Thursday, December 2, 2010

Always drive a car big enough to carry a cello. . .

Yesterday I saw one of the early signs of the holidays: the car with the wreath on its grille. That got me to thinking about all the bits of wisdom related to cars that I have collected from other parents and from my own experience.  The advice about the cello obviously came from a parent with musical children and it was very good advice.  Driving your kids, and their friends, where they need to go is a great way to stay connected in the midst of your crazy schedule.  As the driver, you become invisible to everyone behind the front seat. And, if you can keep your mouth shut, you can find out a lot about what your kids are really thinking and doing. (If you decide to talk about something you overheard - don't blow your own cover!  Find another reason to introduce the topic so you can continue eavesdropping!)

Another useful item from my collection: Road trips are a great way to bond during the silent years.  Even the most remote teen cannot bear two days in the car without conversation.  Eventually they will make some kind of overture and you can probably have some meaningful discussions, if you are willing to wait in silence for a while. 

Also, driving in the dark can provide great opportunities for embarrassing discussions.  If you can bring your self to open the discussion by remarking on a XXX-video store or billboard for a "gentlemen's club" you can find yourself addressing a lot of questions your teens may be carrying around with them. I once, in the dark,  explained the actual meaning of every forbidden word my kids had ever seen written on a bathroom wall (and why we obviously shouldn't use them).  Definitely a discussion that would not have happened face to face in the light of day!

From another friend: when your kid drives someplace alone for the first time, find someone to wait with until the "I have safely arrived phone call comes."   This is a multi-phase kind of rule.  First they drive to the grocery store or church or school by themselves.  Later they drive to the suburbs.  Then, it's the next big town over and eventually it's an interstate trip. Finally, they will take trips and tell you AFTER the fact.  And you'll be relieved you didn't have to worry the whole time they were driving from college to Canada just because they'd never left the country before. . .

And a few don'ts from the same sources:
  • Don't ever give them a brand new car.
  • Don't be afraid to make them earn their car: I know someone who successfully raised three fine young men by forcing them to drive the family minivan until they finished their Eagle Scout requirements.
  • Don't make them bear all the expense of having a car.  1) Because they will have to have a job during the school year and then quit all their extra-curriculars to find the time to work.  And instead of hanging with  high-achieiving band members or athletes or school newspaper reporters, they'll be hanging with high-school dropouts at minimum wage jobs. 2) You can't really take it away if they bought it themselves.
  • Don't assume they are going where they say they are going.
  • Don't hesitate to make them responsible for washing and gassing it or for driving their younger sibs to things.
Cars are kind of like an extension of our homes.  Your family life can happen in them if you are intentional about it. I love the people who put antlers or wreaths on their cars at Christmas time!  They clearly know that their car is part of their home.  Forget the Christmas sleigh rides - just go for a jaunt in the family car.

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