I didn’t feel obligated to try to spend time with him as I might have if he had, say, come to visit that city specifically because I was going to be there. But I certainly didn’t have a lot of free time to spend with people outside of the event, even when we were all locals!

      OP, in my experience, it would probably be fine to pay for your mother and sister to attend the large evening event. Having said that, and as others have said, I would strongly encourage you to try to push back on this plan. This event is going to be tiring enough without having to try to squeeze in time to see family too. Perhaps your mother and sister could move their trip until right after the event ends? It was pretty common in my last organization to extend your trip and take some vacation days in that city after the event since no one really had a chance to do much in the selected locale while the event was going on. Maybe this is a way you all can meet in the middle?

      Reply
      1. Cath in Canada

        I also stayed at the conference hotel in my city last year, for a conference that I was helping to run. My husband wanted to come and stay there with me, but I had to put my foot down – I explained that I would literally be coming into the room after midnight, sleeping, showering, and be downstairs checking the breakfast buffet by 6:30 am the next day. It was a fun few days, but exhausting, and I wasn’t even the main organiser!

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        1. ro

          I’m a professional meeting planner and I can confirm that you will not have anything resembling free time until the conference is over and everyone is on a plane home. Trust me. Even if the conference activities “officially” end at 5:00 p.m., you will most likely be dealing with all sorts of behind the scenes issues. I’ve had speakers get stranded and couldn’t get to the event, a crazy stalker and also a disgruntled ex-employee who both crashed events and we had to up security, numerous a/v technical glitches, needy VIP’s, etc. And once you’ve put out those fires, all you want to do is crash in your room and try to catch some sleep.

          I’ve worked multi-day conferences where I *literally* never even went outside. I only saw the sun (many conference room floors/meeting spaces have no windows at all) on the morning that I left to fly home.

          Also, bringing in personal guests (no matter how well-behaved and how inconspicuous given the size of your event) at a work function when you in fact have *the* most important job to attend to, has the potential to put you in a bad light. Your bosses and co-workers haven’t gotten to know you enough yet to give you full credit for professionalism. Plus, bringing in your family members when you’re working (no matter what the field) is generally not done. You want your work colleagues to see you shine in this role professionally and family being there is just going to be a distraction.

          Is there any way you convince your family to celebrate *after* your conference is over? I know you can’t mention the specifics of where you are meeting, but as a conference planner you’ve no doubt built some good relationships with the meeting location staff. I’d see if you and your family could enjoy the site/location one-on-one at another time. That way they still get a special visit and you get to do it when you can give them 100% of your attention.

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          1. Middle Name Jane

            I staffed a conference in one of the major venues on the Las Vegas strip and literally did not step foot outside for 4 days straight. I only saw sunlight through the windows as I walked down the hall between the casino and convention center.

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  5. Ad Astra

    If your mom and sister insist on coming (and I really think it would be best if they didn’t), be firm about whatever time you can or can’t spend with them. Maybe you can squeeze in a quick dinner before you run off to get ready for the next day, or maybe you can’t. Maybe you can extend your trip by a day and spend some time with them when you’re done working, or maybe you can’t. Be clear, and stick to your guns.

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    1. Judy

      Even as an average conference attendee, I personally wouldn’t want to have someone visiting during a conference.

      My inlaws lived in a sunny state, and my husband went to a conference in the place the mouse lives. We live many states away, so my inlaws decided to visit my husband during the conference. They were not happy that he didn’t drop everything and ignore the conference schedule to visit with his parents.

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      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

        ^This.

        I recently traveled for a conference to a city where I have a lot of friends. People don’t seem to understand that there isn’t a lot of flexibility in scheduling. Even on the nights where there weren’t *official* events, I had a regional event and an association event…and I’m definitely not skipping sessions or networking lunches!

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        1. snuck

          Yup…

          Often there’s unofficial events – if it’s a work event then team events by departments etc, if it’s a marketing expo then other related industries hold things on the down time nights while everyone is in town.

          And with 500 attendees you’ll be dealing with all manner of room swap issues, crazy late night complaints and drama… somewhere in that 500 people is going to be a complete and utter fruit loop who is going to test the boundaries of professional behaviour. Here’s hoping they aren’t on your team or tech support.

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    2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

      That was going to be my suggestion – since you’re on the same coast, see if you can stay a day or two after the conference to spend time with them. And let them know you are 100% booked during the conference. Because you will be, and it will add to your stress to juggle this. I took my husband to a conference one time (not a conference I was running). I mean, we live together, so it’s not like time with him is hard to come by, but I did end up feeling stressed by choosing between non-obligatory social stuff with other conference attendees and spending time with him so he wasn’t so alone for a week. You will be even more pulled between work and family than I was.

      You are new at your job. If you are also young,, you probably do not want your mom to be hanging around until you are established. If you are just new and not young, it’s not as big a deal in and of itself for your mom to cross briefly into your work world. Even though I get annoyed with the millennial stereotypes (and I’m not even millennial), you don’t want to play into that when you are new.

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    3. AcidMeFlux

      The problem with an “after” vacation with the family is that post-event days in a job like can be just as complicated for the planners; it isn’t kick back and relax time as soon as the attendees go home. There may be conference evaluations to review, unresolved accounts payable from speakers/suppliers/hotel and conference site to deal with…I’ve done work like this on a 10% fraction of a scale and I wouldn’t think about counting on free time during or immediately after. And this also may be a good time to train OPs family that just because part of her working life takes place in hotels doesn’t mean they can vacation there at the same time.

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      1. Koko

        This might vary by your workplace culture. When I was in an event planning capacity my boos urged and expected me to take off the day immediately after I finished working the event because she knew I was basically spent of all energy by that point. If there was very urgent things to be done after the event, say I spend Wednesday morning packing/shipping materials and taking care of anything else on-site, that would be considered my last day working the event even if the event had technically ended Tuesday night, and I would take the next day, Thursday, as my recovery day. Everything else – post-mortems, evaluations, thank-you notes, etc. were things my boss felt there was no meaningful difference if I started working on those Friday instead of Thursday or even Monday instead of Friday. In the big-picture it was fine to wait one more day if it meant I’d be fresh and clear-eyed.

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      2. Dynamic Beige

        True enough. But if she’s only been in the biz for 3 months, I doubt that stuff is going to fall on her. There’s probably someone more senior up the chain who is responsible for the reconciliations.

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      3. Middle Name Jane

        I agree. I’m a meeting planner, and I can tell you that it’s busy right after an event. You really don’t have down time right after a conference ends. Best to wait a couple of weeks for things to calm down some.

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  6. AdAgencyChick

    Oh my god, OP, what a nightmare.

    Is there any way you can ask your boss to let you have a vacation day or two AFTER the conference is over? Then try to talk your mother and sister into changing their flights and vacation days. Maybe even offer to pay part of the difference, if you can afford to. You shouldn’t have to, because they went ahead and did this without talking to you first, but knowing how weird families can be, it may be worth your while if you can get everyone to agree to that and have your family time AFTER the conference.

    And if your mom cries, I think you have to tell her that this is a new job and you CAN’T risk making a bad impression, and unfortunately your work doesn’t end when the conference attendees go home.

    Good luck. This is a no bueno situation, and I commiserate.

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    1. Juli G.

      This is what I was going to suggest. At my company, it’s really common to take advantage of the free airfare and extend by a couple of days for a vacation in touristy place (as long there isn’t a huge difference in cost of airfare). If you’ll have enough energy to be “on” in the days after the conference, I think this is your best bet. And I think it will be easy to say “Mom, let’s push back a couple of days and then I can actually relax and enjoy time with you!”

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      1. Elizabeth West

        Yes, me too; the one time I had to work a major conference for a job, we got vacation days after the event because the company knew we’d all be whipped and basically it would be useless to ask us to come in after that.

        The family was pretty presumptuous to make plans without asking the OP if she’d be free, but maybe this could be a workable solution. Unless they freak out about it not being on the actual birthday, which would be silly given the situation.

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    2. MashaKasha

      This is a good plan. I like this plan. My academic ex and I did this many many times. He’d fly to CoolCity for a conference and book his own place to stay for a few days AFTER the conference’s end. Then I’d fly to CoolCity at the last day of the conference and the two of us would enjoy a vacation together. Worked every time. This is the way to do it. Not trying to pull OP in ten different directions while she’s trying to work on what is her probably first big event at the new job, meaning everyone’s eyes will be on OP to learn how she performs in this role and what can and cannot be expected of her going forward.

