Stephanie Steinbeck: Finding the courage to have ‘the talk’

Stephanie Steinbeck - Contributing columnist

When you were little and your parents prohibited you from doing something, did it sometimes make you want to do it even more? When they told you not to push every button in the elevator, did it make your fingers twitch rebelliously? If so, we are birds of a feather.

There is something about human nature that makes us want to do the undoable, the unwise, the ill-advised. Supposedly we grow out of that as we get older. Have you?

I mention this because it relates to an interesting statistic about senior driving. A study by Liberty Mutual Insurance showed that a full 22 percent of adult children fear that talking to their parents about curtailing their driving will make them even more determined to remain on the road! It seems that we may recognize that rebellious nature not only in ourselves but also in our aging parents.

Liberty Mutual’s study also showed that 31 percent of adult children feared “the talk” because it would be too difficult to find alternative transportation for their parents.

In my next column, I will share with you a number of transportation resources that are available here in our community to help people get where they’re going. For today, though, let’s focus on the reason why 46 percent of adults fear talking with their parents about driver retirement – the fear of hurting their feelings or making them angry.

Just as we did when we were young and pushing our parents’ buttons, as adults, we still love and respect them. We want to avoid injuring their pride; but hopefully, we also love them enough to help them avoid injuring themselves or others.

Last week I shared with you a number of strategies for passively evaluating your parents’ (or your own) driving skills. If you are beginning to have concerns about their welfare, gather your courage and have “the talk.”

All of the experts on this subject, including our own aging experts here at SourcePoint, advise approaching this topic early and often, before it becomes a matter of critical concern or an accident seems imminent. If you notice a few dings in the fender or that your parent seems a bit lost in the grocery store, that’s the ideal time to begin a gentle, ongoing conversation about your concerns. Introduce the subject and allow the conversation to unfold over the course of weeks or even months. This allows you to present your concerns in a tone of love and protection, rather than as an angry mandate to turn over the keys.

Going about it gently and without a dictatorial approach is less stressful for all and gets better results. After all, being told you can’t do something often makes us want to do it more.

As an adult, it’s your parents’ choice whether they will continue to drive, unless a law enforcement agency or court intervenes. As an adult child, it’s your choice whether to have the dreaded talk with them. I encourage you, though, to carefully consider what it means if you opt to forgo that conversation. If you have safety concerns regarding your parents’ driving, choosing not to discuss it means more than avoiding an uncomfortable moment. In reality, it may mean putting their safety at risk as well as that of other motorists.

Our staff at SourcePoint can share with you some tips on how to talk with your parents gently and lovingly about this sensitive subject. Please feel free to call and speak with one of our expert professionals who can guide and assist you.

One piece of advice you will likely receive is to offer your parent a list of alternatives, such as community transportation resources which can help them get where they want to go. Our staff has done that research for you, which I’ll share with you next week.

In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or questions about this topic of senior driving, I would love to hear from you. How do you feel when you consider having “the talk” with an older loved one? What seems challenging, and how do you expect that person to respond? What could our agency do to help make you feel more prepared for having this difficult conversation? Or, if you are an older driver yourself, what wisdom would you share on this subject? I welcome your emails at [email protected], or give me a call at 740-363-6677.

SourcePoint’s goal is to help our community thrive after 55. Please take a moment to let me know how we can help you do just that.

Stephanie Steinbeck

Contributing columnist

Stephanie Steinbeck is director of communications & development at SourcePoint.

Stephanie Steinbeck is director of communications & development at SourcePoint.