Miss Conduct

Advice: My parents are angry that I told them they need to stop driving

My brother agrees, my sister does not. And my parents are definitely not taking it well.

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The last time I visited my parents, I realized their driving endangers others. My brother and sister live near them; he agreed, she did not. My father had assured me they would willingly stop driving when the time came, but my parents were angry. I know they are adults and that “telling” them what to do infuriates them, but I feel ethically responsible if I don’t. We brought up alternate services, which we can afford, but they don’t want those, they want to drive. (My mother did say she would abide by an independent assessor’s opinion of her driving.) What could I have done to handle this better?

B.M./ Boston

Writer and doctor Atul Gawande has observed that we want autonomy for ourselves and safety for those we love. This is one of the most painful dilemmas of eldercare. They want independence. You want reassurance.

But in this case, your parents’ safety is not the only factor. There are other people to think about. You are right to be concerned. If your mother has agreed to an independent assessor, take her up on the offer — that sounds like an excellent option. Driving safety isn’t one of those “nice to have” luxuries. This is, in the unfortunate phrasing, a hill to die on.

I’m sorry your parents are angry. You seem conscientious and respectful, and probably handled the situation as well as anyone could. You can apologize for how you broached the topic, if that will smooth the waters, but don’t let yourself be deterred from having the conversation. Just because someone gets mad at you doesn’t mean you did something wrong, even when it’s your parent (despite a childhood’s worth of programming). You may well be facing the first of such difficult conversations, so start getting used to this now. I wish you courage and the best of luck.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.