      As a parent of two grown kids, you’d have to pretty much hold a gun to my head to get me to agree to put my child in this situation. What were OP’s mom and sister thinking? This is a terrible idea. And why would they book the flights, hotel, get PTO etc without talking to OP first??? who does this! Also, I’m probably younger than OP’s mom by at least a few years and my birthday celebration is absolutely NOT the hill for me to die on. If it needs to be pushed out a couple days, ok with me. If it needs to be postponed till next year, that is ok with me too! It’s not like I’m celebrating my 16th or my 21st! Though I admit, I think getting mom and sis an invite to CoolVenue for mom’s birthday would be nice – but it would have to come with the expectation that OP would barely be able to spend a few minutes here and there with them during that event.

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      1. Artemesia

        Exactly. The very fact that they did this without consultation is an indication of what it would be like to cater to their demands during the conference. The only good resolution is a total push back — an absolutely not, I will be covered up every second. Otherwise this will be a source of extreme tension in the family and professionally. The OP has never run a conference before, she may have no idea of how incredibly unexpected things can be.

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        1. Doodle

          Agreed! I missed the “without consultation” on the first read — if there are parents/siblings who would be able to handle this without getting upset or pushy, it sure doesn’t sound like the OP’s are in that category. Certainly thinking that you’ll be done at 5pm every day suggests that your mom doesn’t have a great grasp of what running a conference entails.

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      2. Lead, Follow or Get Outta the Way!

        You may be surprised how some parents don’t get “it”. My mom didn’t go to college and although she had a customer service job and was in an office, I have to sometimes explain to her that when I have trade shows that I am on my feet for 8-10 hours a day and then have dinner with colleagues and clients. So yes, I may be in Las Vegas for 5 days, but no I did not attend any shows or go down to the casino until 1am, I was WORKING. I love her, but have had to explain this to her several times already. This may be the case with the OP.

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        1. Doodle

          I go to many “fun” cities as part of my job… and then spend the whole weekend in meetings at the airport hotel. It’s always frustrating when my family and family ask, “So what did you do in X city? Did you see a show/go to the hot new restaurant/tour the sights?” when the answer is always no.

          Even my (non-traveling) colleagues often forget that I’m not “on vacation” at these events — I’m working much harder than I would be if I were back in the office!

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      3. TootsNYC

        yeah, it really bothers me that the mom went ahead and did this–and the sister too.

        I worry that this indicates a major boundary, “you’re a grownup” problem for them.

        OP, I hope you can bet really tough here, with a nice firm spine.

        Pull out the “Mom, you are going to make me look bad” card if you need to. If you get the tiniest pushback, figure out which relative can get through to her (the sensible aunt or uncle? dad? pastor?), and rope them in on your side.

        Reply
      1. AcidMeFlux

        But she’s running the conference, not just attending it. Lots of attendees do tack on a few days for vacation after a conference, but if you’re in charge, the work still isn’t done.This is her first big “show” on this job; better do use it as a dress rehearsal and see how it actually goes before assuming she’ll have any down time for herself.

        Reply
        1. Turtle Candle

          Yeah, this. At my company, the next couple of days after a conference are still work, dedicated to various logistical cleanup tasks and retrospective. People frequently take a few days off after that, but the conference isn’t “done” for the planners when it is for the attendees.

          (To be honest, I’d also be concerned that scrambling to somehow make it work after family made plans involving her without consulting her would just encourage them to do it again in the future, but that’s less of a business thing and more a personal one.)

          Reply
          1. TootsNYC

            (To be honest, I’d also be concerned that scrambling to somehow make it work after family made plans involving her without consulting her would just encourage them to do it again in the future, but that’s less of a business thing and more a personal one.)

            Agree! I think this is a major training opportunity for the OP. To train her family, that is.

            Reply
          2. Tyrannosaurus Regina

            I agree with your parenthetical point. You don’t want to reward this kind of behavior, even if well-intentioned.

            Reply
    3. Kerry

      Yes, this was what I was going to suggest too – it still won’t be great but it seems like a least-worst way to do your best at the conference and still see your family.

      Reply
    4. Blue_eyes

      I was going to suggest this as well. Tacking on a few vacation days to the end of the conference will allow you to be totally focused on your work and still have time with your family.

      Reply
  7. Jo

    I would definitely try and push back on this. If there are any problems you have to emergency-fix then you simply won’t be able to spend time with them, and feelings will end up getting hurt over a wasted trip. It’s probably worth taking the line that “Mom, your birthday is so important to me, and I want to be able to concentrate on YOU for your birthday celebration. I simply won’t be able to do that when I have to do XYZ”. It’s a fab idea to extend the trip for a couple of days – maybe instead of cancelling their trip they could just postpone it to the end, in that case? Very best of luck to you!

    Reply
    1. Isben Takes Tea

      +1
      Even if you scramble to “make it work,” it still isn’t going to be what your family is expecting, and it will likely lead to hurt feelings (or at best disappointment) all around.

      Reply
      1. Tau

        And if they get to come to some of the big events, there is the chance that hurt feelings lead to them making a scene and making the OP look bad.

        Obviously, it’s not necessarily a worry and many people wouldn’t dream of doing that… but many people also wouldn’t dream of springing something like this on someone without once checking whether it’s okay with the person involved.

        Reply
  8. Katie the Fed

    Fall back on the 3-months-into-new-job angle as an excuse. “Mom, I’d love to but I don’t really know how these things work well enough yet and I need to focus on the conference. Let’s get together that weekend though. Sorry!”

    Reply
    1. Doodle

      I like this in theory, but if she’s an event planner, this may only be kicking the can down the road — if she doesn’t think she’d be able to do this in 6 months (or for mom’s birthday next year!), she’s better off being upfront about it.

      If it is just the new-ness of the job, though, this is a perfect response.

      Reply
  9. Chinook

    This sounds like a version of the start of the plot of Jurassic World – children are coming to visit aunt’s work place on what turns out to be a day filled with important meetings so aunt has to ask her assistant to take care of them during the day while aunt takes care of her important meetings. All I could think of, when that was happening, was why didn’t aunt take the time off to begin with or at least give her sister a heads up that she would be busy and that wouldn’t be a good time to send the kids? Either she has to ignore the kids and worry about running the park or she is busy with the kids and not easily accessible while dinosaurs ran loose, killing everyone else.

    Reply
    1. Katie the Fed

      Good point. Maybe mention to Mom/Sister they could get eaten by velociraptors if they go forward with this plan. That should be enough to give anyone pause.

      Reply
      1. MsM

        Or at the very least convince them that OP is already suffering from event-related exhaustion and is going to need all the downtime she can get on the trip.

        Reply
    2. Ad Astra

      I think the idea was to portray the aunt as a serious workaholic who couldn’t get away from work even when she had advanced notice that her family was coming in from another continent. Not a great work role model.

      Reply
    3. JMegan

      Ha, that’s a great analogy! Hopefully there are no dinosaurs at OP’s event, though.

      OP, I would frame it as you won’t be able to fully focus on either, if you try to do both – both your family and your job will be shortchanged in that scenario, and that’s not good for anyone. And even if you can’t get the vacation days after the event is over, I would definitely put your foot down with your mom and sister now. Because guaranteed, if you “figure something out” to spend time with them this time, you’re going to be setting a precedent for next time, and the time after that. Better to start off by setting the expectation that this is not an option, regardless of how close to home you are or whose birthday it is. Good luck!

      Reply
    4. jmkenrick

      This is a really good point. OP, how many genetically modified predators will you be featuring your conference?

      Reply
  10. baseballfan

    I agree with the AAM response. This is not a situation where family should be around expecting to get a piece of you at the end of a long and stressful workday. And you shouldn’t have to be thinking about whether you’re “neglecting” them.

    Further I agree that being so new in the job, this would be the wrong time to let this happen or expect any kind of accommodation for it. And that’s a perfect excuse to push back. Frankly, I think it was highly presumptuous of them to plan this without running it by you at least.

    That being said, this is a pretty common issue, I imagine. I’ve dealt with family not understanding my career and its responsibilities, for years now.

    Reply
  11. Student

    Surely you have some counterpart(s) among whoever is paying for this event. Someone who both an important client and likely to be pulling the same long hours as you, right next to you, to handle industry-side elements of the conference planning.

    That person is very likely to notice you socializing with family instead of attending to the event logistics and is in a position to either complain to your manager or to decide not to hire your company for future events. It seems unlikely that this will go well for you. If I was your industry-side counterpart, I would think it reflects very poorly on your company if I had to wait in line behind your mother to get you to attend to conference matters.

    Find a different way to socialize with your mother. It’s understandable that she wants to spend time with you, but it’s also obvious that she has no concept of normal professional boundaries. Schedule a vacation with her for a better time. Either start explaining the realities of your job to her, or back off on giving her details so she doesn’t invite herself along on future conferences.

