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  • Writer's pictureLaura Peters

Sometimes You Don’t Ram the Mercedes

Updated: Feb 15, 2022

I have no idea why I woke up thinking about the day my daughter, Rebecca, did not ram into her father’s Mercedes as she backed out of the garage, but sometimes these happy memories pop into mind. Actually, when we’re together and something is going wrong, Rebecca will say, “Well, at least I didn’t total the Mercedes that day!”

Teaching your children to drive is on my list of things a parent needs to teach their offspring to do. A person doesn’t need to like driving, but it’s important to know how - manual and automatic. Notice I didn’t say it’s important for your child to own a car. As of this date, none of my three daughters who are all over the age of thirty have ever owned a car, but knowing how to drive is essential.

As my daughters hit different childhood milestones I made sure they could do activities appropriate to their age. By age six, each girl could swim, ride a bicycle, roller blade, ice skate, climb trees, and cross the street safely.

We lived in a social environment in Southern California that frowned upon children walking anywhere alone. “Play dates” were arranged things, often supervised by a parent rather than just having a child show up to play with another child. I thought the idea of a play date was so that my child would be fully occupied in happy play so I could do something else. Not in Los Angeles! No, it could mean a parent taking the kids to a bowling alley, to paint plates or go to Universal Studios for the afternoon! (No, I didn't do this kind of playdate. If a child came over to see one of my kids, the child better know how to play.)

I was of the generation that spent all day outdoors and knew I better head home when the street lights came on. Fortunately, aside from the mother who padded her child like a hockey player to go outside, lest she fall and hurt herself, I had another neighbor who thought childhood should be, just that, childhood. If a kid falls down, they better learn to pick themselves up. We arranged it so that our children could go between our homes during the day. In the evenings, we put up traffic cones at either end of the street to slow traffic which allowed the kids to play outside doing a game they organized like hide-and-seek, riding their bicycles around the block or playing pretend games of their own design.

There was a house on the corner of our block where we knew three little girls lived, but we never saw them playing outside of their gated property. As they saw our children outside they quickly persuaded their parents that this was a fun and good idea. Soon, most Friday and Saturday nights became a block party with all the neighbors sitting on lawn chairs chatting while the kids were free to roam.

This freedom helped them know their own neighborhood, a first step in learning their way around their own city, then state, then country, and then other countries. My daughters and the other children all learned social skills because they had to navigate social interactions on their own. They became physically strong and self-confident because they spent time every afternoon outdoors, riding their bikes, shooting hoops or just playing.

I realize we were lucky to live on a quiet street with like-minded neighbors. We all had backyards too - one with a swing set, two with swimming pools, and ours had a lawn. If your home or apartment doesn’t have these amenities, think about where you can go with your children to safely give them a sense of autonomy.

Autonomy is important because one day your child will be a teenager who wants to learn to drive and you want to feel confident that that teenager has good sense when they get behind the wheel. By the time our children were teens we were living in Calabasas, California. I was stunned that many of my children’s 13 year old friends were not allowed to walk around the mall by themselves. I was even more surprised when those same children were given a car on their sixteenth birthday, like all of a sudden they would know their way around and how to cope alone in the real world.

If you want to feel confident that your children will be responsible adults and not hit the Mercedes, try giving them the opportunity to learn how to navigate the world on foot before they drive.


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