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Today's Family Magazine

Mommy Chronicles: Driver’s ed for parents

By Stacy Turner

Most people think I’m pretty easy-going.  I don’t fly off the handle for no reason.  Friends have commended me for my long fuse, and while I’m no saint, it usually takes me quite a while to lose patience.  I’m not a drama mamma, and I’m not prone to freaking out when things don’t go my way.  But now that I’m sitting in the passenger seat as my daughter learns to drive, I have anxiety.  I feel like a control freak who doesn’t have any, and it’s very unsettling.

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines a control freak as someone who is determined to make things happen in exactly the way they want and who tries to make other people do what they want.  And while I don’t micromanage the choices my daughter makes at school or with friends because she’s generally shown good judgment in those areas, this new frontier of driving has opened up a whole new world for both of us, and I’ve got to admit I’m having trouble dealing with it.

I can calmly help her check and double check before making a turn, and tell her ahead of time when she’ll be turning, or how to take her time pulling in and out of tight parking spaces.  But try as I might, my daughter has noticed that I’m not the cool cucumber I like to think I am. She joked that she knows when to stop long before she sees me step on the invisible brake on the passenger side floor, and she knows she’s taking a corner a bit too fast when she sees me grip the armrest.  I can’t help it, though.  It’s hard to watch someone buckle up in the driver’s seat, knowing that not too long ago, I used to buckle her safely into her car seat.  It gives me a whole new appreciation for that “Jesus Take the Wheel” song.

Don’t get me wrong -- she’s doing really well.  We’ve built up slowly, having her practice in empty parking lots, quiet neighborhoods and on back roads.  We’ve recently moved up to highway driving, and gave her the first opportunity to drive in the rain.  With a winter birthday standing between her and her official driver's test, she’ll have the chance to drive in the snow before she takes her driving test, too.  And while the required classroom instruction time, coupled with the in-car training with her driver's ed instructor are things that will no doubt help her become a safe and responsible driver, I think the required hours behind the wheel with her parents will be most important hours.

Those hours spent with Mom or Dad helping her learn the rules of the road on short errands around town do more than just help her get more comfortable with her newly acquired skills.  Helping her navigate down roads both known and unfamiliar and learning how to read the signs and signals will help us all become more confident in her new skills.  And helping her learn to merge safely into the flow of highway traffic will build her confidence for the roads she’ll travel without one of us in the passenger seat to guide her.  We are helping her learn to be watchful for when other drivers do something unexpected or unwise. But more importantly, these required hours are a godsend for her parents. The extra time helps us get used to the idea that before long, our little girl will be driving off to a bright new future, confident in her abilities to navigate her path and find her own way, knowing that we’ll always be here whenever she needs help with directions.

I commiserated with a friend about needing time to adjust to these driving lessons with my daughter. “It’s not like I’m a control freak,” I explained.  “I just want everyone to do things the right way.”  I’m pretty sure she’ll be putting that on a T-shirt for me any day now.  If you’ve got a soon-to be teen driver in your house, let me know if you need one, too.