    Reply
  12. brightstar

    I wouldn’t say it’s obvious the mother has no concept of normal professional boundaries. If you’re not planning a conference, you may have evenings free to do things. It varies from organization and profession, the last time I went to a conference I had my evenings free to see friends in the town the conference was held in. But I was only attending, unlike the OP.

    Reply
    1. MK

      Frankly, I would say she has a poor concept of boundaries, period. The proper thing to do would be to ask the OP beforehand if this plan was a good idea. Not announce “Your sister and I are coming to see you during this incredibly busy work trip. You will spent all your evenings with us”.

      Reply
      1. AvonLady Barksdale

        Completely agree with this. I was talking to my mother about a potential client in NYC, and she said, “Oh great– tell me when you’re going and I’ll come too and stay in your hotel room!” My outright “No” was not accepted, nor were my protestations that I had my own stuff to do in the evenings, nor was my insistence that my CLIENT should not have to pay for a room for my mother (yes, yes, I know the rate would be the same either way, but I was trying). If it matters, I’m nearly 40 years old, and my mother is a retired physician who never took me on her business trips.

        If family is joining someone on a business trip, of any length or for any reason, it has to generate as an invitation from the person who’s traveling. “Hey, Mom, I’m going to be in Vegas for a few days for a conference, why don’t you join me?” Inviting oneself along isn’t cool and, yes, smacks of a lack of respect for boundaries.

        Reply
        1. Middle Name Jane

          OMG, are we sisters? My mother tried to pull the same thing with me. I’m over 35 and a meeting planner, and whenever I’ve had to travel, my mother always wants to tag along and share my hotel room. Her rationale is that she will pay for her travel, but I should let her stay in my hotel room and she will be out sightseeing during the day while I’m working. Doesn’t matter! I don’t want my MOTHER around while I’m working. It’s completely unprofessional, and I would be mortified if my manager or any co-workers found out. Luckily, I’ve been vehement enough that she has learned not to ask anymore.

          Reply
      2. MashaKasha

        Agree!

        I’d say inviting yourself anywhere, as well as making any plans that involve another party, and may cut into their work time, without ever consulting the other party, is a glaring sign of a lack of boundaries.

        Reply
    2. Engineer Girl

      This absolutely is a lack of boundaries. The mother made plans that involved the daughter without consulting the daughter. That is the very definition of boundary smashing when the daughter is an adult. That should part of the daughters refrain – “I’m sorry this didn’t work out – I hope that next time you’ll check with me before you make plans involving me.”
      The other point is explaining to the mother that the daughter works 12-15 hour days during events. That it involves set-up, take-down, and logistics. She needs to explain that she won’t even be getting her regular sleep during the event.
      If the mother complains that she is l0sing vacation and money over this the daughter needs to repeat “I’m so sorry this happened. I hope the next time you’ll check with me when you make plans that involve me. I’d love to spend time with you. I just can’t do that and work a conference at the same time.” Repeat.

      Reply
      1. Engineer Girl

        I’ll add this thing. Boundary smashers throw fits when you draw appropriate boundaries. There may be tears, rebukes, etc. Please remember that THEY caused this problem 100%. Do not feel guilty. Repeat the script over and over. They may escalate the situation. That’s called “extinction burst” and you need to push through it and not relent and give any concession in any way. They will start to honor your boundaries when they see that histrionics don’t work. They will on occasion come back and try the antics again. Repeat the script. It gets better with time.
        The important thing is to stay unemotional and don’t get sucked in. They caused this problem so it is theirs to sort out. Remind them that you love them, and that love means honoring boundaries.

        Reply
        1. Not me

          This is a good explanation, especially the extinction burst. That used to scare me before I knew what it was. But the big blowout tantrum means that things are about to change if I don’t give in to it.

          Reply
          1. Elizabeth West

            Ha, is this where they go, “FINE!! Don’t expect to hear from ME then EVER! AGAIN!” and vanish for a bit? They always come creeping back.

            Do not call back and apologise if this happens, and don’t let it bother you. It’s the equivalent of a tantrum-throwing toddler screaming, “I hate you Mommy!” (That still sucks, but you must hold firm.)

            Reply
      2. Jennifer O

        This is what I came to say. OP, I couldn’t agree with Engineer Girl’s comments more. Remember that THEY caused this problem. If they lose vacation or money? That’s 100% on them.

        Repeat the phrase Engineer Girl suggested as often as needed: “I’m so sorry this happened. I hope the next time you’ll check with me when you make plans that involve me. I’d love to spend time with you. I just can’t do that and work a conference at the same time.”

        In fact, start repeating it now so that you’ve memorised it and that it rolls off your tongue when in conversation with your mum.

        Reply
        1. Engineer Girl

          And if they show up anyway? Don’t accommodate them. Don’t meet with them, don’t give them a tour, don’t have dinner with them. If you accommodate them they realize that they can manipulate you if they use high pressure tactics and squeeze you into a corner. Don’t meet with them, don’t be available to them (except as you normally would when you are working). Don’t give in. It seems harsh, but the sooner you get on the right footing the better for all.

          Reply
      3. Shortie

        And even in cases with people who do generally respect boundaries, I’ve found that people often have a really hard time believing the reality of another person’s time crunch or workload. I have otherwise very kind family members who push me to hang out with them while I’m working conferences or visiting one of my company’s other locations. When I explain that I’ll be working 12-15 hours due to setup and takedown (or whatever the case happens to be), I receive some really skeptical looks and replies that make it clear they think I’m exaggerating. I stick to my guns, but I always come out looking like the jerk. It’s annoying–I feel the OP’s pain.

        Reply
        1. neverjaunty

          They don’t have a hard time believing it – they’re simply choosing to disbelieve you and not listen to you because it’s inconvenient for them.

          Reply
  13. Retail Lifer

    OP, your mom just doesn’t get what your job entails, and since it’s such a new job for you that’s not unreasonable. It’s easy to assume your job is done when the conference is done for that day. I can picture my mom getting all excited and making plans if she found out I’d be working in her home state…before actually asking me if I would have any time to hang out. That’s how some moms are. Hopefully she’s at least semi-rational and will understand that this is not going to be the week to see you.

    Reply
    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

      I don’t know if we can comment on mom’s boundaries overall, but it doesn’t sound like she has a clear picture of what this involves for OP. My mom hasn’t worked in years – decades, really – and just doesn’t have context for what work is like sometimes. She might, for example, send me 21 picture texts within a 10 minute window. I use my phone for work, so I can’t just ignore it – and all that pinging sounds like an emergency to me.. Or she will call at 11am and say “Hi! I just thought you might have some time to catch up!”. Or, she won’t understand why I can’t come visit on the weekend during my busiest period (because there are no groceries in the house, all my clothes are dirty, I haven’t taken the trash out in a week, I’m too sleepy to drive…).

      I really enjoy my mom, but I have to be very explicit about what works for me during work hours, as in “Please call me after 6pm, unless it’s something urgent” “Please be assured I do hear my phone, and don’t call three times in a row unless there is a true emergency, because I stepped out of a critical meeting when it turned out you had a recipe question” or “please stick to one text at a time until you hear back from if if it’s during work hours”. She’s happy to oblige – it’s just all news to her.

      Reply
      1. Ad Astra

        This is a great point. The mom might have problems with boundaries in general, or she might be a mostly reasonable person who simply doesn’t understand her daughter’s role in this conference. If she honestly thinks the OP will be done working at 5, it makes sense that she might make travel plans without running it past her daughter. After all, she’ll have the sister to entertain her during the day.

        The OP is in the best position to evaluate whether this is a long pattern of boundary issues or a simple misunderstanding, and that will inform the kind of conversation they have about not hanging out while she’s working a conference.

        Reply
      2. Annalee

        What’s making this a boundaries problem and not just a doesn’t understand conferences problem is booking the vacation without talking to OP first. Even if OP had said “some friends and I are going to vacation in [city] on [dates],” her mother announcing that she’d booked tickets for the same dates and expected OP to spend time with her as well would be extremely pushy.

        I’m glad to see OP has responded below that she’s telling Mom and Sis that they’re on their own until after the conference. If she was going to take advice to try to compromise and see her mom and sister for limited periods, I’d advise her to take a hard look at her mom’s history and really examine how likely Mom was to hear and respect “no.”

        Reply
      3. Middle Name Jane

        Ashley, my mom is the same way. My phone is personal and not used for work–and I keep it on vibrate during the day–but I can’t sit around and text with her all day long. I’ve had to tell her I’m busy and can’t text.

        Agree 100% about the lack of groceries, dirty laundry, trash, etc.

