What You Learn When You Teach Your Kid to Drive

When I was growing up, my parents had some rules for me and at least some of my six siblings about learning how to drive.

We had to take driver’s ed before we could drive, and we had to be 16 before we could take driver’s ed. As a result, I didn’t start driving until just before my junior year of high school, a year later than many of my friends.

I didn’t plan to impose all those restrictions on my own children, but I always imagined they would learn to drive like I did—through the summer driver’s education program at their high school. I also was certain that Randy would handle the lion’s share of any parent-directed driving instruction that might occur before and during the school program.

He did, at first. Then, bit by bit, my original plans flew out the (passenger) window.

Lilly will be 16 soon. Several weeks ago, she completed a driver’s ed course at our local community college. Prior to that, she took the helm of the family minivan for many of the near-daily treks the girls and I made to my mom’s long-term care center this past summer.

One trip turned into another, and the next thing I knew she was driving on the interstate.

When it comes to home-based driving lessons, the teacher often learns as much as the student (at least I did). Here are a few takeaways:

• Warming up is essential.

In most areas of my life, I prefer to ease into things—cold swimming pools, lengthy writing projects and, it turns out, outings with novice drivers. That’s why my first driving sessions with Lilly took place in the high school parking lot, where she circled around, got a feel for the brakes, practiced parking and using the mirrors, turned sharp corners, and learned about blind spots.

We eventually ventured out on the city street by the school, then even farther, but we always—always—began those early drives by warming up in that parking lot.

• When different teachers explain the same thing in different ways, it solidifies the learning process.

Even now, I explain as we drive, telling Lilly what to look for, what to anticipate, what to change next time. My goal in doing this is to help her cultivate the habit of thinking ahead when she’s driving. On the other hand, her driver’s ed teacher gave more last-minute instructions, the kind that help develop the intuitive reflexes that are so critical to safe driving.

• A strength in one area of life can become an asset in another area.

As a ballet dancer, Lilly is used to receiving corrections in class and immediately modifying her movements to implement those corrections. I didn’t make this connection at first, but now I can see how this practice has helped her improve her driving skills much more quickly than she might have done if she didn’t spend so many hours a week in ballet class.

• My comfort level with teaching Lilly increased along with her comfort level with driving.

I know. Parents have been teaching their kids to drive for decades. But neither of us had ever done anything like this before, so there was a pretty steep learning curve for both of us. Now Lilly loves to drive, and I have the satisfaction that comes from knowing I’ve done something I was pretty sure I couldn’t do.

• Letting go of the car keys is sometimes an exercise in dying to self.

When I’m hungry, tired or in a hurry, it’s much easier to get behind the wheel myself. But easier isn’t necessarily better, is it? Children would never learn to get dressed, tie their shoes, take showers or brush their teeth if we always did everything for them, and driving is no exception.

• When you change drivers, there are always adjustments to be made.

Lilly’s quite a bit shorter than I am, so when she gets in the driver’s seat of my van, she has to move all the mirrors so she can see properly. This regular changing of the mirrors gets old after a while, but it’s completely necessary. Her perspective is different because of who she is, a fact that I would do well to remember in all kinds of situations.

The driving lessons are ongoing—for both me and Lilly. Just the other day, she learned what not to do when you accidentally run over a squirrel (look back to see if the hit was fatal), and I learned to be very thankful for her quick reflexes when a stone mailbox is looming directly to her right.

It seems like just yesterday that my firstborn was struggling to learn how to a bike. Today, she is well on her way to becoming a fully licensed automobile driver, and I’m slowly learning to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Which leads me to a question: What have you learned from teaching a child (your own or someone else’s) an important life skill? 


Letting go of the car keys is sometimes an exercise in dying to self. Click To Tweet

P.S. I’m linking up this week with Purposeful Faith, #TellHisStory, Coffee for Your Heart, Chasing Community and Grace & Truth.

21 Responses to What You Learn When You Teach Your Kid to Drive

  1. I was so glad my husband did most of the teaching with my daughter, but when I did drive with her, I learned I needed to relax and quit preparing for an accident because it was not putting her or I in a relaxed mood. I needed to trust her and her ability more than I was willing to at first. And when I did, she was quite a better driver than I imagined. It’s always good when your children surprise you in a good way. Especially when you are in the car with them.

  2. Great points. My husband will be teaching our girls to drive!
    One thing I have learned in some areas is that listening to them is as important to talking.

    • Lois Flowers says:

      I’m learning that too, Sarah. It can be a challenge when the person you’re listening to has strong opinions about almost everything, but I guess that’s just part of parenting teenagers. 🙂

  3. Lesley says:

    I love the lessons you learned, Lois, and how they apply to different situations as well as driving.
    I find driving myself stressful enough so I don’t think I’d enjoy teaching someone else. Over here you can’t even begin learning to drive until you are 17.
    The main thing I get to teach children right now is stories from the Bible and I love their reactions and excitement as they’re hearing them for the first time. It reminds me not to let my familiarity with stories cause me to lose my sense of wonder.

    • Lois Flowers says:

      I love that, Lesley. Bible stories might seem “old hat” to us in some ways, but imagining how they might sound to kids who have never heard or understood them puts them in a whole new light.

