The Toddler Years Revisited – Only Now She Has Her Driver’s License

“Letting go doesn't mean we don't care.  Letting go doesn't mean we shut down. Letting go means we stop trying to force outcomes and make people behave. It means we give up resistance to the way things are, for the moment. It means we stop trying to do the impossible--controlling that which we cannot--and instead, focus on what is possible--which usually means taking care of ourselves.  And we do this in gentleness, kindness,
and love, as much as possible.” Melody Beattie, author and journalist

Loosening the reigns, tightening the reigns; letting go and trying to exert control=the constant struggle with having a teen. You want to have some kind of control over their choices--where they are going, who they are with, and what they are doing. So many moms I have spoken with about raising a teen seem to have the same kind of post-traumatic stress/fear as I do. We all concur, “My parents had no clue what I was doing at 16, 17, 18, and even when they tried to figure it out, there were no cell phones, no internet. It was whole lot more difficult to find our exact whereabouts than it is now. And quite frankly, I am not quite sure that they even wanted to know what we were up to.” But it is a whole different ball game today. Parents are expected to know where their kids are at all times, and the thing about teens is that they are moving targets. They start out at a high school hockey game, then they go to Noodles to eat, then they head to Bobby’s house to hang out, but then Judy calls and wants them to come over, so they caravan over there. By the time curfew calls (and hopefully they are honoring that), they could have changed locations five times. Do parents need to know about every location change? Do you need to call Bobby’s mom and then Judy’s mom to make sure the parents are home and that they are expecting a group of teens?

When my 16-year-old got her license. I expected her to text me with every location change, and I was a “caller,” as in I tended to call parents to make sure that they were home and expecting guests. My daughter was absolutely appalled and mortified that I was one of “those moms,” but I was okay with that label. Now, as she is in her second year of driving, I have loosened the reigns a bit. There have been times when I loosened them too much and needed to pull them tight again. And there have been times when my husband and I realized that she needed more space and that it was important for us to give it to her. But the bottom line is that you don’t really know for sure what that balance is. And furthermore, just when you think you are in a good groove with your teen, you have to keep in mind that even the most brilliant of teenagers, make dumb choices. Their brains are simply not capable of making logical connections between actions and consequences.

In a November 28, 2010, article in the Star Tribune’s Parade section entitled “What’s Really Going on Inside Your Teen’s Head,” the author, Judith Newman reveals “When my friend’s son—a straight-A student and all-around sweetheart—recently ended up in the hospital getting his stomach pumped because he went out drinking with friends for the first time and had now clue how much was too much, that is when I realized: There is just no predicting. Even for the most responsible kids, there is always that combustible combination of youth, opportunity and one bad night.” Newman goes on to explain, “Truth is, the teenage brain is like a Ferrari: It’s sleek, shiny, sexy, fast, and it corners really well. But it also has really crappy brakes.”

I have realized a lot about myself as a person and as a mother as I am now parenting two teens (as well as two school-aged kids). I have a very hard time letting go. I let my oldest go to summer camp when she was 8 and didn’t know a soul there; I let her travel to many out of town destination with my parents; and she has traveled unaccompanied to visit friends in other cities. But putting her behind the wheel of a car, where she is in a position to kill herself or others and sending her off into the world as a responsible, adult-like being was excruciating for me. It was like in the movie Father of the Bride when Steve Martin is looking at his daughter across the table and he sees her as this little girl in pigtails who can barely see over the table and she says in a squeaky voice, “I’m getting married.” That’s how I saw my daughter behind the wheel of the car. How can she drive a car when she can’t even see over the steering wheel?! But I didn't necessary think I would be that way!

When she was 15 and got her driver’s permit, I thought I would be excited for her and excited to take her out driving. I would be the calm and cool mom sitting shotgun as her daughter drives around town. I would be giving her friendly reminders about signaling her turns and how to speed up and merge onto the freeway. But that was not even close to my reality! I could not even get out of the parking lot with her driving! All was fine when we practiced in the empty parking lot at a shopping mall during off hours on a Sunday. But when it was time for her to get out on the road…..NOOOOO! Stop!!! I couldn’t do it. Why? Because I was terrified. I was terrified that she was going to make a major driving mistake and that she would kill us both. And that couldn’t happen because I have three other children who need me! When I drive her around, I am in control. But having her drive me around was not going to work. I could not give her that control. No way, no how. Of course I wanted her to drive. It would eventually make my life easier. But that fear of letting go was a HUGE roadblock for me.

Maybe I saw myself in her and that scared me even more. Let’s see, I had three accidents when I was 16. Only one involved another car that I unintentionally cut off and forced the driver to hit me. The woman got out of the car with a very bloody lip and I almost passed out. But as my mother has often told me, “Your daughter is not you, and you have to separate. Her mistakes won't be your mistakes.” Well, I let go enough to turn the driving coach job over to my husband. She learned how to drive. She got her license. She is a fine driver. I say a prayer every morning when she gets into the car with my three other children and drives them to school. “Precious cargo?!” I yell out the door as she pulls out of the driveway. It is scary to let go. Really scary-but necessary.

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Tags: motherhood, teenagers

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