Learning to Take The Back Seat As A Parent

 

Three of us are in the car – my young adult son, my learner-driver teenager, and me.

“I’ll supervise”, says my son, and my daughter nods, grinning at him in collusion and trust.

“OK Mum. I’m looking after things, remember?” says my boy. And I see the curve of my daughter’s cheek as she laughs in agreement.

“I promise I will try not to interrupt”, I state, parent-like.

Settling myself in the back seat, I think I am ready for the ride.

Competently, my son watches how his sister sets up her driving environment, making the occasional suggestion. She reverses out the driveway, and we begin.

“You’re a bit far over” he observes.

I chime in with my observations.

“Who’s teaching, Mum?” I am reminded.

Oh.

I trust my son. I trust my daughter. But only my silence will reflect this trust. I am surprised at my struggle to keep my mouth closed, to stop those ‘helpful’ comments issuing from my lips.

A little while later, I suck in my breath at a small ‘near miss’ (or so I thought).

“Mum! We can hear you. I don’t think that will help her confidence, do you? And also, I’m in the front seat and can see the road, and she was fine!”

I apologise.

Being in the back seat is not easy.

I watch as my son patiently guides my daughter’s learning. I am in awe at his gentle manner of teaching, and her maturity in handling his suggestions, her respectful assertiveness when she disagrees with his assessment. This is her first time on the open road, and I realise that I am in two good pairs of hands.

I reflect. I am so used to being in the driver’s seat as a parent.

When they were babies I drove so much of their lives – what to eat, when to eat; what they’d wear; where we went. Pretty soon (toddler years) I began involving them in making decisions – what to play; what to wear; who to visit. But they were in the back seat. If I needed to, I would have final say (vaccinations, child care, dentists, safety). At the same time, I would try to take them with me, helping them with the difficult parts of the journey. As they got older, they were increasingly in the passenger seat, mapping where they needed to go but unable to get there on their own. In the driver’s seat, I would listen to their directions, add some thoughts of my own, and together we would find where they needed to be, safely and responsibly.

Now, my children are driving their own lives. They may invite me to travel with them, a passenger sitting beside them, listening, empowering, and perhaps offering suggestions. They may leave me while they discover their own route, and I will wonder where they are, how they are going. If I am fortunate, if I continue to nurture my relationship with them, my children may share aspects of the journey they took, and delight me (or frighten me!) with stories of their lives lived.

I reflect further. One day my children may be in the driver’s seat, making decisions for me, and with me, perhaps mapping my final days. As I trust them now, I will trust them in the future, because I trust our relationship.

I am taking the back seat in this car trip, as I must take the back seat on my children’s journey to their future.

First published by Larissa Dann on 17 January 2019.

© Larissa Dann 2019

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