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Riding Shotgun June 30, 2008

Posted by Beth in Parenting.
Ah, if only my first act of parenting had been to teach my son to drive.

I know people say it is a good thing that are kids start out as babies so we can grow as parents as they grow as human beings, BUT, I sure wish I had been able to have from the start my recent experience “teaching” my son to drive. It has become a metaphor for parenting. All those books I read (and reread) kept telling me “Trust your child” “Nurture, not control” “Listen and reflect. Don’t lecture and judge.” Good advice that rapidly faded from my repertoire in the day to day realities of sibling rivalry, keeping house, getting places on time, trying to cook just one meal for everybody, all while juggling the roles of cheerleading-mom and task-master teacher (amongst many others.)

So what is it about driving? I get to sit in the front seat and watch while my son does all the work. What could be better?

Reality provides immediate, important feedback. Hit the brakes too hard: we both feel the jolt. Take a turn too tightly: the wheels hit the curb. I don’t say a thing unless our lives are in danger. He handles the rest. Over time, his stops and turns are getting smoother. His skill at judging distance is improving. Occasionally he asks for help, but mostly he figures it on his own.

There are speed signs and stop lights and traffic laws which don’t change no matter how much he wants to negotiate. Consistent predictable rules are helpful. The consequences are clear. When you know where you stand, decisions are easier to make.

There is no denying that I am not in complete control. I do have my limits. If he is reckless (which he isn’t) I will refuse to give him the keys or let him in the driver’s seat. But once he’s there, he has to drive. It’s his task. I’m there for emergencies and to help when he asks for it. Otherwise, I am just there for back-up.

No, the analogy isn’t perfect. It is not always clear when I need to speak up. Is this situation dangerous enough that it needs my intervention (as when saying hurtful things to a sibling, or not slowing down “enough” when approaching a stop sign.) But the general idea of letting reality do the teaching as much as possible, of having confidence in his ability to learn from his own mistakes without a lot of yakity-yak from me, of sitting next to him to be there should an emergency arise, of describing his progress so he knows I see his improvement, his competency, that’s what I wish I could hold on to in the wider context.

The kids are growing up. I’m still riding shot-gun, but more and more, they are in they driver’s seat, and I am learning to relax and enjoy the ride.


1. A Cassel - July 6, 2008

Hello from a cousin-in-law. Delighted to see your new online venture(s) — some very interesting material. I’ve been following the economics blogs for a few years now, and can recommend some good ones (tho you’ve probably found most of them already.) If you haven’t discovered Econtalk with Russell Roberts, that’s one you’d find worthwhile, I think. At any rate, I also empathize with the driving lessons; we went through it over the last few years, and I think my knuckles are still white.

Sorry we won’t see you at the reunion next month; I’d love to hear how you fit blogging into your schedule (particularly as I’m probably about to start one of my own at work; watch this space: http://www.dismal.com ). Best to the family,


2. haynesbe - July 6, 2008

Hi Andy,

Thanks for the reference to Econtalk. I wasn’t aware of these podcats but look forward to checking them out. A couple of years ago, I came across Russell’s novel Invisible Heart when looking for a 25th anneversary present for a friend who shares my interest in free market economics. If you haven’t read the book, you may want to check it out. In it, Russell uses a romance between two teachers to make the case for capitalism as a compassionate and benevolent ideology.

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