You’ve heard the expression, all good things must come to an end. Sometimes this means an end to driving.
It today’s episode, I share...
Every day, I get questions from physicians, social workers, nurses, friends, and so many others about older adults and driving. So, I decided to create a series on driving in the hopes that it will help you to navigate a very difficult topic for many families.
This episode will help you tackle this difficult conversation with grace and confidence!
Before you have this conversation with your parent, take the time to prepare. And, I mean, really prepare. Here’s how!
1. Ride in the car with them and see how they do (you may be surprised to find that they’re actually a good driver)
2. Take stock of the past 6 months. How many times have they:
3. Think of who in your parent’s life had a smooth transition to stopping driving and keep these names and their stories handy.
4. Pull out the list of transportation options from my video last week, which lists all sorts of driving alternatives.
My hope is that if you’ve been following along in my driving series that you and your aging parent have started the conversation long before they need to stop driving.
Most people DO NOT like negative surprises (i mean, some people don’t even like positive surprises), so the sooner you can start talking with your aging parent about safe driving while aging, driving retirement, and signs for stopping driving, the better.
Having a conversation about stopping driving is super stressful, so it’s a good idea to talk it through with someone you trust before you bring it up with your aging parent (you know, like a dress rehearsal).
This has a couple of benefits:
Which brings us to number four!
It’s normal to have all sorts of feelings about your parent stopping driving AND feelings about having to have this conversation in the first place. Any of these sound familiar?
And so many more!
Processing your own feelings before talking with your parent will help you to stay focused, grounded, and empathic when you actually have this conversation.
Working through your feelings first is an important step, so please take the time to do it.
When the time has come to have this conversation, it’s best to meet one on one, so your aging parent doesn’t feel attacked or ganged up on. The tone should be calm, compassionate, and helpful. This is a conversation, not an intervention, and not a confrontation.
Start by asking “How’s it going with driving?” Or, “I noticed that you have some scrapes and dents on the car, I wanted to check in with you about how things are going with your driving.” Then listen to your parent. You might even ask follow up questions like: “have people been making comments to you about your driving? Or, honking at you on the road?”
When there’s an opening, ask, “I’ve noticed some things, too. Can I share them with you?” Then share some objective examples. Start out slow and be clear. Don’t list everything wrong!
After a bit of discussion, ask, “Have you thought about when the time will be to stop driving?”
Then be honest and compassionately share your concerns, like, “I’m really concerned about you when you drive given the accidents lately, I think it would help to come up with a plan together. What do you think?”
When you share examples, it’s important to remain as objective as possible. And, remember, this is a conversation! When it turns into a confrontation or an argument. STOP. (And, you know how to do that because, like me, you’re a perfect driver.)
Just like YOU have all sorts of feelings about your parent stopping driving, your parent will have all sorts of feelings about stopping driving, too.
If you make the time to work through your own feelings, it’ll be so much easier to be empathic when your parent expresses their feelings.
Your parents may have some of these feelings:
And so many more!
The more steady and grounded you are in this conversation, the more your parent will be able to feel their way through this major change in their life. And, yes, this is a MAJOR change in life.
So, Here are some tips for being empathic:
Soften your tone and practice listening. Listen for the anger, sadness, and fear. Don’t run away from your parent's feelings, instead, move toward them by trying these empathic statements:
Now, I want to tell you what not to say!
Don’t say: “I know how you feel”. This is not an empathic statement and I'll tell you why.
By simply saying "I know how you feel", you aren't taking the time to understand the feelings and you definitely aren't putting yourself in a position to share in the feelings. Saying I know how you feel shuts down the conversation, rather than opening the conversation up.
Giving your parent the room to express themselves with you listening and being empathic will help them adjust to stopping driving AND strengthen the relationship between you.
Acknowledge that this is a difficult subject for everyone and be respectful of your aging parent.
You may have been thinking about your parent stopping driving longer than they have, so give them some space and grace to adjust to this idea of stopping driving.
Don’t label or call names, like “you’re demented, you have to stop driving”, or “you’re acting like a child”, or “you’re so stubborn and rigid”- this will push them away and make them lose trust in you. Use respectful language, even when you're frustrated.
Another way to be respectful, is to respect that this is a process and that it will take some time for your parent to adjust to this change in their life.
When talking with our parents, it can be so easy to get sucked into old relationship dynamics and patterns. Like...
“Ugh, she’s always been stubborn, I’ve never been able to get through to her. She’s never been able to see me- never really listened to me!”
If this happens, all sorts of feelings are gonna bubble to the surface and you may feel the need to protect yourself by arguing or shutting down. Unfortunately, these leads to ineffective communication… leaving you both disappointed.
So, during the conversation, if your mind (or feelings) shift back to times in your relationship where there has been pain or conflict, simply notice it, and shift the focus back on the conversation about driving.
After this conversation is over and if that pain or conflict is still lingering, don’t stuff it! Instead, talk it through with someone you trust like your partner, best-friend, or therapist. This is VERY important.
This conversation about driving may be the first of many painful conversations to come. The more you can take care of yourself by working through feelings, and healing some of those old wounds, the calmer this journey into aging with your parent will be.
You and your aging parent are gonna have to find a way to be on the same team. Indeed, you'll be working together for years to come.
You might ask them to come up with next steps so you don’t have to do all of the work and so that this experience is shared.
You could offer some suggestions for next steps, like:
If you’re concerned about your aging parent’s driving and worry they’re no longer safe behind the wheel, there are several things you can do to make sure that they’ve tried everything and that this really is the time to stop driving. Link to my episode, where I share 5 tips for safe driving here!
Even if your parent completed a safe driving course or a professional driving assessment in the past and been deemed safe on the road, things can change. If you have new concerns, it may be worthwhile to do another assessment to see where your parent is now.
It can help to know that often older adults prefer to hear from professionals that they are no longer safe to drive, rather than family members.
This makes sense. When we start driving, we need to get a driver’s license by going through a series of tests from a third party. A similar thing may need to happen to help your parent stop driving.
All right, so those are the10 tips for talking with your aging parent about stopping driving without pushing them away!
It’s important to acknowledge that driving is a really complicated issue for many people with aging parents. Because of this, I created a free Caring for Aging Parents Roadmap to Safe Driving here or simply click the image below!
I’ll see you next week where I’ll talk with you about what to do if your aging parent is not safe to drive, but refuses to stop driving!
Lots of love to you and your family!
Dr. Regina Koepp
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I'm a Stanford trained, Board Certified Clinical Psychologist specializing with older adults and families! I'm an Assistant Professor at Emory University School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, and a staff Psychologist working with older adults and families at the Atlanta VA Health Care System. I'm a mom of two little kids and a daughter to aging parents.
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