By Jacqueline Miller
“Just wait until they’re driving!”
I’ve been hearing that pronouncement from mom-friends since we huddled together in preschool playgroups and elementary school drop-off.
When we sent our babies off to kindergarten, or sleep-away camp, or even their first day of middle school, one of the parents would remind us that someday these kiddos would be driving. And we’d collectively shudder.
But let me tell you, now that we’re here, and my son is learning to drive, it’s not at all how I’d imagined. And, in the process, I’ve learned three things nobody told me about teaching my teen to drive.
The Positives of Teaching My Teen to Drive
1. I get the one-on-one time I crave.
In my state, after you get a learner’s permit, you need 50 hours of practice driving time with a trusted adult in order to earn your license (among other requirements). This is one of many new and different rules compared to the olden days when I was learning to drive.
This common sense idea, for drivers-in-training to get some real-world experience, came with an unexpected plot twist in my family: I’d be getting coveted one-on-one time with my teen!
At around age 11, both my boys retreated deeper into their rooms and devices. By 13, they wanted little or nothing to do with Mom and Dad. Steadily, as they entered teenagerhood, it’s become more of a chore to engage them in family activities, get them to chat at the dinner table, or even hang out and watch a movie with us.
But now, just about every day without fail, my 15-year-old asks to spend time with me.
Asks. To. Spend. Time. With. Me.
Sure, it’s all part of getting something he wants, those 50 practice hours. But so what? Time together is time together, and I’ll take it.
2. I use the imaginary brake pedal. A lot.
Ok, one cliche is totally true: I try to slam on the imaginary brake pedal. As they take a corner too fast or get a little too close to the car in front of us, I push my foot down, hard and helplessly, from the passenger side.
I thought this was some kind of joke. But no, I actually do it. My husband does, too. It’s a reflex I didn’t know I had until I caught myself doing it, like I didn’t even have a choice.
During our drives together, my son jokingly reminds me to breathe and “unclench.” Which is actually pretty good advice.
So, yes, it is scary being in the car with a new driver. Of course it is. We did a lot of practicing in big empty parking lots before even attempting small streets and working our way up to more populated areas. But it’s also incredibly rewarding to see him learn and improve and, hopefully, eventually master his skills.
And as he figures out how to be a better driver, I’m learning how to be a better passenger and even a halfway decent driving coach. Who knew?
3. I actually have fun.
Going for a latte run together. Belting out tunes on long country highways. Having an errand buddy again.
Last weekend, my son and I enjoyed the sunshine on winding roads out in the sticks. He retraced a favorite biking route through tiny towns lucky to have a single stop sign. And I listened eagerly as he narrated the whole way, pointing out a fishing spot and hidden cemetery.
We laughed. We chatted.
And when it was over, he actually said out loud, “That was the best part of my weekend.” This from a kid who’d gotten together, twice, with his buds over the very same weekend.
And before I could stop myself, I blurted, “It was my favorite part of the weekend, too.” And I really meant it! Because, as he blossoms into a confident driver, I’m acutely aware that soon he’ll be off without me. Even when he accelerates too quickly or I need to remind him to use his turn signal, or when I can’t help but nag about being “extra alert for loose dogs and unpredictable children,” I know I’ll miss these hours together.
My younger self would be incredulous. This very thing I’ve been dreading for years (and bad mouthing so nonchalantly) has remarkably become a bright spot in my teenage parenting years.
What a pleasant surprise to learn that teaching my teen to drive just might turn into a fun, rewarding experience that ultimately brings us closer together.