Many boomers find themselves contending with one of the most distressing problems they will ever have during this time of their lives, and that is helping their parents understand that they soon will be giving up the car keys and their driver licenses. The reason it’s important to understand how, when and why to make this big change is because – our turn is coming!
It’s more than a little distressing for me to think of not being able to drive. This is due to a number of reasons:
- I want – in fact I need – to be independent
- I live in a location where public transportation is either nonexistent or difficult to find – will I be able to walk where I need to go?
- Change is hard – always – and this change will affect every area of my life
It’s reasonable to expect that our parents would also have the same or at least similar feelings about this important life change. So, what is the best way to handle this (almost guaranteed to be difficult) problem?
First, since we know this is a situation that – given we live long enough – is coming to us, a great starting point is to consider how we would like to be treated at this time. The golden rule is always applicable!
It’s also a good idea to keep the following considerations in mind when planning this move. How can we make our parents continue to feel independent, help them understand any transportation alternatives that are available, and help them feel like they are capable of making this change in their lives, all the while giving up the car keys? How can we make sure of this for ourselves down the line? If we are able to plan this move ahead and understand the dynamics involved, this may also make the burden on our children much easier, too. And if we don’t have children to help us in the future, that makes these preparations even more important!
Second, one of the things we really shouldn’t do is to make this appear to be a unilateral dictate (because people are always more amenable to a decision they helped make). Also, be really ready with a list of the alternatives that will help make it easier for your parents to get around, and emphasize the positives, both for the elderly driver and yourself in the future. (Positives might include less stress, more time to read or converse or listen to music, and the lack of worry about getting lost. Don’t worry about naming any negatives – your parents will be able to do that all on their own – and so will you, when the time comes.) Taking these steps in advance will make the changes easier to handle.
Finally, remember that your parents (and you) need to retain as much dignity as possible during this difficult time. Please don’t switch their keys out for a non-working set, or otherwise try to fool them. Don’t put an alarm on their vehicle, hide the vehicle, or sell the car without their permission. The only time I would suggest doing any of these things is if your parent truly has lost their ability to reason, such as if they are afflicted with Alzheimers or other cognitive disease. In other words, if they become a danger to others and lack the capability of understanding the danger they present, then if they cannot be convinced to leave this area of their lives behind, it might be necessary to engage in some subterfuge.
Unless that is the case, though, please be gentle and remember how you will want to be treated yourself when – not if – the time comes for you to take this step.