Aging Parents and Driving

When I’m meeting with adult children I’m invariably asked: how do I talk to my mother or father about her or his driving? This question is complicated for so many reasons. One is that it seems to be the biggest sign of independence for an older adult. Rational thinking seems to go out the window for most older adults when this subject comes up. For adult children it brings the issue of who’s in control to the forefront. It’s a battle of wills and what is the adult child going to use for leverage? If the parent-adult child relationship is still parental and hasn’t become more peer-to-peer this discussion is even harder.

The following questions may help you in your conversation with your mother or father on this emotionally fraught issue.

What’s the solution to driving? The loss of independence is a valid fear for an older adult. The United States was built for cars. We don’t have easily accessible, convenient transportation. Some cities do better than others, but if your parents live in a suburb or rural area transportation is usually the car. Remember getting your license and the freedom that came with it? From that point on most love the ability to go wherever they want whenever they want.

Give some serious thought to how your mother or father will get where they need to go. There is the practical concern of how they’ll get their groceries or to their appointments. But there’s also another important concern: keeping their social connections, something that has been identified as imperative for positive aging.

How can you take yourself out of the equation? If possible, set your emotions aside and focus on logic. What facts do you have to support your point of view? Try to come up with examples of situations that your mother or father can’t dispute. You might share experiences from friends and neighbors about their elders and their specific driving concerns and issues.

If your relationship with your parent is more one of equals this might be easier but not always. If your relationship is more parental, the conversation is likely to trigger old feelings like inadequacy, frustration, and resentment. If this is the case for you, prepare for it. Identify your parents’ possible objections and your responses. Focus on the facts so emotions won’t sidetrack you. Ask someone who doesn’t have an emotional investment to help you brainstorm objections and responses.

What’s the best approach? If you can, find a recent, real-life example in the news then ask your parent, point blank, what it would be like for them if they had been the one who drove through the front of the store, accidentally hit a child, or hurt themselves, etc. A variation on this is to share how it would be for you.

Another approach is to discuss how their continued driving affects you, other siblings or family members. This approach shouldn’t be used to shame them but to help them see their actions have an effect on others.

It’s unrealistic to expect your parents to be upbeat and happy to have this talk or for this to be resolved in one conversation. So have a continual dialog with your parents about this issue and look for small steps toward change and where you can each compromise.

Would you like to talk about your specific situation?

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