Sage Advice: Elderly Mom "Drives" Her Kids Crazy

By Amy Dickinson | July 25th, 2018

Independence can be hard to give up ... but what if it's putting others in danger?


Dear Amy: My mother is 89 years old. At 85, she declined to renew her driver’s license, acknowledging that it was time she stopped driving. However, she still has access to two cars and drives each around the block once a week to keep them running.

My siblings and I have told her that her behavior is irresponsible, illegal and dangerous, but she ignores it. She has developed contacts (friends, relatives, Uber) to transport her to activities, but last week she told one of my siblings, “I’m still driving the car around the block, and you’re not the boss of me.”

What is the best way to handle this? Since she has no license, the DMV will be no help. We have tried reasoning with her, but that hasn’t worked. Should I call the police and report her?

– Concerned Daughter

Dear Daughter: Do you know for certain that your mother is driving around the block? Or is she merely telling you and your siblings that she is doing this, in order to remind you that she is still in charge of her own life?

It is illegal for unlicensed drivers to drive – even around the block. Your mother knows this, and in some sense, her choice to do this proves that she isn’t being a very good boss to herself. This choice shows poor judgment.

Is your mother keeping up the registration and insurance on two cars? This seems a needless expense.

You and your siblings have told her what to do – probably repeatedly. But have you asked her substantial and open-ended questions lately, and listened carefully to her answers. Say, “This choice of yours doesn’t seem logical, and so I’m wondering – can you tell me why you are still driving?” Sit quietly and listen to her response. And then sit quietly and listen to the next three (or 10) things she says. Just hear her out.

When she is done, respond compassionately: “I’m really so sorry, Mom. I can tell this is hard. You were always the wheels in the family! When I think of all those soccer practices and family vacations…”

I’m asking you to help her let go.

Don’t threaten, wag your finger, or tsk tsk her. You are not an 89-year-old woman. You don’t know what it feels like. Be humble enough to recognize this.

After you have this calmer and more compassionate encounter with your mother, you’ll have to use your own judgment regarding what to do. If you place a non-emergency call to the local police station, an officer might be willing to swing by to check on her and confirm that she is not driving – even around the block – without a license.

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2018 by Amy Dickinson

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