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For many years, we have shared a 500-foot long driveway with people, whom I will call ON. ON, who are now 87 and 97, have been going South every fall and winter for nearly 15 years. This year, for (only mildly compelling) family reasons, they are planning to spend January here, here being the suburbs of DC.

We are on friendly terms with them, but are close acquaintances rather than friends. We do not know their family except to wave to.

I am dismayed at their being here for January. I don't think they remember the heavy snows and power failures that January can bring. I don't think they remember that our driveway is literally impassable for any but a 4WD (which they do not have) if more than a few inches have fallen, nor how icy it is when it starts to thaw. One of them has already broken a hip.

What can we say to ON so that they will reconsider staying North this January? We have to be subtle. They are very touchy about everything, and always have been. They could wind up being housebound for literally weeks if a major storm hits. As I said, we do not know their family at all well. They have only one other near neighbor and she will be evacuated by her family before the first flake falls.

In summary: I am asking for advice on how to tell very touchy people who are not accustomed to listening to anyone about anything that they may be letting themselves in for more than they can cope with.

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    What's the issue? You're worried that they've forgotten how snow affects their mobility? – Azor Ahai -- he him Nov 13 '17 at 22:28
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    So really your question is more like "How do I remind my elderly neighbors what winter is really like here?" Because I don't see why you're fretting about plowing – Azor Ahai -- he him Nov 13 '17 at 23:43
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    @AytAyt I have given up suggesting repaving the paved portion of the driveway (for which we would pay half, or even all), although it badly needs it. They have no problem with cleanup work getting done as if by magic. – user1760 Nov 13 '17 at 23:43
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    This seems like a tough situation, but I'm not sure it's on-topic. As I understand it - and do correct me if I'm wrong - you kind of seem to be asking for folks to outline your argument. – HDE 226868 Nov 14 '17 at 0:53
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    @HDE 226868 I am asking for advice on how to tell a very touchy person who is not accustomed to listening to anyone about anything that she may be letting herself in for more than she can cope with. – user1760 Nov 14 '17 at 1:00
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I am asking for advice on how to tell a very touchy person who is not accustomed to listening to anyone about anything that she may be letting herself in for more than she can cope with.

I'm not sure that can be done. People who don't want to listen will just not listen.

However, you can try and work descriptives of how bad the winter is into every day conversation with them. For instance, you might be casually chit-chatting about the weather and then you work into it something like:

I just hope this winter the driveway won't be completly unusable for weeks again

The point here is, if someone is determined not to listen and take advice from others, they're not going to. But what you can do is work small details into other conversations that will make them reconsider their own position. This has several advantages:

  • It doesn't usually come across as preachy
  • It feels like they reached the conclusion themselves and aren't just taking a stranger's advice (this is important)
  • It still gets your point across
  • You might hear something in response that makes you reconsider your stance on the issue - maybe the family is coming to help them out and it might not be that bad.

Outside of that, you can also offer your help for some of the more brutal side effects of the winter. Doing so early might make them reconsider staying without you telling them explicitly. But be ready to follow through on these help offers if push comes to shove. Might even improve your relationship with them.

The key here is to give advice without blatantly sounding like you don't think they know what they're getting into.

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  • +1 Helpful. I'll have maybe two conversations with them before January, about yardwork. At that time, I'll ask them what their plans for plowing are. That can lead in to a few stories about the storms they have missed. – user1760 Nov 14 '17 at 17:59
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how to tell very touchy people who are not accustomed to listening to anyone about anything that they may be letting themselves in for more than they can cope with.

So you're saying they're not going to listen to you. So don't tell them what to do. Avoid anything like "you should..." or "If I were you..." Maybe try causal stories about your experiences, or questions neighbours could have.

I would assume they're older than you, and have probably lived there longer than you, so they should know what to expect and don't see a problem with it. But if they really haven't been through a whole winter, then the questions/conversations below might help warn them without saying "you're too old for this, get out of here," which might be honestly true, but exceedingly rude.

You could ask them some questions about shared winter preparations:

  • If they want to split the cost of having the shared driveway plowed, or hiring someone to shovel the walkways
  • Want to split buying some emergency wood / propane / food (even if it says "good for 10 years" you don't really want to eat any after 1 or 2 ;-)
  • If they have an emergency generator you could use, or if you have one then if they want to buy their own cord & you'll share a few hours of power?
  • If you're having any winter prep work done to your house (having a generator transfer switch / outside plug installed, or a new roof or sidewalks) ask if they're interested too, the contractor will already be there & maybe give them the same price?

If they're being friendly & have lived there a very long time, you could try asking them what winters were like when they were young, or if they remember any particularly large storms. That might jog their memory. Or maybe they grew up in Alaska and have no fears from experience? Could be a good time to share your winter storm stories too, and could get them thinking.

Saying you're thinking of leaving for January and asking where they usually spend winters & how it's better/worse than Florida/Arizona/California is another idea, you could talk a little about what you don't like about the snow & work you have to do.

