Fasten your seat belts moms and dads because it’s time to teach Junior to drive. Yes, that Junior — the same one who spent all of toddlerhood driving a red and yellow Little Tikes Cozy Coupe down the hallways of your home, carelessly crashing into walls and knocking over end tables. Don’t worry, speeding down the interstate at 65 mph with a 15-year-old is not much different.
Pack your Valium, your sense of humor, and the most patience you can possibly muster because you’re about to enter a brand new parenting lane you’ve never driven in before — the teen driver lane.
In my experience, having a new teen driver means the letting-go process has officially begun. For their entire life, your kids have been completely dependent on you to taxi them anywhere and everywhere, until one day you wake up and find your driving duties have come to a very abrupt end. Now you’re relegated to passenger status, and soon thereafter all you’re going to be needed for is gas money.
But perhaps the best way to describe having a teen driver is that it’s the ultimate in bittersweet milestones. Suddenly, your chauffeuring duties all but disappear, and you have the first sweet taste of freedom and release from driving to and fro all your kid’s activities. For your teen, the same can be held true, as they finally have their taste of true freedom and are navigating new roads — figuratively and literally — without any parental supervision whatsoever. Whoa.
I remember so well visiting the DMV on my 16th birthday and proudly shoving my shiny new license in my fake Gucci shoulder bag. It was just me and my closest girlfriends, all crammed into my mom’s 1985 Ford Taurus, with “Livin’ on a Prayer” cranked up all the way on the radio. Of course, that car had no computerized touch screen computers, Bluetooth connectivity, or pre-installed Wi-Fi networks. I’m not even sure it had airbags or anti-lock brakes.
But the best part? Nobody had the ability to call us, text us, or potentially track our whereabouts while we cruised down to the beach. How did my mom not worry all day and night? I mean, really, how does that work when you just faithfully trust where your kids are without them actually being able to prove they are where they say they are?
We are no longer afforded the luxury — if you can call it that — of not being instantly connected to our teen drivers every single minute they’re away from us. Instead, we now track them — we download apps that let us know what speed they’re driving — and we have a completely new and massively frightening set of driving dangers and threats to teach them how to avoid.
New cars that are tricked out with the latest technology are full of distractions all their own, and that’s before you even add another teenager in the backseat or a sibling as a passenger. With all the ringing smartphones, pop music blaring, GPS mapping devices screaming “recalculating,” and cars reading aloud our panicked mom texts — R U on UR way home yet? — how does an underdeveloped juvenile brain even manage to stay focused enough to make it out of the neighborhood?
And therein lies the bitter within the sweet: Yes, you’re free from driving them around, but you will never be free from worry again — ever.
Your worries are only just beginning. The saying “bigger kids, bigger problems” never rang so true as the day I sadly stood at the end of my driveway and watched my teenagers kick my car into reverse and then cautiously drive away from me, the grins on their faces both beaming and in stark contrast to my anxiety-filled frown.
There goes half of my heart, rolling away on four pieces of circular rubber in a steel cage, I thought. There they go, my little independent drivers on mile one of their lifelong trip, and I’m neither invited nor welcome.
I am slowly starting to be okay with that because I have to be. It’s hard, actually brutal sometimes, to not dance with the driving worry monster in my head when my teens are out with the car. I can sit and chew my nails into oblivion while waiting to hear their car pull back into our driveway every evening (although I admit that I still do that sometimes) or I can allow this new and very liberating (and often a little unrecognizable) season of parenting to be a welcome and exciting addition to both my life and theirs.
I can’t just allow it — I need to embrace it. And you should too.
This is what we are raising them for, to leave us, and it’s a good thing. Our kids driving confidently away from us and out of the driveway, full of thrill and excitement over finally getting a slice of independence behind the wheel — that’s what we should want to see happen as parents. It means we’re doing it right.
And if you’re really doing it right, when they return home, you’ll hear a little Bon Jovi coming out of the car stereo.