        Reply
  14. Just another techie

    I did this once, except I wasn’t a conference planner; I was just representing my company. It was awful. I was miserable, my family was miserable, and my boss sat me down the next Monday and had a little chat about my priorities. Don’t do it.

    Reply
  15. LBK

    You know your family dynamic better than I do obviously, but even just from this letter I get the sense that your mother is the kind of person who a) will be extremely hurt if she perceives you as choosing work over her and b) isn’t likely to care about your responsibilities as a professional adult who could easily be fired if the event doesn’t go well. The fact that she not only booked it without consulting you but then looked up the event schedule (seemingly just to prevent you from using that as an excuse to avoid seeing her) seems really controlling to me.

    With that in mind, I’d try to phrase it all in terms of why it benefits her to cancel the visit – “I really want to spend time with you and I’d hate for you to come all this way/spend all that money to see me only for me to be working 90% of the time. Let’s reschedule for a weekend when I’m totally free and we can actually enjoy all of our time together.”

    Reply
    1. INFJ

      Yes. This line alone says so much: “‘The event website days the conference ends at 5 so we’ll have plenty of time together :)'”

      She looked up the schedule of the conference on her own and made all these assumptions/directives about when OP should be available without even consulting her, then tries to mitigate the intrusion with a smiley face.

      Reply
    2. Dynamic Beige

      I would even go so far as to put a little bribe in it. If the OP can ask around at work, I would bet that some of the other planners have spent time in that city and know certain things, like where’s a good place to have dinner or where the best spa is. If the OP can afford it or go halfsies with the sister, they could book an afternoon at a spa for mani-pedis or something like that, then go out to dinner. Down time, relaxation, low key events and catching up. It may not happen on the mother’s birthday, but it would be the Queen for a Day kind of treatment she may be wanting that won’t be available that particular day.

      Reply
  16. Christy

    They haven’t made any uncancellable plans yet–hotel reservations can be cancelled with relatively little warning, and plans for days off can change. I’d suggest telling them you won’t be available at all, and you suggest they do ____ instead. And I wouldn’t take off any time after the conference to hang around either–you’ll have post-mortem stuff to do for work, and you’ll be exhausted from the conference. Maybe stay an extra day if the next day is the weekend, but only one day.

    Reply
    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

      That’s a good point. Others mentioned the cost of changing the airline ticket, but if mom is just a couple of hours away, it’s quite possible she’s just driving.

      Reply
      1. Viva L

        Even if they made reservations that cant be cancelled – well, they did it without involving the OP, that’s not her problem to solve. She isn’t responsible for it.

        Reply
  17. Lanya (aka Camp Director Kim)

    OP, just tell your family it’s not going to work for you. If they are reasonable, they will understand.

    One time, my husband and his sister decided that they would like to “drop in and visit me” on the last day of my summer camp program, during the hours that the children would be packing up and departing with their parents. I flat out told them that if they showed up on that day, they could give themselves a self-tour, but I would not be able to interact with them for more than a few minutes, and just their presence on campus would cause me added stress. I think their feelings were hurt for about an hour, until they realized I was just being honest about my workload.

    Until people plan an event themselves, they don’t understand. It’s just like weddings – people have all kinds of rude requests until they plan their own wedding and realize how difficult it is to accommodate guests’ special requests!

    Reply
    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

      Yes. Sometimes people think that it won’t bother you if they just stay out of your way, but even having them there is stressful and makes you feel pulled in too many directions.

      Reply
      1. Turtle Candle

        Yes, this. And I find that their idea of “stay out of the way” and mine often don’t match up–they mean “we’ll just chat for five minutes here or there!” and I mean “no, I literally need to put all of my focus into this event, actually all of it.”

        I once pushed back on a friend who wanted to spend time with me while I was in town working by saying, “I’m working the whole time, even when I have down time I will have to be doing prep, I will probably be eating Subway sandwiches in my hotel room at 10 PM while reviewing my presentations for the next day” and she said “Oh, I don’t mind if I don’t really see you, I’ll stay out of the way entirely, you won’t even know I’m there” etc. etc.

        I finally asked, “If you’re fine with not getting any of my time and attention, why do you want to be there?” She was stymied by that question, and I think finally got the point that when I said “I won’t have time or energy for you” that I actually meant none.

        Reply
        1. Jules

          I think people have this romantic notion that since you’re so burdened with work, they will be the one person that can help make it better by distracting and relaxing with you. “Oh, sweetie, you need to sit down and have a cup of tea and then everything will be better after you chill a bit!”
          This has nothing to do with the reality of the situation, obviously, and what would help relax is an efficient project plan, not a cup of tea… but that sounds a lot more boring for the friend.

          Reply
  18. LS

    Oh boy, I don’t plan entire conferences, just my companies involvement (exhibiting, sponsoring a dinner here and there, etc.) and that sounds exhausting even with my job being less than the OP’s. I’m typically working from 7am to 10pm once you factor in time at our company’s booth, arranging client meetings, going to client dinners (which are nice, but still…WORK), or even with no client dinners I’m expected to share meals with my colleagues. I love to extend a trip a day or two after the conference to see friends or family but I very firmly tell friends “I love you but I am 100% booked the days of my conference”. Or occasionally I will literally have 1 hour over a 4 day span to see them and grab a quick drink.

    OP, since you are new to this job, just trust me. You need to tell mom NO in the nicest way possible. If you were just attending a conference and knew your company didn’t have any work dinners, that would be the only way this might work. Coming from someone who has a very similar job, it just is not feasible. You will already be completely exhausted at the end of the conference without having to try to squeeze in a few minutes with family here and there.

    Reply
  19. PennyLane

    Not the same situation, but the only time I’ve seen something even remotely like this was when the one big conference I worked on for a client coincided with my boss’s toddler’s birthday every year. It was in NYC, so her parents would travel with her daughter and take care of her during the day/tour around with her. At night, she would visit us in our workroom, and we went out to dinner with her some nights. My boss would check in with her parents throughout the day, but her main focus was always on work. And, my boss had been working on this conference for YEARS.

    Reply
  20. Jerzy

    It’s terribly inconsiderate of your mother and sister to intrude upon your work life in this way. My mother loves to visit me at the office when she can, but always, always makes sure it works with my schedule for that day. This is no different, and given that you’ll be working 12-15 hours each day, how much time and energy are you really going to have for them?

    I know it’s your mom’s birthday and all, but would she be terribly upset if you asked to celebrate it, say, the following week, when you’ll be able to really devote time to spending time with her and catching her up on everything happening in your life (including the new job)? The nicest way to break it to your mom that this plan will not work is to let her know that it’s precisely because you want to spend time with her that she shouldn’t come to your city during this conference. Phrase it in such a way that she’ll know just how much you love her and want to spend time with her and make it less about it being an inconvenience for you. Hopefully, that’ll take the sting out of it for her.

    And since it’s a few months away, there shouldn’t be a problem with her employer if she changes her vacation request now.

    Good luck!

    Reply
  21. Lindrine

    Maybe you can go in a day or two early or stay a day or two later and take her out? But yeah, you need to have a follow up chat with her and tell her that you will be ON ALL THE TIME during the conference. It is not at all like attending a conference and even doing that leaves me pretty wiped.

    Reply
  22. Erin

    Oh dear.

    They probably think they did “check” beforehand, as they looked at what time the events are over. :(

    I would offer a firm compromise and/or alternative suggestions. You could:

    A) Invite them to the event at Famous Location as you mentioned, but only if you don’t think their presence will stress you out, and only if they understand you won’t be able to spend a lot of time with them.

    B) Pick one evening where you’ll hopefully be the least busy, and have dinner/drinks with them. You will be exhausted. But you’ll make them happy and it’s a good compromise when they’re apparently hoping to spend every single evening with you. You can give them one.

    C) Suggest alternative plans, ideally as Alison suggested, by extending your trip, but if not then, another time. You could even email them your conference schedule over the next several months or year, pointing out times when you’ll be more free to make plans. If it’s financially feasible for you, offer to go to them or meet them wherever they’d like.

    I know you feel guilty, but remember that they did take their own vacation time off before speaking with you, and that’s something you had no control over. And, they know *you’re* not on vacation. i’m optimistic if you communicate clearly what your job entails and what’s going on they’ll be disappointed but understanding; they just do not understand the situation right now. Good luck.

    Reply
    1. Artemesia

      There is no way this ends well. The OP will be trashing her reputation, the mother will not be satisfied and the OP will be exhausted. I cannot begin to describe how stressful running a conference like this is. Having to deal with a high maintenance controlling mother at the same time would drive many of us around the bend. This is an occasion for as little tact as possible. The clear message needs to be ‘do not come’; if you do, I won’t be able to make time because of the demands of my work. The idea that because the conference program ends at 5, the person in charge of the conference can just toodle off and play is gob smacking.

