This Post: Parenting from the Passenger Seat; One Colorful Conversation at a Time
Written by: Jen Gregory
Raising teens isn’t a “one size fits all” experience. If you’ve met one parent raising one teen, you’ve met… one parent raising one teen. But there are a few universal truths on which most of us can agree. Your spoons will disappear, it does go by fast, and the car is a great place for conversation.
Something about being in a vehicle erodes fear, unleashes curiosity, and compels otherwise uncommunicative teens to spill the tea. In close quarters with minimal direct eye contact, thoughts drip from their typically tight-lipped mouths.
One of my favorite recent car conversations with my 13-year-old son started with this humdinger: “I’m not into modern feminism.” Um… Another memorable exchange happened on the drive to weekly appointments at a medical building that housed a birthing center. Several of the parking spaces were reserved for expectant mothers, which resulted in many colorful conversations about babies. My 16-year-old son often asks, “Do you remember when we used to talk about vaginas in the car?” You betcha!
As far back as the crushed Goldfish under the booster seat days, my boys have hammered me with complicated and sometimes existential car ride questions. These days, there are fewer orange crumbs involved and the voices doing the talking are deeper, but the vibe is still the same.
In the span of 9 minutes from our driveway to tennis practice, my boys will blurt out explosives like, “I think I was a bad friend today,” “I want to study film in college,” or “How do you know if you’re ready to have sex?” Nine minutes isn’t nearly long enough to unpack any of these grenades, but you can bet I lighten my foot on the gas pedal and try.
Now that I have a student driver, my adoration of car conversation has grown exponentially.
Something miraculous happens when my teen sits in the driver’s seat. Maybe it’s a maturity he’s embracing as he works toward a new phase of independence or that he’s distracted by the newness of driving, but he somehow forgets it’s me in the passenger seat. Instead of talking about big stuff with his mother, he banters casually about small stuff with a friend.
Listening to and responding to these seemingly mundane tidbits of his days—an awkward conversation with a teacher, a group project ruined by a bossy classmate, or the stash of snacks he and his friends have hidden in the percussion room—is a treasure trove of information.
When your main job as a parent of a teen is to send them out into the world to have experiences and relationships independent of you, having a window into these tiny slices of their lives is priceless.
Waiting at a red light on the car ride home from school, my teen driver asks, “Do you remember when we were little and you would let us unfasten our seatbelts at the last stop sign before the house?”
“I do,” I say from the passenger seat. My heart swells at the idea that he remembers this fun little ritual.
“Can we do it now?” he asks with a mischievous smile.
“Absolutely not,” I say incredulously. “That was a quiet neighborhood street, this is a busy road, and you, my friend, do not have a driver’s license.”
“It was my favorite part of every day,” he says. The car grows quiet as he navigates the changing traffic light and left turn.
“Do you have fond memories of your childhood?” I ask him.
We briefly make eye contact.
“Definitely,” he says.
“Me, too,” I say.
To the parents of soon-to-be teenage drivers, you’re going to love parenting from the passenger seat. Trust me. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.
About Jen Gregory:
Jen Gregory is a writer and founder of The Runaway Mama, a website and connected social media outlets where she chronicles the wild, exhausting, and sticky ride of motherhood with a mixture of humor and heart. She wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, but like the little bunny in Margaret Wise Brown’s classic book, she sometimes wants to run away. Follow her @therunawaymama and at www.therunawaymama.com.
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