Trust and Learning to Drive
Karen M. Gibson
One of the supporting elements of child-led learning is trust. Trust that children will learn what they need when they need it. Trust that they will follow their own inner timetable if given the freedom to so. Trust that their curiosity and abilities will enable them to successfully learn anything they set their minds to. This trust has been my foundation for most of our homeschooling years. Recently, though, the advent of “the driving age” for two of our three children has me questioning whether trust is really enough and whether the trust I place in my children is really as solid as I think it is.
The problem does not lie in the timetable part of trust. So far, both children have known when they were ready to begin driving and when they were not. My daughter will be eighteen in just a couple of months and it has only been over the past four months that driving has become important to her. Up until that time she was content with the idea of never driving and simply relying upon public transportation (although I provide the only bus service where we live!). As her desire for independence grew, though, it became important to her to obtain her driver’s license, and so the driving lessons began.
My fourteen-year-old is also in no hurry to drive, even though he will shortly be fifteen and then eligible to get his driver’s permit. He informed me that the thoughts in his head and the scenery going by distract him too easily and so he did not believe he was ready to learn to drive yet. A very wise young man! To improve his attention span, he decided he would try concentrating on the road for one-minute time periods. I am sure he will let me know when he is ready to begin driving.
No, timetable is not the problem. The problem is that I was totally unprepared for how little trust I would have in my children's ability to learn to drive. Intellectually I know that they have the ability to learn and will, undoubtedly, have very little trouble in developing the skills necessary to do so. Emotionally, though, it is the “developing the skills” area that seems to be causing me such tremendous doubt.
My daughter is not a wild driver; she is very cautious, maybe a tad bit too cautious, if that is possible. We have had no accidents nor any near misses while she has been driving, nothing that should cause me to have such feelings of doubt and mistrust. Fear I can understand, since learning to drive is an inherently dangerous process. But fear is only a small part of what I am experiencing. Every time the car moves the slightest bit to the right, I know she is driving into the ditch. If the car moves at all toward the centerline, I know she is driving right into the oncoming lane. Every time she reaches to adjust her seat or a mirror or the volume on the radio, I know she is going to lose control and we will crash. I grip my armrest ever more tightly and my feet press firmly down on the floorboards. I fervently wish my vehicle had a second brake pedal on the passenger side and another steering wheel also!
Why, in this one particular instance, do I not trust more in the learning abilities and good sense that I know my daughter has? I have never had this doubt and mistrust in anything my children have previously attempted. I was not afraid when my daughter had the controls of a friend’s small plane and navigated on her own for several minutes. I had no doubts in her abilities when she wanted to take flying lessons. But I wasn’t flying with her at the time. Perhaps fear of my own mortality is overriding my trust?
Whatever the reasons, this “learning to drive” process has proven to be much more difficult for me than it has been for my daughter. She has progressed in her driving ability quite nicely and will soon be ready to take her driver’s test. I have made some progress too. I am now able to loosen my grip on the armrest and somewhat relax my legs, which have been continually trying to step on that non-existent brake pedal. I am even able to appear relaxed enough that my daughter has quit saying to me, “Relax, Mom. You’ll survive the accident better if you aren’t so tense.” (Helpful, isn’t she?) But inwardly, when we arrive at my destination, I am sighing with relief. And then immediately worrying about the return trip home.
I wonder if I will experience less stress and be more trustful with the next child, the one practicing his attention span skills? Or perhaps with the youngest, who at age five wanted to take the family van on the local dirt track on race night? Maybe it is time I remembered the breathing techniques learned in those long-ago birthing classes. Who knew how useful they would turn out to be!
Copyright November 2002