      Reply
    2. Amtelope

      B probably isn’t possible for the conference planner — she’s going to need to be on-site to manage dinner for the conference attendees and evening events. It’s not unusual for “dinner” for the conference planner at these kinds of events to be five minutes of shoving cocktail party snacks into your face between dealing with one crisis and another, possibly followed by ordering a sandwich from room service at midnight.

      Reply
    3. Observer

      Suggestiond one and two are total non-starters. I’m willing to beleive that mom isn’t a terribly boundary crosser, but still she CLEARLY does not get what’s involved. How could her presence at the work event NOT stress the OP out? And what’s the chance that a person who doesn’t get it to start with suddenly understanding that her daughter is going to have to all but ignore her? As for picking an evening when she expects to be least busy, you are essentially suggesting that she decide which afternoon to take off in the run up to a major deadline. It is NOT a good compromise – it’s like saying, well they want to steal a million dollars, so you will give them $100k. No. She needs to be busy with the conference. That’s her JOB, and it’s the kind of job where you have blackout dates. Conferences are her blackout dates, and taking a day off (which is what you are essentially suggesting) during a blackout period is never a good idea, unless someone died, or someone is in danger of dieing. She won’t just be “exhausted” – if all goes WELL, there’s going to be stuff left undone and it’s going to be on her. Also, what makes you think her mother will be happy? If she doesn’t get it, she doesn’t get it. If she does finally understand, she’ll understand that she needs to find another time.

      Reply
  23. bopper

    “Mom, if I am going to spend time with you, I want to really spend the time with you…not be thinking about the emails Ihave to return or if someone has found a projector that works. With these conferences I have to work 15 hours a day. Why don’t we make plans to get together in West Coast City after the conference ends? It ends on October 27th, so we could plan for after that.”

    I understand about birthdays, but a grown person can have a get together a few days before/after.

    Reply
  24. HB

    I used to go to conferences in Florida for work (granted, as an attendee) and I’d fly out there a little early with my mother sometimes. For instance, we’d fly out on Friday and have a long weekend there, and then the conference would start on Tuesday or Wednesday. Could you do something like that? It may be easier to do afterwards since I imagine there’s a lot that goes into it in those final minutes before the conference. Perhaps have some time with your family starting the day AFTER your conference (if you can get time off)?

    Reply
    1. Artemesia

      I remember taking my daughter with me to a conference in New York city that started on a Monday and I took her for her 18th birthday weekend and we shopped for prom dresses, went to Letterman, took in a show — BUT I was attending the conference so the weekend before was my own time. She flew home Sunday night and I was then free to focus on the conference. If I were running the conference, that period just before would have been filled with craziness and no time for a vacation. As I noted elsewhere during a big conference for my professional association that I ran in my home town, the keynote speaker had to be replaced the day before due to emergency surgery — and more mundane things like adjusting rooms, dealing with technical issues, responding to special requests from groups of attendees and the inevitable snafus is at its peak in the day or two before.

      Reply
  25. Clever Name

    OMG. This sounds like something my mother would do. She’s always been prone to magical thinking when it comes to planning (despite doing event planning herself for years). Somehow she imagines things that are actually very complicated for others are easy and convenient. If I were in your shoes, I would also push back on the whole thing. Maybe offer to get together some other time, or as Alison suggested, do something the day after the conference is over. Reiterate that your day will not end at 5, and you will not have any free time during the day. The spare moments you’ll have you’ll probably want to reserve for things like using the restroom or eating a granola bar instead of eating a real meal.

    Reply
  26. Viva L

    OP, are you a new professional or just new to this job? Does your family push your boundaries in other ways?

    I think we can comment on the mom’s boundaries – she booked an ENTIRE VACATION without confirming with the OP whether she would be available or not. She looked at a conference website. Without talking to her daughter – who would presumably know her own schedule best. Sister did too, without speaking to OP first, which tells me there’s a family dynamic at play here. Who does that? Who, says “Oh conference ends at 5 so of course you are free to hang out with me and sister and let me just go ahead and book hotel airfare and all these things because of COURSE YOU ARE AVAILABLE” without first saying “Hey, that’s my birthday week – and you’re so close to me! Would you have any time to stop by dear old mom’s house/I can meet you in the city if you have a free night so we can celebrate together?” The latter is a normal, boundary-appropriate response. Mom might not be malicious in doing this, but methinks she’s definitely pushy and lacks respect for the OP in this case.

    OP is, at this point trying to figure out how accommodate her mothers’ clear boundary pushing – a classic accommodator response – rather than asking “How do I tell my mother this simply wont work for me?”

    Aside from the personal boundary issues, other commenters have a really good point about you not looking professional if you are trying to accommodate your family in addition to working. Most professionals tack on a day or two prior to or after the conference if an opportunity like this comes up – they don’t split their focus, at least, not so early into a job. That’s a good compromise for your family right there – “I cant visit during the conference, but I managed to take a vacation day and book another night at the hotel/can I stay with you for a night so we can visit?”

    OP I suggest you re-frame this entire situation in your head from “How do I/my employer accommodate my mother/sister?” to “How do I set appropriate (personal and professional) boundaries in this instance?” Best of luck!

    Reply
  27. Brett

    Most years I attend a huge industry conference in the city where my dad lives.
    Even staying at his house and extending my stay by one day on each end (for cheaper tickets mostly), I see him maybe 8 hours throughout the entire 7 days. And that is just attending the conference.

    The one thing that has worked out well is taking one of my siblings to the big huge reception that happens on the last night of the conference (my dad won’t go because the reception goes too late). _If_ your responsibilities at the reception are light, that might work.

    Reply
  28. MsM

    Another conference vet chiming in with a “don’t do it, OP.” While I doubt your organization would have a problem with you extending a reception invite to your family (provided it isn’t oversold and you’re turning away VIPs), if you’re afraid of how they’re going to conduct themselves while they’re there, you just don’t need that stress. Ditto with trying to squeeze them into any downtime when you don’t know that you’re even going to have downtime or when it will be or that you’ll want to be conscious for any of it. And something tells me that if something comes up, your mom will still be there right at 5 and will not take it well if you tell her to go have dinner without her. Better to be upfront that this plan is not going to work and see about squeezing in some post-conference vacation time.

    Reply
  29. Bostonian

    Ugh, I’m sorry, OP. It sounds like your mother really doesn’t understand conferences or your job.

    At all large events and conferences that I’ve been involved with or attended, there were add-on events that weren’t part of the published public schedule but that the event organizers would need to be on call for. One nonprofit piggybacked on a major industry conference to have a breakfast for its donors, my graduate program had an alumni networking reception, various committees had meetings, etc. The space and food were typically arranged through the conference organizers since these events were held in the conference hotel/conference center, but the events didn’t appear on the schedule.

    If this is just a case where your mother doesn’t understand and will bow out gracefully when you explain the situation, it might help to explain that just because the conference program (as of 2+ months out) doesn’t list public events after 5 p.m. doesn’t mean there won’t be things going on that you need to attend to, in addition to preparing for the next day.

    If this is more another instance in a pattern, might I suggest looking through the archives of Captain Awkward? There’s tons of great advice over there for dealing with difficult family – with people who don’t respect boundaries, giving explanations is just giving people more ammunition for further argument. In that case, it’s better to just say “I’m sorry, I won’t be able to see you during the conference” and repeat as necessary.

    Reply
  30. TotesMaGoats

    Normally, if you are just a conference attendee this wouldn’t be a big deal. I know people who do this all the time, especially in places where they have cool tours that are usually open to everyone or open blocks of time. But A)you’ve been there 3 months and B) you are in charge of this thing. This just isn’t going to work. Not for anyone.

    Reply
  31. Artemesia

    Oh my gosh. This would be the most unprofessional thing ever. You need to tell your mother that you will have literally no time to meet them away from the conference and ask them to make the trip for another time or do it without you. I have run conferences this size and the work to deal with all the things that come up is crazy. You need to tell your mother you are not attending this conference, you are RUNNING it and your time after hours is totally covered up with meetings you must attend and arrangements you need to be on top of.

    Nothing sends a stronger message of unprofessionalism than mixing your social life with family with an event like this especially since you are so new in this role. I wouldn’t do this even if you did have the time some evenings as the impression you leave will be of the employee who uses the job for personal gain. I remember a co-worker who always managed to wangle business trips to her home town and made no secret of it; she was universally regarded as a user.

