Parent in the Passenger's Seat
A strange thing happened when my daughter got her driver’s permit: She acted like she knew more about driving than I did. This was fascinating to me since I had been driving for more than 30 years and she had only just slipped behind the wheel for the first time.
If someone had snapped our photo that day, it would have resembled one of those amusement park souvenir shots – my daughter with a look of gleeful determination on her face, and me leaning into the side door panel with an expression that said, Stop the ride. I think I’m going to be sick!
The chief cause of my lurching stomach was that my daughter tended to apply the brake about a minute and a half later than I would have. And she drove the speed limit instead of a bit under as I would have preferred. When I asked her to slow down, if only for my benefit, she protested, “I’m going the speed limit, and you drive way faster on this road than me.”
That’s when I had my epiphany – the speech that put me back in the proverbial driver’s seat. It went something like this: “If you want to drive, your job is not to convince me that you know more than me. Your job is to make me comfortable with your driving. If I’m not comfortable, you don’t get to drive.”
I’m not sure where this little speech came from, but it did the trick. Whenever she argued instead of accommodating me when I asked her to slow down – or to brake sooner for a stop sign or stop worrying about what was playing on her iPod – she would have to pull over and I would assume the wheel.
It took a few sessions, but eventually I loosened my white-knuckled grip on the dashboard as my daughter began listening to me. After all, what choice did she have? Then one day, as my daughter drove, I found myself sitting back, turning up the music and singing along. Eventually, we were able to carry on conversations that didn’t even pertain to cautions like, “Watch out for that child up ahead with the ball!”
Finally, I told her, “I’m feeling comfortable now as your passenger!”
After our breakthrough, my daughter educated me about the many things that have changed since I took driver’s ed. Hands are no longer positioned at 10 and 2 on the wheel, but at 9 and 3. There’s also a new parallel-parking technique that works great for her (although I can’t get the hang of it).
Now when she reminds me to use my turn signal before pulling into our driveway, or teases me about having a lead foot (guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree), I no longer bristle but thank her. And I greatly appreciated her driving herself and her brother to high school each morning while I sip my coffee at home.