  4. Linda Stoll says:

    Ah, Lois … your post brings back memories of that fateful season in our daughter’s lives. I do believe I aged a decade with each one. Fender benders, late night solo excursions, sounds of ambulances in the distance … yeah, it was a true faith stretcher for me.

    Really. They were finally getting out there on their own. And I had to learn over and over and over again to release them into God’s care.

    Two + decades later, I’m still learning how to do this. Frankly, there are times it’s quite difficult …

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Oh Linda … I have a feeling it will be as you describe for me too. And just when I get comfortable driving with Lilly, it will be time for her to set out on her own in the car. And then Molly, and then college, and then … I guess this is what being the parent of an adult is all about: “Learning over and over and over again to release them into God’s care.” I’m thankful for your perspective, my friend!

  5. Trudy says:

    I love the takeaways you learned, Lois. 🙂 It’s amazing that even with all your jitters, you could still glean lessons of life from it. This one especially grabs my attention – “Her perspective is different because of who she is, a fact that I would do well to remember in all kinds of situations.” So true. I need to remember this, too! Love and hugs to you!

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Thank you, Trudy. It’s funny, but knowing that there will be life lessons to share from most experiences often helps me plow through them! When God is directing our steps, nothing in life is ever wasted, is it? Hugs back, my friend!

  6. Great post, Lois. I was so afraid to drive, I waited until senior year to get my license. I’m comfortable passing on this training job to my husband, who is cool under pressure. Such helpful lessons here!

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Thanks, Sarah. 🙂 I had my own challenges learning how to drive, which might be why I was so sure I wouldn’t be able to teach anyone else! I’m glad your husband is available to serve as driving instructor … that takes a lot of the pressure off, doesn’t it?

  7. Lois, can I be really honest and say I’m NOT looking forward to helping my oldest learn to drive? Your post reminds me of how important it’s going to be that I have a positive heart attitude when he gets behind the wheel. I’m beginning to pray now for the right perspective. He’s a very different person from who I am. I need to remember God created him that way for a purpose. It’s my role to help him learn to live and be comfortable with what makes him uniquely him. In driving, and in life.

    Incidentally, I realize this is true for both of my boys. 😉 It’s just my oldest who’s so eager to begin the process of learning to drive, so he’s on my mind most at the moment.

    • Lois Flowers says:

      I know how you feel, Jeanne. That’s why I was so sure driver’s ed would be the primary means of instruction for Lilly … sometimes (oftentimes?) other teachers can get through better than I can, especially at this age! You are wise to begin praying about this now … both you and your son can only benefit from that! It will be interesting to see how things go with him … Who knows? Maybe you’ll find you’re actually his ideal teacher for this training. 🙂 And if not, driver’s ed is always an option, right? Another thing I’m grateful for is that Lilly (and your son, it sounds like) are very eager to drive, which apparently is not the case for many teenagers these days! Hugs, friend!

  8. Joanne Viola says:

    It’s amazing the lessons we learn through the process of raising our kids. I remember when first driving with my kids, my hands would so be clenching the door handle. It so taught me to release my grip as God would be the One watching over them each. Blessings on you and your family!

    • Lois Flowers says:

      I know what you mean about clenching the door handle, Joanne. Lilly has told me several times that it makes her nervous when I do that, but I can’t help it sometimes! Then, just the other day, she did something that might normally make me grab the handle and she noticed that I didn’t do it! Guess I’m getting used to her driving after all! It’s a growth process for all of us, isn’t it? 🙂

  9. My husband did the bulk of the driver training with both of our daughters, thankfully! They have some fun stories to tell about some of their adventures. I loved helping them when they brought home their newborns, my grandchildren. So much joy!

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Ha … sounds like you got the better end of the deal in the division of duties, Debbie! 🙂 We’ve collected a few stories too, and I’m sure there will be more to come. Hugs, friend!

  10. I’m on driver #4, so your post really resonated for me, and I’m well aware that this season is transitional to a release that I’m not looking forward to. As the last little bird in the nest (he would hate that reference), I’ve savored our time in the car together. We listen to books on tape and he processes his day out loud. I love it. He will be 16 in January, so the license is next, and he won’t need mum in the car any more, so I know there’s a change coming to our relationship as I watch him fly in ever widening circles just as his older brothers did.

    • Lois Flowers says:

      I know what you mean about that precious drive time coming to a close, Michele. For the last several years, driving Lilly to ballet class several times a week has been her opportunity to, as you say, “process her day out loud” with me. When I think about her driving on her own, I realize I’ll have to be ever-more intentional about making time for this kind of processing. I know it’s all part of growing up, but I’m also grateful for moms like you who know what it’s like and can attest to the good things that come from these developmental milestones!

  11. This is great, Lois! Two of my kids are driving and my third one (second child–almost 19) is just about ready to take her test. It is nerve-wracking to release those keys in the beginning. But an important step in their maturity and our ability to let them go. Definitely lots to learn for all of us involved!

    • Lois Flowers says:

      It IS nerve-wracking, Dianne. My dad calls it “white-knuckle time,” and for good reason! But you’re right … it is an important, necessary part of growing up and (for us) letting go. Does it get easier with the next child? I hope so!

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