    It was incredibly inappropriate of your mother to book things before talking to you and to ‘look up the hours of the conference’ and declare you were free to be at her beck and call evenings WITHOUT talking with you first. A mom who calls and says ‘hey great idea, let’s do this’ FIRST is just misguided and invites the conversation you should have had. To book before telling you and then tell you you have time because she looked it up is a serious boundary breach. She is not honoring your adulthood and treating you like you should be under her control. It is at best a serious mistake and at worst a form of bullying.

    I would not put your reputation at risk by doing anything here but making it clear to your mother that this is not happening and absolutely not include them in any social events of the conference.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      . A mom who calls and says ‘hey great idea, let’s do this’ FIRST is just misguided and invites the conversation you should have had. To book before telling you and then tell you you have time because she looked it up is a serious boundary breach. She is not honoring your adulthood and treating you like you should be under her control. It is at best a serious mistake and at worst a form of bullying.

      I agree with this.

      I live a long way from my parents. I was once sent to a press event in the city where my mom lived. She said, “Will you have time to see me while you’re here?”

      She asked.

      The fact that your mom looked it up, discussed it WITH SOMEONE ELSE! (but not with you) and announced her plans indicates that she doesn’t get it. And it worries me for you.

      So get a script–maybe two sentences–and just repeat them over and over and over.

      If you have to, tell her, “My boss tells me I can’t have you come to the conference.” I always said to my kids (and my mom said to me), “Feel free to blame it all on me, if someone won’t take your ‘no I can’t go out drinking’ when you don’t want to go.”

      Reply
      1. Artemesia

        Unless this mother (and someone this clueless and pushy might) would call the boss to ask permission. I told my kids the same thing about blaming it on their parents, but in this case, the OP needs to own it and make it clear. And it is the perfect moment to do it. I suspect this isn’t the first time her mother has treated her like this.

        Reply
        1. Observer

          So what if she calls the boss? Nothing in the letter indicates that she would do that, but if she did, so what? Remember, OP told her that she can’t accommodate Mom. So, if Mom calls and asks about this, or calls to complain, it’s not like OP is being shown to be unprofessional

          You could be right about this not being the first time something like this happened. That still does not make using an excuse a bad idea. If it is effective as way to push back on the behavior, it’s still a good thing. If necessary, hopefully OP will be able to “graduate”, but I see no reason to assume that it will be necessary.

          Reply
  32. The Other Dawn

    I’m attending a conference in September and I’m worried about fitting in enough time with my sister and niece (they’re coming with me from the East coast to the West coast). My conference is two and half days. The first two days run from 9 am to 6 pm, and I’m likely to want to do a little networking with other attendees afterwards. I know it will be tough, but at least my niece and sister can hang out together. But I can’t imagine being a conference planner and having to fit time in. It just doesn’t seem possible.

    Reply
  33. Doodle

    I strongly agree that you need to push back on this. I speak from experience — I’m in a field where we host an annual conference. My second year happened to be on my mother’s birthday, and she came to town with an offer to “help” but really to see me. It was a big struggle all around — she was frustrated that we didn’t get to spend time together, I was dead on my feet the whole time and feeling extremely guilty. It culminated in a birthday dinner the evening of the last day of the conference where I was nearly in tears from exhaustion. Don’t do it. It will hurt you both professionally AND with your family.

    Reply
  34. Sunflower

    As a conference planner, who is at a conference now, I would say to ask for days off around the conference and plan to see your family then. Besides the fact that it’s long, hard exhausting days, you’re at the mercy of work for 24 hours. No one thinks twice of calling me at 10pm to do something and I have to do it, I have no choice.

    I try to make plans to see friends or do stuff at every conference I’m at and I usually do find some time to do it. But it NEVER goes how I planned it to and I usually end up spending very minimal time with them.

    I had plans for the conference I’m at now. I planned to be done set-up by 7pm last night, have a great dinner at a rooftop bar then be in bed by 10:30pm. What actually happened: S* hit the fan hardcore and I was running to printers until 110pm last night, doing set up and looking for missing boxes until 1am. I ate a bag of chips for dinner before I collapsed in bed. And I was up earlier than expected to fix everything that couldn’t be fixed last night. I can barely keep my eyes open right now and need to be on for at LEAST 7 more hours. So long story short- plans change A LOT during these conferences and you usually end up much more tired than you anticipated. Just ask for the days off afterwards.

    Reply
    1. Dynamic Beige

      I planned to be done set-up by 7pm last night, have a great dinner at a rooftop bar then be in bed by 10:30pm.

      Oh dear. You gave it the kiss of death. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s to never look at a production timeline and think “Oh goody! We end at 6pm on Wednesday, I’ll have time to get a nice dinner, maybe take a swim…” because the minute I think that, might as well add at least 3 hours on to the finish time. We try very hard on the crew side to not say things like “we’ll be out of here by X”… because it’s the kiss of death. It’s pretty much a guarantee that if I pack a bathing suit, I won’t be able to use it (and if I don’t pack one, that’s when an evening or afternoon will suddenly open up, damnit)

      Reply
  35. That Marketing Chick

    I plan our company’s annual conference, and am responsible for it…soup to nuts. This year, I got up at 5 am each morning and went to bed after 10 pm each night, even though the sessions ended at 5 pm. There were evening events, and organization/prep for the following day. I also ended up with masking tape on my toes from blisters (bandaids didn’t stay put), but that’s a different story for a different day. :)
    There is WAY too much for you to do to even think about hanging out with your mom and sister. Maybe you can extend your time in that location and visit with them either before or after the conference, but you are going to be exhausted during the conference. For your own sanity, tell your mom it’s not going to work.

    Reply
    1. Chinook

      “I also ended up with masking tape on my toes from blisters (bandaids didn’t stay put), but that’s a different story for a different day. :)”

      Marketing Chick, here is a tip from an experienced hiker – use duct tape as a sort of mole skin on your feet. There should be some around and it doesn’t slip off when your feet is sweaty. Plus, having a small roll of duct tape in your bag makes you look like MacGyver because it can be used to fix hems, tape down cords and/or curtains as well as mark spots.

      Reply
      1. Artemesia

        I always used that padded adhessive tape for first aid — will have to try duct tape on upcoming trip with long slogs in hiking shoes.

        Reply
        1. Chinook

          If you are hiking, my dad (who has been doing this for decades in the Rockies) swears by wrapping a few layers of duct tape around a water bottle so that a)you aren’t carrying a whole roll (which is heavy) and b) it is less sticky but still sticky enough. If you want to really be savvy, wrap it around the Ziploc bag that contains the toilet paper (which has the inner tube take out, is flattened and you use from the inside out so that the part you use is dirt free and you know exactly how much you have).

          My mom has been known to go to various grads (Canadian prom) with a small roll of duct tape to fix snagged hems of people who are not her children.

          Reply
    2. Aglaia761

      Totally off topic, but I’m also a hiker.

      Try Glacier Gels. They’re great. they’re padded and have a bit of lidocaine in them to help numb the area. The minute you start getting a hot spot, slap one on.

      As long as you wipe the area around it with an alcohol wipe before putting them on, they won’t come off in the shower either.

      They’re expensive, but well worth it.

      Band-Aid has a similar product, but it doesn’t stay on nearly as long.

      Reply
  36. southerngal

    Adding my comment – and support!
    agreeing you need to say NO to your family. its hard – but explain it in an email and couch it in the “i am new and i cant afford to take my eyes off the job esp in a highly visible event like this!”

    GOOD LUCK!!!

    Reply
  37. AcidMeFlux

    OP, I really hope you send in an update when it’s all over. Let us know how you handled Mom, and how the conference went.

    Reply
  38. College Career Counselor

    While I haven’t read all the comments, they seem to be running (near-unanimously) toward DON’T DO IT. I am in complete agreement. As others have mentioned, you’re on call for the entire event and have a lot of work in the evenings. I’m as social as the next person, and after running a couple of 12-15 hour event days, I am capable of little more than sitting on the couch with a beer, staring into space. Try to extend your stay and meet up with your family after the event, get them to cancel, or have them go on without you. The last thing you want to be responsible for is managing your family’s expectations while you’re working.

    Reply
  39. Portia

    Oh wow, I really hope all their plans can be rescheduled… I agree with everyone on here that you need to have a talk with your mom and stay firm that you don’t have time for them and they need to reschedule their trip/it’ll just be the two of them. It’s not worth it to jeopardize your job and professional reputation or your relationship with your family over a terribly planned trip.

