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updated: 7/14/2011 2:28 PM

Relax when it comes to others' lack of safety

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Q. My mom's in her late 50s, otherwise very intelligent, except she disregards basic safety advice that even a 5-year-old knows.

She has a key under the front doormat and ignores my advice to hide it in a better place (or, better yet, not leave one out at all). Worse, she'll take the dog out for walks at night, dressing in nothing but her nightgown with a coat thrown over it, and leave the front door unlocked.

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I caution her that anybody could just walk in the house and be there waiting for her, but she insists she "would see them."

Sometimes I'll stop by the house and find the door unlocked and the windows open ... and nobody home! Finally, she refuses to lock her car doors when she drives around, which not only provides carjackers easy access but is also unsafe in an accident.

She says I'm "paranoid" and that "nothing will ever happen." Daily on the news, I see reports of older women being sexually assaulted or killed, with the attacker gaining access to their home through an unlocked door.

I've gone from asking nicely to literally begging her to follow some basic safety rules. I told her, even if SHE doesn't care, my sister and I do, and we're the ones who would have to live with the trauma for the rest of our lives if anything happened to her.

She finally said she was going to "buy a gun" and that would keep her safe, but I say she'd be more likely to shoot somebody else by mistake and that it would make more sense to take basic precautions.

So, Carolyn, any advice? I know she's an adult and can make her own choices, but I wish she'd make better ones.

Worried about my mom

A. The simplest precaution of all: Stop watching the news.

Older women aren't succumbing in droves to violent intruders. It happens, of course, and it's horrific when it does, but your mom has far more to fear from her car than from malevolent strangers. (On point: Gavin de Becker's "The Gift of Fear.")

Meanwhile, the chances your relationship with your mom, and your quality of life in general, will be hampered by violent crime are running at about 100 percent. Your preoccupation with uncommitted crimes is a dull ache that you already live with every day despite your mother's stubborn, insouciant well-being.

Even if she lived in Crimeville, the fact of her considering a gun purchase ought to be enough to scare you off scaring her as a means of persuasion. It's one thing when all your tactics come to naught; it's quite another when they come to irrational overreaction.

Your mother is fine, and she will be fine until she isn't. And the same goes for her dog, for you, for your sister, and for every other occupant of this mortal sphere.

To lose someone is painful, and to lose someone to preventable causes acutely so. But that doesn't justify writing a new definition of "preventable." It means something you can stop from happening, and you can't stop your mother from living as she chooses.

Accept that, please, and enjoy her. If you try but can't, then consider treating your anxiety as a problem of its own.

• Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

$PHOTOCREDIT_ON$ 2011 The Washington Post $PHOTOCREDIT_OFF$

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