Wednesday, February 27, 2013

In the Passenger's Seat

On Friday, we woke up to snow-covered streets and falling snow.  The salt trucks hadn't completed their rounds but we had already planned on meeting some friends for a morning workout at the local Y.

It was a perfect time for my student driver to get a feel for driving in the snow.

Snowy Roads + Teen Driver = Nervous Mom

It was a short drive, I told myself; we could do this.

And we did.  It was an uneventful round trip there and back.

It would have been so much easier on me to just do the driving and just say, "Look, honey. This is how it is done."

Of course, that is not what my teen needed.  My teen needed to experience the drive, control the wheel, plan for herself, and adjust if she started to slide.  My job was to sit in the passenger's seat and be ready to direct, guide, warn...and hang on for dear life.

It is sort of symbolic of parenting, isn't it?

Sometimes teens need us to take the wheel, and that is ok. There are times when I've had to tell my kids to figuratively pull over so I could drive for a bit and get them out of a mess.  However, don't be too quick to take the wheel.  Kids often just need us to be along for the ride (possibly holding our breath), ready to rescue them from a near collision. Sometimes I see danger barreling down the path, but I need to give my teens a chance to see and react first.  Otherwise, I'll diminish the lessons that can be learned before they need to travel on their own.

It can be terrifying.

I've had other parents question some decisions I've made for our kids. Sometimes it involves safety concerns, such as allowing a child to fly alone to visit out-of-state friends.  Other times, it may involve academic choices or social situations. Usually it isn't an outright judgement, but more of an "I'm not sure if I could allow my child to do that." It is about a parent's lack of comfort in letting their child make choices - to see and to react -  on a path that isn't completely clear.

It definitely isn't comfortable.  Not at all.

Here's the thing - I'd rather have my child navigate some of these slippery paths with me right there in the passenger's seat where I can direct, guide, and warn, rather than for the first time on a solo drive. Just like driving, life takes practice.  You wouldn't send them to drive in a snow storm solo without a little guided practice first. Why do so with the path of life?

After surviving our short jaunt to the Y on Friday, yesterday I decided my teen was going to take the wheel for our normally 45-minute trip home from choir.  Because our drive home involves three major freeways during rush hour, she had never driven the route home. Yesterday, it also involved rain, sleet, and heavy snow as a storm blew through the area.

Having a little more life experience in wintery weather traffic conditions, I was much more nervous than my teen. Her earlier drive on Friday had given her a little confidence.  Even so, she knew to still be on high alert. She was quite willing to take instruction, but really didn't need much. I tried to keep my mouth shut and she tried not to comment too many times when she saw my foot move toward the imaginary passenger's side brake. With traffic congested and moving slowly, it was a long ride.

Despite my visions of ending up in the ditch like some fellow drivers, two hours later we made it to our neighborhood safely.

Did I want to take the wheel and make the drive myself? Yes. Was it uncomfortable? Absolutely.  But I now feel better knowing my daughter has managed a storm with me by her side.  She'll know what to do if one unexpectedly comes in while she's driving alone.

It isn't easy being in the passenger's seat, whether figuratively or literally. It can be terrifying.  It takes courage - and prayers.

But sometimes, you just need to let them drive.


Penny said...

Taking advantage of situations where our kids can make their own discoveries is important. We scaffold the learning process. We haven't had the opportunity to drive in bad weather yet - but like you, we'll give our girl a chance to navigate it on a mild day and give her experience there before she has to go out in bad weather alone.

PS: I highly recommend Teens Drive Smart. Find the web site and sign up for email notifications. If they have an event near you, sign up your child right away, as the driving experiences tend to fill quickly.

Diane Allen said...

As I have said before -- I feel fortunate we live in the sunny south and I didn't have to ride with a teen during teh sleet and snow! On the other hand, you are right that it is far better (in all of life's adventures) to have a first run while parents are around to advise and support.