Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Driving Lessons: SO much more than a rite of passage

The past few months have been quite a ride.  Literally and figuratively.

My eldest son has his learner's permit and is learning to drive.  I *may* have used more of my Lamaze breathing the past few months than I did when he was born!  

Teaching your children to drive is one of those parental rites of passage as much as it is a rite of passage for your child.  It's a milestone in your child's development and in your parenting.  A stepping stone to adulthood for your child.  A stepping stone to letting go and fostering independence in your child for you.  Once they get their driver's licence they are one step closer to fleeing the nest and with that document, they can legally operate a motor vehicle to do so!  It can strike fear into the heart of many parents on many levels!  

It is also an opportunity for the parent to practice safe driving habits.  Your kids will model you, so don't expect them to refrain from talking on their cell phone or texting while driving or at a stop sign if they see you do it. They pay attention to you more than you think. 

Teaching your children to drive is a task that seems to often fall to the dads.  I'd be curious how many moms are the primary educator and supervisor when it comes to teaching their kids how to drive, by choice.  Let me tell you moms, DO IT!  It could transform your relationship with your child in ways you never imagined.

Given his father and I are divorced, and I have more time, responsibility for transportation to soccer and other activities, and an active interest in participating than his father or step-father, the bulk of the parental hours (40 required by the state) of supervised driving have fallen to me.  

I'll admit, at first, it was a bit nerve-wracking.  My husband (his step-father) took him out the first time because he wanted to have that role.  The first time I drove with him, I was a nervous Nellie.  He has improved tremendously (ah, the benefit of practice) and now he actually asks to drive (everywhere) instead of us having to convince him he should.  I'm sure he will be a good driver.  I pray he will always make good choices in his driving.  

Aside from the parental rite of passage that is teaching your child to drive, if you are fortunate, you might just discover an amazing, unexpected gift in the process.  A unique opportunity to capitalize on that one on one situation an enclosed vehicle provides to connect and bond with your child.  You have a captive audience, use it to your advantage!

We spend a lot of time in the car.  A LOT of time.  With soccer practices an hour away, each way, several times a week, there are many hours of having my son as a captive audience and having... a real conversation with him.  About real things.  School.  His girlfriend.  His friends.  What he wants to do when he grows up.  What makes him tick.  What pisses him off. What kind of music he listens to. Where he wants to go to college and why.  It gives me a wonderful opportunity to share with him, educate him about the realities of life now, and in the future, in such a way that he does not feel threatened, and as a result, he's opened up and shared so much more about the inner workings of his mind, his thoughts, and his feelings, than I ever thought he would or even could!  

There is something about being in a confined space without requiring eye contact, in dim light (at night), where somehow, one's guard is dropped, he feels emotionally safe enough to share with me. Something, given his personality and history of avoidance of any meaningful conversation up until this year, I never thought would happen.  Certainly not to the extent that it has.  

As a result, we've connected on a new level.  There is more trust on his part that I'm not the most evil mommy in all the land, but I might actually know something or two about life.  That I really am looking out for his best interest while also trying to teach him the skills he needs to succeed on his own.  There is a vulnerability about him that I've always known was there, but he lets me see now, and accepts my advice.  Okay, at least most of the time he at least listens to what I have to say.  I'm a fan of natural consequences.  I will give him tools and reminders, but I won't do the hard stuff for him.  Not that it stops him from trying to convince me to do so...

I've also seen him really start to blossom.  His humor is definitely an asset (thanks, Dad).  He is compassionate and sweet.  He struggles with confidence and shyness, although it's not nearly as profound as it used to be.  He's starting to not only grow those feathers, but starting to stretch them out a bit.  He's figured out (FINALLY), how I work and why.  He actually tries to accommodate my needs because he's learned he's much more likely to get what he wants if he does his part. He's becoming a fine young man. He's starting to become eager to get his license and fly.  Such a change from a year ago when he wasn't sure he even wanted to apply for his permit when he was able and was afraid of operating a vehicle!

Knock me over with a feather. 

I'm kind of sad our days of driving lessons and supervised driving are coming to a close.  He is eligible to take his license test in mid-May.  Then, he will no longer require my presence.  I fear he will reject it.  The right of passage will have passed.  He will be one step closer to independence.  I will be one step closer to my baby bird leaving the nest.  I'm not ready! 

You can bet that our last few sessions in the car together will involve discussions around the importance of connection to your family, safety, and imparting whatever other knowledge and insight I can about life's lessons I can. 

I am so grateful that we've had this opportunity together.  The one on one time has been such a gift. After all the challenges we had in his early childhood and the struggles he had with anger management and ADHD, he is turning into a really amazing, bright, mature, compassionate, and articulate young man.  

In those tears I'm sure I'll shed, will be ones of pride.  I guess I've done an okay job after all.  I hope he remembers this experience as fondly as I will.  

So when it comes time to teach your child to drive, embrace the opportunity. It's truly a gift in many ways, especially if you long to connect with your child on a new level.  

Those driving lessons are about so much more than learning to drive.  They are about learning to live, love, laugh, cry, and be a good human.  They are about parent and child and establishing, in a way, your future relationship, at least, it presents that opportunity to you.  It can be so much more than just learning how to operate a motor vehicle and the rules of the road.

Seize the opportunity!  It really does go by fast.  When he asks for the keys, I might panic.  Not because I'm worried about his driving, but because my baby is growing up!  I promise you, I'll be less worried than I was 6 months ago, and not just because of his improvement in skill.  Because I feel like we have a much better relationship now.  

*smushy heart*