The Inevitable Battle for the Car Keys

by Katie Shockley

We know it is coming. We sense the anxiety welling up. How do we say it? What do we say? Can we sneak around behind their backs? What do we do? Ah, the inevitable battle for the car keys, a fight many friends have faced with their aging parents, and the ongoing war I have with my father-in-law.

Our parents have driven longer than we have been alive. What gives us the right to take their independence away? I find myself caught between “honor thy father and mother” and “love thy neighbor.”


Honor thy father-in-law (in my case) – my father-in-law has lived alone for more than 30 years. His car represents his connection to the outside world. Granted, he only drives to the post office and the grocery store, but that is his outside world. I handle driving to doctor’s appointments because he wants me there anyway. To take away his car keys is to threaten his independence. Besides, he sees no reason whatsoever why he should not be allowed to drive.


Love thy neighbor – what about those poor people on the road at the same time he is? He does not drive faster than 20 miles an hour. In the last four years, he has not driven more than 15 miles from his home. In the last two years, that figure drops to 5 miles. I know his reflexes are not what they used to be. What if he forgets to turn on his portable oxygen tank and passes out? I worry about getting a phone call from the emergency room some day that he has injured someone, not to mention himself, in a car accident. So much worry.


Honor thy father-in-law or love thy neighbor. Yes, he is my neighbor and I need to love him, too. But, do I have to love him behind the wheel of a car?


He has been in and out of the hospital three times in the last year or so. Each time, I hold onto his car keys. When he is first released, he really is in no condition to drive, whether he confesses to that or not. This last time, we finally had it out.


It was a Monday and I had taken him to get a diagnostic test. He asked to stop at a fast food place on our way home. After walking from the car to the cashier and back, he was winded, so much so that he asked me to do his grocery shopping for him while he waited in the car. Yet, when I dropped him off at home, he asked for the car keys so he could go to the post office the next day. I told him that I would come by and take him to the post office myself.


On Tuesday I stopped by to take him to the post office. He did not feel up to getting out, so he asked me to take the two packages for him. Yet, he asked me to leave the keys so he could go to another grocery store the following day. I had had enough. Let’s say that we had a conversation.


I told him that it was my responsibility to keep him safe and to monitor his health on behalf of the family. I told him that I did not know what to do with the mixed signals he was feeding me. He does not have the breath or strength to go shopping, yet he wants his car keys back? How am I supposed to read that?


He informed me that he felt fine. I informed him that if he felt fine then he would be able to drive himself to the post office, which he said he could not do.


We negotiated a truce – I would go with him the next time he went grocery shopping, and if he could prove to me that he could walk the entire store, then he would get his car keys back. I am glad I told him how I felt. I am more glad that he listened this time.


Two weeks later, we shopped together, he has the car keys, and I dread a phone call from the emergency room. Or, I could take a friend’s advice and start pulling random wires around and near the engine to stop him.


Prayer: Dear God, I pray for those of us trying to decide how best to care for our aging parents. Help us to balance honor for them and concern for the community. Walk with us during the trying and tiring time in our (and their) lives. Amen.

This guest post submitted by Katie Shockley, licensed local pastor of First UMC Sachse.  You can connect with Katie at her blog.


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