Coping When My Kid’s at the Wheel

FucaI was commiserating with a group of moms recently whose kids are all beginning drivers. It’s a new thing for all of us, but the sensation is familiar. We’re happy to see the end of the mommy chauffer days, sure, but that happy comes with a healthy helping of dread.

It’s taken a while, but I’m learning to cope with the mixture of exultation and anxiety that’s an ongoing theme of parenting. That Oh hooray, he’s starting to crawl sensationtempered by the oh crap, we’re going to have to babyproof the whole house feeling.

Of course, each new driver has his or her own thing. One woman despaired of her daughter ever agreeing to drive on the freeway, or to push the car above 30 mph.

My son needs to come to grips with the fact that a learner’s permit does not a Dale Earnhardt Jr. make.

I mean, unless that’s the actual name on the card and your dad is Dale Earnhardt Sr.

This is not something my 15 year-old cares to hear. What he apparently wants to hear is how he’s a natural; that he drives like he was born with one foot on the gas pedal.

Which leads to the list of the various mental reminders I’ve compiled for a successful car trip with my teenager:

Don’t comment when he asks what I think of his driving. It’s a trap.

While under extreme duress (such as when I’m careening down the road in a flimsy contraption of steel and rubber and plastic filled with highly flammable liquid, for example, piloted by someone who is frequently too distracted to put his dirty socks in the laundry basket), I may be tempted to say something falsely flattering.

Because that’s what I do when in fear for my life.

And anyway, any comments I make about his driving chops will be leveraged later on.

“What do you mean I can’t drive myself to my friend’s house? You said that I’m a natural. I got skills like Mario Andretti.”

No. I think you misheard me, as you were busy making that insanely wide turn into our neighborhood, going at a speed which could have lifted us onto two wheels. I think what I actually said was: “Slow the hell down, you are not, Mario Whatshisface.”

Don’t make promises. If he asks while he’s driving, I may be tempted to grant permission for the concert he wants to see next month. This is because I’m distracted by my life flashing before my eyes.

Here’s my new mantra: “We’ll talk when we get home.” After the car is safely in the garage and I have my wits about me and a beer in hand, that’s when I want to vet requests about concerts and such.

Change the subject when he initiates conversations about fast cars or the people who drive them. Certain themes tend to increase the weight of his foot on the accelerator.

Instead, introduce a topic that will make him want to stop talking all together.

“Did you know that Fast and Furious Eight is coming out this weekend?”

“It is? Oh darn, I won’t be able to go, though. Aunt Flo is visiting.”

“What? We have an Aunt Flo?”

“Not we, silly, I mean me. I’m menstruating. Didn’t you learn about menstruation in school? Should we have that talk?”

“Mom, no. Stop.”

“I mean, because we can pull over and have a quick face-to-face about the birds and the bees. I have time.”

“Knock it off, really. You’re not funny and I’m trying to drive here.”


Don’t babble. At first, I kept a running narrative when my son was driving. I rambled about maintaining a safe distance from other cars, being cautious about pedestrians, the merits of keeping one’s hands at “ten and two,” and so forth.

At some point, I realized I was getting tuned out. Words of caution are best delivered in a level voice, in a matter-of-fact manner.

“Please apply the brake before we die in a fiery crash. Thank you so much.”

Manage my tone. Yelling in my family elicits an immediate and proportionate reaction from the person being yelled at. This could lead to someone not paying as much attention to his driving as he should. People around here tend to freak out when I’m freaking out.

I really should find a productive use for that particular super power.

Don’t take that call. My caller might notice my voice fluctuates like that of a prepubescent boy at random intervals when I’m a passenger.

Which will lead to my explaining to my caller how my life is flashing before my eyes, which in turn will make me sound overly dramatic at best, or at worst like a crazy woman who needs a cocktail.

Share the love. It’s really time someone’s dad takes a turn as passenger. We’ll have that conversation when I get home, and the car is safely in the garage, I have a beer in hand, and have managed to stop shaking.


A vote will go a long way toward calming my nerves. Thank you.



Photo by: Alberto

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  1. My daughter\’s 19 now, but I remember the days of riding shotgun while convinced that she was going to clip every mailbox in the neighborhood. I also learned that in small neighborhoods, sometimes there aren\’t stop signs where streets intersect. And kids don\’t instinctively realize they have to stop anyway. That was a fun day.

    Anyway, one down, one to go. I\’ve got four more years before I have to gear up to do it all over again with my son. Somehow I think that\’s going to be more challenging.

    1. It\’s good that you and I seem to have ample time between kids, although that doesn\’t appear in your case to have dimmed the memory.

      Oh yeah, the intersection right of way thing has been an issue for us as well. Never dull.

  2. I wish this was something kids just learned on their own.
    My 16-year-old son, who has had a learner\’s permit for nearly a year, refuses to get behind the wheel! I feel like either I or his future wife be driving him to his job when he\’s 30 years old.
    On the other hand, my 14-year-old daughter wears me out begging to drive. She tries to jump in the driver\’s seat every time we get in the car. I let her drive a little bit if we\’re in a rural area visiting family, but her confidence makes me much more nervous than my son\’s reluctance!

    1. That is so interesting about your son. I don\’t know what you do in that case. Give him a bus schedule, maybe?

      And yes, I do believe your daughter\’s behavior means you\’d probably better have your guard up. Good thing you\’re working with her now.

  3. I only have a two year old and I am already dreading the day! My Mom refused to drive with us until we had had our license for a solid 3 years and would then clutch her purse and constantly hit the imaginary break for another 2 after that. And with good reason. My oldest brother backed into the neighbor\’s yard the very first time he got in the driver\’s seat!

  4. These are great coping tips that I\’ll for sure need in a few years when my oldest is old enough to start driving. Thank you!

  5. LOL, I love this post and can SOOOO relate! My son is in Driver\’s Ed right now and it\’s stressing me out! He\’s a very cautious driver (so far!), but I worry he\’s a little bit spacey. He will be driving on the freeway for the first time next week and I\’m terrified!!! I took him driving last night and I told my husband it\’s his turn tonight! I hope one day I\’ll be able to feel comfortable and confident with his driving. So scary!!

  6. I can\’t remember anything scarier than teaching my sons to drive. My husband travelled a lot so of course, it fell to the most skittish, least qualified person possible… me. Somehow we survived but I don\’t envy anyone in that position. Just keep repeating, \”Its only a movie.\”