Six Children and No Theories

Covering parenting and child development issues

Driving Toward Independence

Written by Lisa Lawmaster Hess, Community Blogger | Jun 12, 2014 12:56 PM

I talk a really good game when it comes to milestones in my daughter’s life. Though I can’t believe how quickly she leapfrogs from one to the next (walking to running to a riding a bike to starting school to middle school to high school), I know that each is a necessary step on the ladder of independence, and I generally view these milestones with optimism. But today, she’s embarking on a whole new level of independence, one I’m not sure I am ready to face.

My daughter is getting her driver’s license. 

I must admit to conflicting feelings about this. To be honest, I never really minded transporting her. She's good company and we usually enjoy our time in the car together. Now that she's on the cusp of going it alone, I wonder how often we'll have those times. Not often, I imagine, and I find myself oddly unready to let go of those trips.

And then there are the practical concerns. I'm handing my child the car keys. No matter how good a driver she is (and she is good, if a bit, er, speedy), I don't know whom she'll encounter when she's on the road. I plan to adopt an approach I've dubbed "Prayerful Ostrich" -- praying a lot for her safety, and then burying my head in the sand.

Still, although she is sixteen and old enough to drive, with new privileges come new guidelines, guidelines my husband and I have discussed, but have not yet fully worked out. Thus far, we've told her only that there will be rules -- something I'm sure does not come as a surprise to her as most of her new privileges came with rules -- or at least guidelines. Some of our rules will reiterate what the state of Pennsylvania has to say (cell phone off, wear your seatbelt at all times, no more than one friend in the car with you, no driving after 11 pm), while others will be designed to put our minds at ease (we need to know where you are going and when you expect to be home) or reiterate common courtesies (if you're going to be late,  you need to let us know).

But setting up rules for a child on the cusp of adulthood is different than setting up rules for a toddler. Fortunately, the same concerns that have been persistent throughout her life (safety is non-negotiable, for example) still form the backbone of those rules. This license, many of my friends have warned me, is her first step toward real independence. Much as those first wobbly toddler steps signify a sea change, so does ready access to the car keys. Only this time, I can't hover and be there to catch her if she's close to a dangerous fall.

And for the first time since I watched those Lamaze videos in childbirth class, I don't know if I'm ready for this. But a big part of parenting is letting go, and allowing our kids to run ahead of us when they’re prepared to do so.

It’s just that no one told me she’d be prepared before I was.

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