growing pains, Growth, parenting, Teens

Giving Up the Driver's Seat

In 2010 we traded in our Honda Accord for a new, roomier SUV. The Honda Pilot was an easy sell. It’s still our family car today, and in it, we have accumulated far more memories than miles. It has faithfully journeyed with us on road trips, vacations, a cross-country move, and more back-and-forth trips to school, church, and practices than we can count.

We’re currently entering a new milestone with this car. One that is, for me, probably the most sentimental and gut wrenching to date. That little blonde is mere months away from 16, and now SHE’S the one behind the driver’s seat. It’s left me wondering how in the world we got here so fast. Of all the milestones over the years, driving is the one I’m having the hardest time with. (This coming from the mom who cried for weeks leading up to the start of kindergarten).

It’s not easy watching your child become a licensed driver. They still look like a toddler to you, yet somehow have all the confidence of a NASCAR driver every time they sit behind the steering wheel. I’ve been terrified of this moment for years, but now that it’s here, I think we’re going to be ok. I’ve learned a few things along the way that might help as you contemplate your new future as a passenger alongside the person who somehow, just yesterday, spoke with a lisp and had Polly Pockets on her Christmas list.

Getting Started

Once your child turns 15, they are eligible for a learner’s permit. They can earn this by completing a driver’s education course. Do a quick google search for driver’s education courses in your area. Options are much more varied now than they were when we were kids. I remember sitting in a class a few evenings a week, driving around with an instructor and three other kids in the backseat (mortifying) and taking a simple written exam when it was all said and done.

Now, there are still classes your child can go to. But another option is to have your teen take an online driver’s course. I would ONLY recommend this for anyone who has mastered the art of self-discipline, and who might be working around a very busy schedule (sports, after-school job, etc.) that may not allow for evening or weekend classes.

Once the course is completed they will take an exam. Luckily there are practice exams online now that will help your teen prepare for the big day. I do feel the need to share a cautionary tale with you. They do not mess around. I took the practice test myself after my daughter complained that it was confusing and complicated. I’m here to tell you that after taking the test I questioned not only my driving ability, but my intelligence in general.

The level of detailed questioning is astonishing, and it really doesn’t come naturally. I’ve learned a few things, thanks to the enlightenment I received from my daughter and her newfound knowledge from her driver’s ed course.

So for those of you who are failing to signal as you exit a roundabout, you’re apparently doing it wrong.

Wide Open Spaces

Once your teen has their shiny new permit in hand, (or tucked neatly away in a Vera Bradley ID holder with matching lanyard as the case may be), you’re ready to hit the road with them. The driving requirements vary state to state. Check out this website to find out the specific requirements in your state. For us, students are required to accumulate 50 hours of supervised driving time.

Additionally, they need to log 10 hours of nighttime driving. May the Lord bless and keep us.

Getting started can be the most intimidating part, but it’s best if you just rip the band aid off and jump right in. I recommend starting your adventure in a parking lot. Find one that’s empty – a school parking lot on the weekend is a great starting place – and let them get the feel for the car. Begin by having them practice parking, backing out of a space, and signaling as they turn down the rows in the parking lot. This will give both of you a sense of what you’re in for. Is your teen a brake-slammer? Heavy-footed? It’s a great opportunity to set expectations right away, based on your preference and patience level.

Once you feel comfortable with that, you can advance to the neighborhood roads. On our first day out, my daughter drove around a neighborhood for about 45 minutes. It suddenly occurred to me that residents might eventually write down our license plate number and report us for being a suspicious vehicle.

I recommend practicing in multiple neighborhoods.

Back and Forth and Back Again

Over the course of a few weeks, you’ll begin to be comfortable with the idea of having your kid drive you around while running errands, going to school or church, or even just for a weekend drive to log some hours. A great app to use to document driving hours is called Road Ready. It’s a helpful tool to use to keep the hours all logged in one place without having to carry a notebook or paper in the car. You can cite the time of day, road conditions, and type of driving (highway or in town). Just remember to transfer the information to the recording sheet given to you by the DMV.

These early months are a great opportunity for your child to practice the fine art of navigating tailgaters  or searching for a parking spot at Target on a Saturday. This is when they learn the real life stuff. Expect them to make mistakes. It will happen. Your child will likely run into a curb, run a light, hit the side of the garage, and put a few extra scratches on the car. It’s part of the learning process, and best to let them experience the mistakes with you in the car and learn from them.

You will also do plenty of learning yourself in the form of holding back unbecoming words and praying while simultaneously attempting to give instructions in a calm, gentle voice. Just give yourself (and your kid) the grace that’s required when it comes to learning the skill of driving.

Welcome to Freedom

While this new rite of passage can be terrifying, it’s also exciting to think about how helpful it will soon be to have an additional driver in the house. After spending the last 16 years acting as a personal chauffeur, you’re about to be granted the sweet gift of time. You’ll have your life back in a way you never imagined possible.

While it may feel like a struggle to watch your heart get behind a steering wheel and drive away, you’ll soon realize that this is just another step in the growing up process. And YOU helped them achieve this monumental milestone. Just like potty training, it’s a skill you’ll teach them that will last a lifetime. Thankfully, driving is significantly less messy.

Giving up your spot in the driver’s seat is one of those moments in parenting that no one can quite prepare you for. In the blink of an eye, they’ll soon be in charge of making their own decisions as well as their own mistakes. Your role will be far less involved, but no less important. As hard as it is to step aside and let them take the wheel, take some comfort in the fact that you’ve given them what they need to be successful.

Now go and daydream about the day when you’ll get to be in your pajamas at 7:00 pm and send your new driver out for some take-out while you settle in with Netflix and the life you were always meant to have.

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