    And I don’t know if stating your boundaries and then saying it’s fine if they don’t see you will necessarily be enough. I don’t have experience like this with a conference, but my parents decided to come visit me and my sister a few weeks before a large graduate school project/presentation was due. I repeated over and over that I couldn’t plan their trip for them, that I would have limited amounts of time to spend with them if at all, etc. They seemed to get it. Ha, no. They sat around almost every night asking me what they should do and getting annoyed when I ran out of ideas. At one point my dad almost bought a last minute flight out of there because of a situation gone terribly, terribly wrong. I ended up failing my project and they didn’t visit again for 3 years. I knew it would be tough, but what happened was 10 times worse than the worst scenario I could have come up with.

    Reply
  40. Bend & Snap

    agree with everyone else–don’t do it.

    What you could do is tack on a weekend to your trip, if your workplace will let you, and spend it with your mom before heading back home.

    I do think it’s crazy that they hijacked your work trip without asking you. It’s pretty presumptuous to expect people to prioritize personal time when they’re traveling on business.

    Reply
  41. Artemesia

    Just a positive note for the OP. Look upon this as an opportunity to re-set your mother’s habit of imposing herself without consideration on you. By clearly drawing the line here — not compromising or using soft soap — just making clear that this isa work event for which you are responsible and she simply cannot make plans for your time without consulting you first, you are clearing communicating your independence and adulthood. This will be hard this time, but resist ‘compromise’ that will leave you stressed at the conference. Just be firm and know that it will be easier next time, because your mother will have been taught to consult first — or at least if she doesn’t it will not be painful of you to say ‘Mom, haven’t I already made it clear that you can’t plan my time without consulting me first?’

    Reply
    1. Engineer Girl

      This, this, this! You are setting up your relationship as an adult relationship, which is far more rewarding and far deeper than a child relationship. It’s worth a few months of pain now for a richer relationship in the future.

      Reply
  42. super anon

    Oh god OP, I am so sorry. I know how difficult it can be when you have family that doesn’t respect or understand boundaries. I’ve been dealing with this my entire adult life – although, my issue is my financially irresponsible parent asking me for money (even when I was a student and my main source of income was student loans!).

    You absolutely need to shut this down, the sooner the better. You need to set up boundaries now about what is and isn’t okay to do, which can be especially difficult when it is family. If your family is anything like mine, when you tell them no, you cannot see them this trip and that it’s not okay for them to plan things like this without consulting you, expect some serious guilt-tripping and emotional manipulation. Remember, their feelings are their stuff, and it is not your fault in any way that their trip isn’t going to go the way they want it – it’s theirs for not consulting you. Even if you feel guilty for having to set up this boundary, remember that it was their decision to do this, and you are doing what is best for you and your professional reputation.

    Dealing with family can be really, really difficult. It took me a lot of counselling and self-help books to be able to realize what I wrote above and put it into action (and I’m still not great at enacting it, I feel guilty every time I say no to requests for money from my parent). Best wishes OP, you can do it!

    Reply
  43. Will the real OP please stand up?

    OP here, hearing Alison and everyone else loud and clear! Time for me to be a grownup and stand up to my mother. She and my sister will probably still come to the city because my aunt and cousins live there as well, but I will let her know that I won’t be able to see her until the conference is over. It ends on a Friday so I can probably stay through Saturday and spend the day with them.

    Also, to answer a question from the comments, I’ve been a conference planner for 3 years. However, in the past I worked for a small startup that was much more casual and hosted events on a smaller scale. Family and friends were actively invited/encouraged to attend those events. And this will not be my first conference for my new employer (it’ll be my 3rd) but it will be the largest to date.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      thanks for the info!

      It sounds like it’s less your mom blasting through boundaries, and more that the scale is just so different.

      We can’t think as badly of her, if in the past she’s been actually “trained” or “conditioned” to think of the conference as not that absorbing.

      But it is important to recalibrate!

      Reply
    2. AvonLady Barksdale

      Glad to see this update!

      As the day’s gone on and I’ve read more comments, I’ve realized that I see this through my own lens (as we do!), which is, “HELL NO OMG MOM STAY THE EFF AWAY!” I do hope that your mom accepts your professional and perfectly reasonable explanation that this is a new job with new norms and you need to be allowed to do your job without the distraction of a visit. Good luck!

      Reply
    3. GlamNonprofitSquirrel

      Good for you, Real OP. Mom made some pretty big assumptions without asking you (conference schedule checking, assuming new job had the same culture as old job), so you really do need to (gently but firmly) need to set those boundaries. Have a great conference, break a leg etc..!

      Reply
    4. Viva L

      That’s great news, because it means your mom’s expectations just need to be re-calibrated (vs. her being a boundary pusher) so a simple “Hey mom, Im glad you’re excited to see me, and Im excited to see you too. But this conference is different than the one’s I’ve done before – it’s a lot bigger and more time consuming, and the norms at this office are different around having family attend the conferences. Im sorry, but visiting while it’s taking place just wont be possible. I can take the day afterward though, and I’d love to spend some time with you then. How does brunch on Saturday morning sound?”

      Reply
  44. Kylynara

    I would consider sending mom a link to this and saying something like “I’m going to have to trust the voices of experience in the comments and say no.”

    Then offer whatever accommodation (staying an extra day or few, getting together some other time, etc.) you’ve chosen.

    Reply
  45. Minister of Snark

    In my family we have a saying, “He who tries to make everyone happy, only manages to make himself miserable. And piss everyone else off.”

    My family’s not normal.

    Speaking as someone who used to work 4-5 day education conferences for my employer, let me tell you that these sessions RARELY end on time and the work for the day even more rarely ends when the session is over. There’s clean-up, takedown, conversations with your boss about the next day’s events. You’ll be lucky to get out by 630 or 7 o’clock. and you’ll be exhausted and hungry and all you’ll want to do is go to a quiet room, order room service and decompress. If you’re an introvert, this need for decompression will be even greater.

    Your mom’s expectations are just not realistic. And for her to TELL you of her plans after she’s already made reservations is just rude and manipulative. If you want to try to accommodate her, set aside ONE night where you’ll meet her for drinks around 7-730, with the understanding that you’ll probably want to turn in early. If not, just tell her, “Mom, I’m not traveling to this city for vacation. I’m there for work. I will be focusing on work while I’m there. I will not have time to spend with you and sis. When you make plans without me, you make plans WITHOUT ME. I hope you and sis enjoy your trip.”

    I would NOT mention this to your employer, who I doubt very much will be impressed with any attempt to the work trip they’re paying for into a family vacation.

    Reply
  46. Minister of Snark

    Also, there is no way in hell I would try to wrangle tickets for your mom for the event. That is not professional in the least. If your mom is upset that she will be in a strange city without your company on her birthday, then she should have consulted you on the plans. You can’t help the timing of the event. You would have been away from her on her birthday either way.

    I definitely agree you need to be firm with her on this “first round” of boundary pushing because it will not be easier to push back on her second or third try.

    Reply
  47. Minister of Snark

    As a third note, I would also make it clear that your mother calling your boss to clear up some free time during the conference for her birthday will RUIN your reputation and you will be VERY unhappy with her if she does so.

    I’ve seen it happen. A coworker’s mother called our boss because coworker told her that he couldn’t get time off for a family reunion. She told the boss that she wanted to 1) confirm that her son wasn’t lying about it being impossible for him to attend the reunion and 2) request that boss give son the time off because it was a “special exception.”

    Boss was NOT impressed. He called coworker in to talk about professionalism and not sending one’s Mommy after boss when coworker didn’t get his way on vacation time requests.

    Reply
    1. Artemesia

      What a nightmare. I know a few parents who have done things like this and my jaw dropped to the floor each time.

      Reply
    2. Ros

      Oh, that poor coworker (assuming she did it behind his back, which it sounds like if she was calling to confirm that her son wasn’t lying…). Honestly, as a boss, I’d have told the mother that we couldn’t discuss company matters with non-employees and then mentioned to the guy that he might wanna have a talk with his mother about professional boundaries…

      On a similar note, I’ve had the boyfriend of one employee (from a past job) call to “make sure she was really at work, she usually lies about being sick”. Didn’t make me doubt the employee, but it did raise all sorts of red flag about abusive boyfriends… (I had no idea what to do, and our HR was incredibly incompetent, so I used the staff meeting the following day to plug the company’s EAP along with other services offered. Later on, I heard that she’d called them, moved back in with her parents, and seemed to be doing ok, so… there’s that.)

      Point is: we all agree that personal matters/the people in your personal life shouldn’t step into your work life. Sometimes, though, you (or your employee) really can’t control the behaviour of those around them…

      Reply
  48. Jean

    Late to the party but adding my 2 cents without reading all other comments:
    Unhook yourself from this terrible idea (mom & sister intrude on your professional obligation).
    If your family _insists_ on coming anyway or otherwise is unable to accept your boundaries
    – Alert hotel staff/security to the situation and make sure they have your back re tactfully but effectively buffering you from their intrusions
    (Hotel staff see everything. This won’t faze them.)
    – As a peace offering/tactical diversion, send flowers or a goody bag to their hotel room with a note “enjoy this–sorry I can’t be with you!”

