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Can Dad Relinquish the Wheel? Teaching through Lack of Self Control

This past weekend found us in Waco Texas to celebrate Number 1’s graduation from Baylor University. It was a great weekend with family. It included a 12-hour drive down on Thursday and a 12-hour drive back on Sunday. The drive to our destination seemed much quicker , as the anticipation of the events that awaited us made time fly by. The drive back to Nebraska, however, was not full of the same excitement.

We officially celebrated Mother’s Day and Number 4’s 16th birthday with a long car ride home. In fairness, we did some early celebrating as a family; however, the car ride of sleeping, snoring and farting kids did not seem to do justice to the fact that my wife gave birth four times without an epidural, drugs or help in any way. Fortunately, she was pretty chill after seeing Number 1 walk the stage at her college graduation. That is what we do in the end though I guess.

Number 4 was not as chill as my wife and he previously whined a) about having to celebrate Mother’s Day on HIS Day, and b) spending a milestone birthday in the back seat of the van for a long day of driving. We showered him with some gifts over the weekend and hid gifts in the car for a “mobile treasure hunt.” He spent the rest of the time planning his “real” party in a few weeks from now and where he wanted to go to dinner next week for his special night that got delayed.

So why did I lead with that? Well basically to show that our trip home wasn’t an ordinary trip in more ways than one. You see, when we travel, I drive and everyone else enjoys the scenery, their iPhones and an occasional movie on the video screen, a book on tape or even a discussion on relationships. The constant in all this is that I am in the driver's seat. You see, I am a control freak and I don’t believe anyone can drive better than me. I will turn over the wheel to my wife when I am too tired, and most times I even push through my tiredness to get us safely to our destination.

Well on this trip, Number 2 had asked to be part of the driving team as she wanted some practice behind the wheel. She is 20 after all, but she has been out of the country teaching music camps, and she hasn’t driven much lately. Trying to be supportive, I said sure! On the way home about 6 hours into our trip, I gave her the opportunity and she definitely rose to the challenge.

Number 2 drove like a champ but I was not such a good co-pilot. I shut my mouth and let her drive, but that wasn’t easy for me! (Actually I had to play my favorite game on my phone to keep myself from getting too intense.) You see she didn’t do things my way. She did things her way.

I had to remind myself that this was about her confidence, and not my control tendencies. I only spoke up a couple of times, even though in my head I was having a constant dialogue about what she could have done differently. She drove through some horrible rain, and I so wanted to tell her to pull over so that I could drive the rest of the way; instead, I reassured her that she was doing great and would only take over when she was ready to let me.

Sometimes you have to let your kids learn, even when it is easier to do it for them. Driving is MY domain, but in the end, I knew that attitude would not help her gain more confidence that she needed to drive on a trip later this summer.

I do my kids a disservice when I always do for them rather than teaching them – at least that is what my wife has been telling me. Looking back, I can see that now; it was easier for me just to jump in and do. My wife says, no wonder Number 3 does not know how to load the dishwasher and Number 4 can’t even properly hang a pair of creased pants. In the scheme of life, they will be okay.

As we gear up for yet another graduation this weekend -- Number 3 graduates from high school -- I find myself reflecting on all that could have been. Good thing we had four kids; I have one more shot to get this right. On the other hand, Number 4 literally just got his drivers license. Sure I am glad he can drive himself around town. Finally, my wife and I are not longer his activity Uber driver. When it comes to the next 12-hour trip, however, well…. I will take the wheel from here.

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