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?
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