Ask the Experts

Q: “My Teen Driver Wants Independence, but I Refuse to Give Up Our ‘Car Time’”

“As the years went on, our morning drives to school became more important. Sometimes they were the most we spoke all day. Without those drives, I felt I would lose a part of him. Even harder, a part of us.”

Portrait of teenage girl with ADHD in her first car, ready to drive solo

Q: “My daughter just turned 17 and passed her road test. I’m happy for her since she’s been working hard for this, but my mama heart is also miserable because I like driving her places. I use the time to talk to her or listen if her friends are in the car. My daughter is mad at me since I haven’t let her drive solo. My husband thinks I’m ridiculous and worried about her ADHD. We’re all arguing, and it’s causing a lot of bad feelings and tension. Any thoughts?” — NewDriverMom

Hi NewDriverMom:
Boy, this question truly hit home. Driving, for my son, was an all-consuming quest for most of his sophomore year in high school. And unbeknownst to my family, I felt very similar to you. First, your feelings are not ridiculous. Your daughter is growing up and craving independence, and you’re struggling to balance letting her go and keeping her close.

I will share a personal story that lends a “parenting” perspective. I hope that doing so will help validate your feelings and ultimately make you feel a little less alone.

Now onto my story.

Teen Driver Transitions

I was on an airplane when my son took his road test. The minute the plane landed, I turned on my cell phone hoping there would be good news. Instantly the message popped up: “HE PASSED!!!!”

While my husband and daughter sent me a slew of emoticons to show how happy they were for Eli, I burst out crying. Hysterically. And not the “Wow, I am so proud of you” kind of cry. (Don’t get me wrong, I really was proud). These were more like “OMG! I‘m not ready for him to drive” tears.

[Free Download: Driving Contract Template]

Now, I knew my reaction was silly. We had been working up to this moment for months. And I didn’t have this reaction when my daughter passed her road test. Quite the opposite. I was so thrilled to have another driver in the house that I did happy dances around my living room! I knew the dangers of teenage driving and how that danger increases when they have ADHD. But that wasn’t really it, as I felt that Eli was a careful and confident driver. He was prepared to take the wheel.

So, why such big emotions?

To understand my reaction, take a peek into our morning routine. I drove my son to school for as long as I can remember. (We have no school buses in our town.) Crazy as it may seem, I loved it. I never wanted to be in a carpool or rely on anyone else to drive if it wasn’t needed. When my husband and I had to choose who would drive Eli to school in the mornings vs. walk our dog, I always picked my son.

I loved our time together. Unlike other kids, Eli was quite pleasant in the morning. And we had our ritual behind the wheel. Coffees in hand, Elvis Duran on the radio, we would listen, laugh, and go over the day’s events. Although it was only a 10-minute drive, I craved the connection those minutes gave me. Whether he felt it or not, I was sending him off nourished and fed. A breakfast of champions, you might say.

As the years went on, those rides became more important. Sometimes they were the most we spoke all day. Our nights were busy. I was traveling or working, and he finished homework, went to activities, or just had his bedroom door closed to get the privacy he craved (and deserved). We got our time and talks in when needed, but there was something sacred and special about our morning drivetime.

[Free Download: Evaluate Your Teen’s Emotional Control]

Without those drives, I felt I would lose a part of him. Even harder, a part of us.

Shifting Gears

Despite those feelings, I knew it was time for me to put Eli in the driver’s seat and allow him to have the independence he needed and had worked so hard to achieve. And yes, in the beginning, I was always a little anxious watching him pull out of the driveway. I would hold my breath until I knew he had safely reached his destination. What parent hasn’t done that? However, those feelings faded over time.

It makes perfect sense if you think about it.

Parenting is all about those pendulum swings between the fear we feel watching our children drive solo and the pride we feel knowing that they’re traveling independently.

You got this!

P.S. If you would like some practical information on teen driving, I invite you to check out this wonderfully comprehensive article, “Behind The Wheel: Cruising For Safe Teenage Driving,” which is chock full of ways to help teens with ADHD and their parents navigate the driving process.

Teen Driver Behind the Wheel: Next Steps

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