    Alison got it right:

    Ultimately, they sprung this plan on you without consulting you, and you’re contorting yourself to try to make it work — which is nice of you — but it really might not be workable, at least not without totally exhausting yourself and shortchanging your new job.

    I know families are weird and there can be dynamics that make it impossible to say “no, this plan won’t work (and you should have consulted me first!)” but in this case, I’d really try.

    Reply
  49. Tomato Frog

    While my family would never do this to me, I tend to do these sorts of things to myself (pull myself two ways at once because of a sense of obligation to friends or family) and I just want to express my deepest empathy for the letter writer. I would also be trying to make this work. But… don’t.

    Do an extra day if you can, and otherwise, maybe tell your mom you’ll be in touch if some time unexpectedly frees up. But definitely make it clear that this is unlikely and they should carry on as if you’re not there. If you do have down-time, you might want it for just yourself anyway. I find just attending conferences exhausting, can’t even imagine if I was running one!

    Reply
    1. Jean

      I disagree. Even if the mom isn’t quite as intrusive as we all thought earlier in the comments (before OP came back) it helps nobody to say “well, maybe if time unexpectedly frees up…” Either there won’t be any free time or if there is, the OP will want to spend it sitting in a chair or decompressing alone.

      Engineer Girl said it best: boundary-breakers have tantrums when other people set limits.
      Minister of Snark said it second best: The person who tries to please everybody ends up pleasing nobody.

      If I sound grouchy it’s because it took me years to learn how to set limits clearly, without any emotional explosions for myself or others. I don’t want to spend my time or energy enduring or recovering from surplus drama!

      Reply
  50. Justin

    Seeing a lot people trying to offer a compromise, like staying in the city after the conference or whatever else…I take a hard line against these kinds of things. They shouldn’t be asking you to do anything to accommodate them. Your mom is an adult (and obviously much older than you) and she should just suck it up and not expect special birthday celebrations. Celebrate another time.

    Reply
    1. Viva L

      But what if OP *wants* to celebrate with her mother? They live far away, and OP gets to take a “free” trip to her mom’s area – that’s a pretty good way to get to see your mom for her birthday or just plain get to visit her.

      The ONLY issue here is visiting during the conference, which the OP has now stated she wont do – it sounds like she does want to see them, just on terms that are better for her. As long as her mom is able to hear that, it means she just got over-zealous when OP mentioned she would be in the area (coupled with her being able/encouraged to attend in the past, it’s an understandable reaction). But there’s no indication that the mom will throw a hissy fit once the OP is clear about what works for her. Hopefully they can both get what they want in this scenario.

      Reply
      1. Justin

        I suppose, it just sounds like the mom and sis are being pushy. Seems pretty presumptuous to assume that LW will have time for them. Why can’t they just visit LW where she actually lives?

        Reply
        1. Viva L

          They can. And they were being pushy – but the answer to that is not the harshest cut-them-off option, the answer is to set an appropriate boundary. Also, the OP happens to be in their area at no cost to herself (remember they live on opposite coasts, so visiting is not always an easy task), and as long as she wants to, why not take some time to see family she presumable cares for? Just some food for thought!

          Reply
  51. Honeybee

    I know that I am exhausted at the end of the day just from attending conferences. I can’t imagine how I would feel after organizing one that large (I organized a small one in graduate school, and I hated everything about it and vowed never to do it again). The other thing is that even if you aren’t exhausted, there might be some important team-building/networking or at least planning for the next day that happens in the evening with your team.

    I agree that pushing back and explaining to your mom and sister that you simply don’t have the time and will be busy until late into the night at work is the best plan.

    Reply
  52. Long Time Reader First Time Poster

    While I fully agree with the above responses, I will say that my husband’s best friend was dating a woman with a job similar to the OP’s, and when she was responsible for a very large corporate conference she invited DH’s best friend. AND he got a +2 for a posh evening affair (held at a mansion in Newport, RI).

    We got to go and we ate oysters and drank all night — it was awesome. Of course, we only saw her for ten minutes the whole time (which was fine because we honestly didn’t even know her) but we got to spend time with my husband’s friend at a swanky party (and make idle chit chat with random people in an industry we knew nothing about).

    I wouldn’t recommend it MYSELF, and this was at a mixer rather than a presentation-oriented event… but it worked out for me! We even got free professional portraits taken of us in our finery.

    I’m just wondering if OP’s mom heard a story like mine and thought it was a Done Thing…

    Reply
  53. Coleen

    Mom needs a reality check. That is a respectful honest conversation you must initiate.
    Maybe you can stay on in the fabulous city for a couple days after the conference and REALLY enjoy time with your mother and celebrate her birthday?

    Reply
  54. Middle Name Jane

    I’m a meeting planner and have been in the industry 8 years. OP is new to this job (and possibly the industry).

    Trust me when I say it would NOT be appropriate to have the mother and sister attend the event, even if the OP pays for them. The OP is there to work, not combine work and family obligations. Politely, but very firmly, tell your mother and sister that you will celebrate mother’s birthday because you must work. This is especially important because OP has only been in this job 3 months.

    People who aren’t in the meetings industry frequently think that our day is over when the sessions are, and that is simply not true. You can easily work 14-16 hours a day, most of it on your feet. The only thing you want to do at the end of the day is sleep. I’ve had conferences in Famous Large Cities before, and my mother has gotten whiny about wanting to come along and sleep in my hotel room and go sightseeing during the day while I’m working. I told her no. It’s unprofessional for conference staff to have family tag along.

    Reply
  55. brownblack

    I have been in this situation several times. My mother has come to visit twice during times in my job that were extraordinarily (and predictably) busy and stressful. I could never figure out why these were the best times for her to visit. She suggested doing something similar this year and I said “absolutely not.”

    Reply
  56. Skyline Miami

    i think integrating work and vacation is super easy to do and how life should be like. I call it integration and really support people who would do a conference but also spend time with family off hours vacationing.

    Reply
  57. EmilyAnn Frances May

    I am not in your industry but work at marketing duties for a software developer. Our busy season coincides with our participation in a yearly conference. Getting our promotional emailing prepared prior to attending the conference and working with my bosses to contribute to our success is demanding but satisfying. We also have post-conference follow-up. So all sides are very engaged and absorbed for those in your industry and for the companies sending vendors &/or attendees.

    Your job must take priority. It is your livelihood. It provides the means for you to fulfill your responsibilities for yourself and if you have a SO and children them as well. Your employer is paying you for your time while at the conference so your focus is required on that. It’s too bad you end up tired after hours but how many of us can party-party after work even on a regular workday?

    Your Mom wasn’t thinking when she and your sister made these plans. It’s up to you to make it clear that they do have a place in your life and that you love them. Priorities are important in this situation. They should understand that if you put yourself at risk you could lose your job. And then what? Will you get another job so easily? You are working very hard to be a good daughter and a good professional. Let your Mom know she will be a Mom You will celebrate her birthday another time. You can send her some flowers on her exact b-day with a raincheck for a day out at another time.

    Reply
  58. Aurelia

    I didn’t know what was involved with conferences or business trips until various family members acquired positions where these are part of the job description. Prior to that, I imagined that they were basically paid vacations where employees showed up, but it was more fun than work.

    The aforementioned family members were quick to set people like me straight, however, and that is what LW should have done the second his mom made the announcement: “Gee, Mom, I wish you’d mentioned this before you booked tickets. The company page says the conferences end at five, but that’s for the guests. My hours are much longer, and I most likely won’t have any down time.” That’s it. No apologies. Omit the tone that you can be persuaded (or that it’s not a big deal) for you to leave early one or two nights. Do not – I repeat, NOT – get drawn in by the likely “but…family!” pleas. LW isn’t going to this for fun; it’s work.

    I would bring up the above script now, and wouldn’t ask if Mom and Sis could attend the dinner. If they don’t understand the nature of LW’s work to the point that they booked this trip, they’re not going to understand why LW is “avoiding” them and can’t sit down to have “just one meal.”

    Reply
  59. Chris B

    Don’t do it. You’ve been on the job for three months, and it’s not the kind of impression you want to leave on your employer. This is WORK, not a vacation. And with 500+ attendees, you’re not going to have any free time anyway.

    If your mom and sister want to come out AFTER the last day of the conference so you can spend time together, that would be cool. But not during. And based on my past experience, “before” is a bad plan, too, because there are always last-minute things that come up and have to be taken care of.

    Reply

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