Asking Parents to Give Up Their Keys

by | Feb 21, 2016

One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was to ask my mother and my mother-in-law to give up their car keys. Doing it with each of them on the same day (since they both lived with us) was especially difficult.

Our moms loved running their own errands and driving to meet with friends, so I knew it would be painful for them to give up that freedom and bow to yet another limitation of growing older.

Recognizing the delicacy of these conversations, I was careful to apply each step in the PAUSE principle of negotiation. By God’s grace, both conversations turned out well.

That’s not always the case in such situations, as illustrated in two video clips from the television series, Blue Bloods (used with permission). In this first clip, Frank Reagan (played by Tom Selleck) clumsily approaches his father, Henry, about a dent in his car. Within a minute, sparks are flying …

Frank made several mistakes. Although he knew this issue was looming, he failed to plan how to approach his father in a timely and thoughtful manner. He made no attempt to develop and show empathy. When he saw the dent, he reacted impulsively, allowing his emotions to cloud his judgment. And as soon as his father became defensive and angry, Frank allowed his emotions to be hijacked as well.

Now watch this second clip, in which Frank’s daughter, Erin, approaches the situation a day later with far greater empathy, wisdom and success.

Erin models incredible other-awareness and other-engagement. She’s lovingly built “social capital” with her grandfather over the years, so when she asks him to hear her out, he patiently complies.  She sits at eye level, leaning in to reinforce a personal connection. Her warm facial expression, steady eye contact and tender tone of voice all communicate love and concern … not condescension or coercion.

Most importantly, Erin begins her comments with a gentle statement of love, affirmation and respect:

“Grandpa, ever since you put that ring on Grandma’s finger, you have watched over this family with unconditional love and unwavering devotion…. We are who we are today because of you. We learned from the best. And you taught us that loving someone sometimes means asking them to do what they think is impossible.”

Henry is clearly uncomfortable with the situation, but as his facial expressions show, Erin’s approach touches his heart and lowers his guard. More importantly, Erin’s example inspires her father. Seeing the wisdom of her approach, Frank follows her lead by softening his voice and affirming his love and respect for his father:

“Pop, you’re my Mickey Mantle.”

Five short words, gently spoken, pull down the wall that’s stood between these two proud men since their earlier confrontation. Frank goes on with the same tender voice and warm facial expression:

“The last thing in the world I want to do is to say you’ve lost a step. But I love you, and I want to have you around for a long time. So I’m asking, would you please give me your keys?”

Frank and Erin’s wise and gracious approach enables Henry to overcome his pride and come clean about denting his car … and to acknowledge that it really is time to give up his keys. Knowing that these men want to truly reconcile but are too reserved to make the first move, Erin does it for them.

An awkward hug turns into a genuine embrace, and an explosive issue is turned into an opportunity to learn, to grow and to truly love.

– Ken Sande

Reflection Questions

  • Biblical negotiation is based on passages like these: Philippians 2:3-4; Matthew 22:39; 1 Corinthians 13:5; Matthew 7:12. How did Erin model some of these principles?
  • The PAUSE principle of negotiation involves five simple concepts:
    • Prepare (pray, get the facts, seek godly counsel, develop options)
    • Affirm relationships (show genuine concern and respect for others)
    • Understand interests (identify others’ concerns, desires, needs, limitations, or fears)
    • Search for creative solutions (prayerful brainstorming)
    • Evaluate options objectively and reasonably (evaluate, don’t argue)
  • How did Erin and Frank’s affirmation of Henry put their discussion on a different track?
  • If you needed to approach an aging parent about giving up her car keys, what interests (Phil. 2:3-4) could you appeal to? (When I approached our mom’s, I commended them for having driven all their lives without hurting anyone, and then asked, “Wouldn’t you like to finish your driving career with that same perfect record?”)
  • How could you apply the “Search” and “Evaluate” concepts in a discussion about giving up driving?
  • One of the things that made my conversation with our Mom’s turn out well was that they had each cultivated gracious, thankful, and humble attitudes throughout their lives. If you’d like to learn how follow their example, see this tribute to The Two Treasures.
  • For insights on other issues related to aging, see these blog posts.

Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like.

© 2016 Ken Sande

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