Or the next time their family stops by, walk over and talk to them & ask their family who will be taking care of them for the winter, and ask them some of the same questions above. If their family is concerned, then let them try convincing the very touchy people. You can get an emergency contact name & number too, just in case, and if it's someone new try calling them to a) confirm and b) ask the same questions.


I'm not sure how active they are, but some 97 & 87 year olds don't get out much anyway. If it'll only be "bad" for a few weeks they might just stay in & not even notice? If they are very active, then telling the story about the winter you were stuck in your house for a week (if that happened)

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    +1 because this would be excellent advice for most people. They really don't know what to expect -- the man has never experienced a winter here, and the woman last experienced a winter here 15 or more years ago. They are very active, socially, and go out every day when they are here. They have no emergency generator, no kerosene heater, no wood burning stove, no camp stove -- only a fireplace. (Also no sidewalks.) They would be outraged if I dropped in to ask a family member who was going to take care of them. Who will plow the driveway is the only opening I have. – user1760 Nov 14 '17 at 17:40
  • Thanks! If they'd really get outraged by just talking to their family, that's probably another red flag. Still, could try talking to the relatives outside before the ONs see them or you... just being a friendly concerned neighbour while you're outside already for some other reason. I'll edit a little too, since they really might not know how a winter goes – Xen2050 Nov 15 '17 at 3:08
  • You have some excellent suggestions, but these are people who are used to giving orders. And they don't need to be "taken care of", in normal circumstances. I would never, never talk to their family about taking care of them. I will discuss plowing with them. And vividly describe Snowzilla. This has been very helpful, because it has made me think through what I can do -- and what I am not willing to do. Thanks! – user1760 Nov 15 '17 at 5:27
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I would say that a good way to get touchy people to reconsider such a thing without risking conflict is to get into a conversation about it while avoiding mentioning what you think they should do.

I doubt they have forgotten how bad the winter gets, it is more likely that they are stubborn and embarrassed at needing help. Starting up some idle chatter about winter or their change of plans should give you some more insight into their situation to help you steer the conversation into other alternatives for how they will manage over the winter. Then perhaps you could tell them about your other plans this winter and the times you won't be around which will push them towards finding another alternative, while never requiring you to actually say this to them and risk offence. I would say something like:

I heard you aren't staying with your family this year, did they finally get sick of you? (hahaha)

The winters have been getting pretty tough recently; I couldn't even get out of the driveway last year so I've decided to go skiing this year so that I'm not sitting around stuck at home again.

Now my advice is not to lie, it's never really the best for IPS. But if you can find some event that you are doing to substitute for skiing and can say it in a way that makes them realise you won't be available to help 24/7, then it would have the same effect.

Also, forgive me if I am wrong, but it seems as though you are worried about the rather significant task of taking care of them falling to you. In this case there are some things you can do even if they decide to stay. Depending on your country, there is a good chance your government has an aged care system in place for situations such as these, where they will provide home assistance in effort to allow for comfortable living outside an old age home for as long as possible. Providing a helpful tip about this free service, or even calling yourself will allow you to rest easy knowing that someone is aware of their situation and will take care of odd tasks to make sure they are safe. Also, if they are really dependent then these people would do your dirty work for you and suggest that it might be easier to get some help or go stay with family after all.

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  • +1 because this would be excellent advice for anyone else. They are never embarrassed about anything, they never stay with family (they have three houses, the southern one with a full time housekeeper, and commute regularly among them) and, as for free home care assistance, there are probably means tests that would make them ineligible. But thanks! – user1760 Nov 14 '17 at 17:44
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I sent ON an e-mail about yard-work this weekend (we share a yard crew) and, at the end of the e-mail, suggested, in preparation for a possible January storm, that they get on someone's to-plow list (because the driveway is impassable for any but 4WD if more than a few inches falls) and said that we would get and position several bags of sand (because thaw/freeze makes it very icy).

In summary, I assumed they were going to stay for January and merely suggested how to divide the work of arranging to clear the driveway and the paths to the cars and mailboxes if a January storm hits. (All costs split 50/50.)

I thank everyone who contributed to this Q, because it helped me think through what I was willing to do and what I was not willing to do. Of course, in an emergency, I would do all I could to help, but I'm not going to become anyone's nanny.

Several people suggested talking to their family, but they are fully mentally competent adults, and interjecting myself between fully mentally competent adults and their family (even if I knew the family well) is not something I would ever do. If my suggestion about how to deal with ice does not give them pause, then so be it.

A final word on "not remembering what it is like": this was not meant to imply dementia, of which they have not the tiniest trace. One can remember a storm of 15 years ago as fun, but if one thinks about it seriously now, one realizes it will not be fun at all. When I think back on the great storm of 1996, what I remember most is skiing down our driveway and being irritated that the road was already plowed and hence un-skiable.

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