While growing up, there were a few places you could always find me: the trampoline, where I was free and strong all summer; the living room heating vent, where I huddled with a blanket and a book all winter. But, my very favorite place was the car, where I felt my parent’s love.
In the front seat of my dad’s car, I cried on his shoulder when I didn’t get a good part in the dance recital. He held me and told me that he loved me, and I knew he meant it. There I learned that I loved Cat Stevens and that my dad was the coolest because he sang AC/DC at the top of his lungs. It was where he would ask me how things were going. I would open up to him, telling him about my life, as we finished a greasy bag of Crazy Bread together before we arrived home for dinner.
Riding in the back seat of my mom’s car was where I was introduced to the Boxcar Children on long rides to California. It was where she quizzed me on spelling words as she rushed me to dance class. One day while I riding in the front seat next to her, she attempted to talk to me about sex. Another day she told me how disappointed she was that I had lied to her about sneaking out of the house, putting myself in danger. Riding in the car with my mom was where I felt like a grown-up, as we chatted about boys, school, work, and the future. Here was where I changed from being her little girl to her friend.
Now that I am grown and have children of my own, my minivan has transformed into a place for me to connect with my children. Riding in the backseat, my boys have sung my favorite songs from childhood. There they have learned their ABCs and mastered their addition. It’s where they ask me questions about God, the world, and nature. It’s where they listen to really cheesy made up stories that they still can’t get enough of. It’s where they yell at me to, “Turn it up,” and where they roll their eyes when I sing too loudly to old school songs. It’s where they learn to share their space and time with each other.
As I drive the everyday routine of carpools and baseball practice, almost every car I see has a mom on a phone, a dad with an earpiece, and kids with their own iSomething. The whole family is together, but completely separate.
Because of society’s obsession with being entertained and occupied all the time, I often wonder how many tears have been missed, how many conversations never happen, and how many joys have gone unshared because everyone is so busy doing the unimportant.
I can’t help but feel that families should bicker about what song to listen to. They should be a little bored together every now and then. Parents should still have to sing to their kids or tell them a story to pass the time. Families should look out the window at the world together. Siblings should be forced to talk about what is going on in their lives every once in awhile. I’ve discovered that the path of least resistance rarely yields unforgettable moments.
In the car, a family is held hostage: kids have to talk to their parents! Here—without intrusive technology—parents have a perfect opportunity to connect with their children. In a society where it seems like no one is ever going in the same direction and individuals often feel alone, parents should hold on to this one last sanctuary for as long as they can.
I’m not perfect at this. Sometimes I find myself falling into the trap of making car time my phone time or turning on a movie sooner rather than later on a road trip. However, in our busy schedules, sometimes car time is all the time we have to spend together. So I have to stop myself when I am in these moments and focus on my children, because they are growing up way too fast, and I don’t want to miss it.
I want my car to be one of my children’s sacred places, just like it was for me. I want to have conversations and make memories as we drive. In order to do this, we’ve decided that for our family, car time will be a time to unplug from electronics and plug into each other. If you choose to join me, I think we may all be surprised by the little and maybe not-so-little people we get to know who have been riding in our cars all these years.
QUESTION: How do you create opportunities to connect more with your children?
CHALLENGE: This week, take time to really connect with your children while riding in the car. Make a goal to unplug and see what you discover.
Edited by Becky Fawcett and Sarah Monson.
Image from FreeDigitalPhotos/pakorn with graphics by Anna Jenkins.