The car I drive is white, but it might as well be yellow because most days of the week I am a taxi driver.
I don’t mind it, largely because of advice I heard from parents ahead of me when my kids were little.
Through multiple conversations, I began to realize how spending time with my children in the car is a gift to be enjoyed, not a burden to be endured.
First there was the dad who told me how much he enjoyed taking his daughter to school each morning. The 20-minute commute was their special time, a chance for him to stay up-to-speed on her life and have her uninterrupted attention.
Then there was the mom who told me that when your child turns 16 and starts to drive, you begin to lose them. They want to spend more time with friends, less time at home.
While this may not apply to every teen driver – and parents clearly call the shots in how much rope to give – it certainly was the case for me as a teenager. My best memories at age 16 involved driving around with friends, blaring our favorite songs, and enjoying our newfound freedom.
All this to say, I try not to wish my years as a taxi driver away. I try to remember how the constant shuttling of children in Phase II Parenting is only for a season, and one day I’ll miss it. The truth is, many of the best conversations with my kids happen in the car, and here are a few reasons why:
1. I have their undivided attention – and they have mine. Unlike home, the car doesn’t require a juggling act. I’m not distracted laundry, dishes, clogged toilets, etc. My only job is to drive, which frees my mind and makes me more attentive…better able to talk and really listen.
2. Picking my kids up from school and activities allows me to catch raw thoughts and emotions. I can often sense by the way my kids approach my car how things went. Whether school or an activity was good or not. I love being the first to hear about an accomplishment or a disappointment. I like getting their news hot off the press, and even those car rides where they burst into tears over a frustration can be a blessing by opening the door to important dialogue and life lessons.
3. Driving my kids enables one-on-one interaction. When you have multiple kids, it’s hard to carve out alone time. I embrace one-on-one moments whenever they come, using things like a 5-minute drive to dance to tell my daughter how proud I am of her or a drive to a doctor’s visit as an opportunity to get Starbucks before checking back into school.
4. Not facing a person makes it easier to have honest conversations. I once learned in a psychology class that the car is a great venue for hard and awkward conversations because when we look at someone, we may hold back the truth due to fear of their response or embarrassment.
In The Power of Sideways Listening author Joan McFadden talks about the joy of car confessions, and how her kids often spill the beans on their fears and joys as they drive alone with her.
She quotes Dr. Arthur Cassidy, a social media psychologist, as saying, “Sideways listening is unobtrusive and provides the reassurance to offspring that parents are actively listening…sideways listening can be useful at any time within a family, especially as it can be perceived by teenagers as less threatening and might encourage more openness of communication at a time when they naturally keep more from their parents.”
In short, being side-by-side helps parents and kids talk more freely and bravely. In our family, the car has definitely proven to be a great confessional, a place where my kids and I can have real, honest, and deep conversations.
5. Having older kids requires new ways to connect. Gone are the days where my kids open up to me as I tuck them into bed at night. Many nights, my oldest girls stay up later than me finishing homework, and when they go down they want to crash, not chat. Car talks help me keep a pulse on their lives as their lives play out. Being in multiple carpools, I also love carting their friends as well and getting to know them and their fun personalities.
My oldest daughter turned 15 last fall – which means I have one more year as her taxi driver. Already she is pumped up about being behind the wheel, meeting friends for lunch, and taking her sister shopping.
I know it’s natural progression, the inevitable evolution of growing up, but it still makes me sad. She and I have had a lot of DCMs over the years in my car (her term for Deep Meaningful Conversations), and though it will be nice to have an extra driver, I’ll sure miss having her as a regular passenger.
If the walls of my Suburban could talk, they’d have a thousand stories to tell. My car has been filled with laughter, tears, arguments, rap music, praise music, jokes, confessions, prayers, tales from my past, and life advice on every subject – from what to look for in boys to how to handle peer conflict at school.
My parenting completely changed once I realized the value of time in the car. Never did I imagine, as I buckled screaming babies into car seats and watched cranky toddlers throw sippy cups, that one day down the road, taking my kids on the road might actually be fun. I might actually feel grateful that I am a taxi driver because of the conversations and special moments that spontaneously come about.
It’s not possible or practical to always be the driver, but when we are, I believe in making the most of it. Seeing car rides as a chance to connect and embracing the season where the car becomes our second home. Believe it or not, good stuff can happen when people are stuck with each other in a tight space and forced to talk. Even my husband, who spent his childhood driving an hour to church each Sunday since there wasn’t a Greek church in Gadsden, says many of his best memories with his sisters and parents are those Sunday rides they once bemoaned.
Sometimes the game changer in a car ride is what we parents share with our kids, and sometimes it’s what our kids share with us. Either way, there’s something to be said for this mundane daily activity that – in subtle and surprising ways – allows us to strengthen bonds, initiate dialogue, and understand the realities our kids face as we learn to sit quietly behind the wheel and really, really listen.
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My new book Love Her Well: 10 Ways to Find Joy and Connection with Your Teenage Daughter is now available, and it’s getting a fantastic response. You can find it everywhere books are sold, including Amazon and Audible. What a privilege it’s been to narrate my first book for moms!
My two books for teen girls, 10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know and Liked, have been used widely across the U.S. for group studies. For more posts, subscribe to this blog or join me on Facebook, Instagram and the Girl Mom podcast.
Posted by Kari on February 11, 2018