When I was fifteen, my mom took me to a large and empty church parking lot on Saturday afternoons and taught me to drive….sort of. She had good intentions but lacked the patience to put up with my herky-jerky ineptness at releasing the clutch. I just could not get it! Maybe it’s premature to try to teach a teenager how to drive a manual transmission before he has even gained control of his own gangly arms and legs.
I did fine once I got it in third or fourth gear, but I was miserable at the lower gears. In first, I would rev up the engine until it begged for mercy. Then I would try to easy up on the clutch with both eyes closed and every muscle in my body tightly clenched. No matter how many times I tried, the end result was always the same – a bucking bronco ride in my little, burnt-brown Honda Civic. Sometimes, I even stayed in the saddle the full eight seconds – one hand on the stick shift and my mom’s hands in the air. I was one tough import-riding hombre.
It’s been almost 25 years, but I’m still taking driving lessons. Not in a car – I’ve long since bought an automatic. Now I’m learning to drive as a parent of teenagers, and it’s every bit as herky-jerky as those Saturday afternoons outside the Presbyterian church.
Instead of a clutch and a gas pedal, I’m struggling to learn how to interchange autonomy and control. It’s nerve-racking! I’m always using too much of one or the other. Either I give my kids too much autonomy, and they end up abusing my trust and getting into things they have no business getting into, or I enforce too much control and “ruin” their lives with my “arbitrary” life-sucking rules.
What makes it worse is that my wife and I are both trying to “drive this car.” We’ve each got our own steering wheel, clutch, brake and gas pedal. When we agree about where we should go, things go pretty smoothly, but if she turns left when I turn right, our family comes to a jerking stop.
And maybe it’s God’s sense of humor, but he made my wife more of a clutch person (control) and me more of a gas person (autonomy). That adds no end of fun to the driving experience! Our kids learned these differences long ago, and they are constantly giving me opportunities to get pulled over by my wife for reckless driving. (In our family, she doubles as driver and law enforcement officer.)
What we want is “wreck-less driving.” Less big mistakes, less arguments, less hurt feelings, less wear and tear on our teenage model domestics. I’ve learned that the first rule of “wreck-less driving” is synchronizing directions and pedal movements with my wife. Even if we make a wrong turn, it’s better to make it together. That means frequent communication and a willingness to give each other the right-of-way at times.
The second rule of “wreck-less driving” is to listen to the sound of the engine (it represents our kids’ thoughts and opinions). The sound the engine makes helps us know if we are giving it too much clutch or too much gas. When we give it too much clutch, the engine will whine (and whine and whine and whine…) That doesn’t mean we should always give it the gas, but the engine’s complaints can tell us when we need to let go a little. Remember the advice from Apostle Paul:
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)
Too much control prevents our kids from developing the wisdom and driving skills they will need when they are out on their own. It can lead to rebellion and bitterness while we are at the wheel and wild, authority-defying behaviors once they start driving their own cars.
On the other hand, when we give our teens too much gas, their engines can get clogged with impurities. We’ve got to keep an eye on their fuel source, because it influences the quality of decisions they make when we give them some autonomy. This is the third rule of “wreck-less driving.”
If our kids are spending daily time in the Word of God and have some close, godly friends, the fuel is probably pretty clean. But if they are spending most of their time around the T.V. or with a negative peer group, it’s likely that their thinking won’t have the maturity for them to get much mileage out of it. By listening to their engines (thoughts and opinions), we are likely to hear early warning signs that indicate we need to take our foot off of the gas.
In my own humble view, I think parenting is much more difficult than learning to drive. It’s crazy that no one asks us to pass a parental driving test before getting behind the wheel. We’ve got to do most of our learning on the freeways and tollways of life, and it’s definitely a white-knuckle experience. But our kids will never grow into maturity if we always drive like we have Miss Daisy in the car. Our kids need the experience of building speed by practicing making decisions on their own. Along the way, they will get in some fender benders and earn their share of traffic tickets, but as long as we follow the “wreck-less” rules, they should be okay. So, don’t be afraid to give them the gas every once in a while!