- Written by Dr. Ken Druck Dr. Ken Druck
Who can forget what it was like to give our kids the keys and watch them pull out of the driveway on their first solo ride?
Fostering independence is one of the most important parts of raising a teenager. If our kids act responsibly, they win our trust and earn more privileges. If they don’t, we’re in for a long ride, holding them accountable at every turn.
When our mother and father get older, some of us find ourselves in the same position, except this time it’s with our aging parents.
We get complaints about Dad’s erratic driving from our mother, who’s terrified of getting into the car with him — or from our father telling us, “Your mother’s driving 40 miles an hour on the freeway. Cars are honking and speeding past us at 75, and she won’t listen when I tell her to get out of the fast lane!”
Talking to your aging parents about the changes in their lives like this can be difficult, but it’s a critically important part of being a good son or daughter.
Whether precipitated by a harrowing drive with Dad or a new health concern that could render them dangerously unfit to drive, we need to have “the talk” about giving up driving. And when we do, it’s essential to approach it with patience, understanding, and loving support.
7 Guidelines for Having ‘the Talk’
1. Summon the courage and set a gentle tone for an exploratory conversation with your parent, where you can calmly express your concerns, talk about options, and propose constructive solutions.
To prepare, organize and write down simple, clear talking points you will want to convey.
2. Show compassion, sensitivity, and empathy for how difficult this loss of independence and freedom might be for your parent. Have practical suggestions available for helping your parent adjust to the possibility that their driving days may be coming to an end.
The emotional tone will, of course, depend on your parent’s ability and willingness to face the problem and take action.
3. Decide who is best suited to have this talk with your parent. Might the best person to talk with them be you, or maybe it should be a trusted family member, physician, priest, minister, rabbi, or close friend?
It must be an effective communicator your parent trusts and who can reason with them about something as sensitive as this. Come up with an effective plan for who and how to best approach your parent before rushing into this.
4. Make sure everybody (in your family and who is caregiving your parent) understands what’s going to happen and what role, if any, they will play. Hopefully, things will go well and you’ll come to an agreement — but this isn’t always the case. It may be necessary to resort to a tough-love approach.
Your parent may become angry and defensive — like your kids did when you took away their car keys — because they view this as a major loss of independence.
5. Be loving and supportive but also direct and factual, with a concrete suggestions and a plan for modifying their driving habits. If you are met with resistance, suggest going for an eye exam, taking a driving test, or leaving the decision to their doctor or the DMV.
Set a positive, caring tone at the outset. Be direct in voicing your concerns, but don’t allow the conversation to escalate into an argument. If things are going sideways, step back and allow some breathing room.
A few open-ended questions, such as, “Mom, do you understand why we’re concerned?” or, “What do you propose as a solution, Dad?” or, “What would you do if it were your father and you were worried about his safety?” might get the discussion back on a good track.
6. As you wind down the conversation, summarize what’s been said and decided in a clear statement to your parents, family, caregivers, and anybody else who’s involved so that everybody understands what is now going to happen.
7. Follow through on everything that has been discussed and decided. Continue to help your parents adjust to their new life, acknowledging the benefits that will accompany this change. And continue to hold them accountable.
Take a deep breath and give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done. Being a good son or daughter is sometimes very difficult. So is watching your parents get older.
You can take pride in knowing you’ve done the right thing in assuring their — and other people’s — safety, and in helping them make difficult but necessary quality-of-life decisions and changes.
Dr. Ken Druck is an international authority on healthy aging and author of the new book Raising an Aging Parent (kendruck.com/programs/products). He has spent four decades helping people grow into the more courageous, compassionate, and resilient version of themselves by transforming adversities and losses of every kind into opportunities.