Creative Parenting 101: Turning Rules Into a Road Map

“I want to learn someday how to drive a car.”

From the Thankful Journal, 1999 and almost seven years old

Well folks, that day is here. Actually, he has been learning to drive a car for almost a year now, thanks to the State of Illinois’ requirements for new drivers: he needed 50 hours on his permit before obtaining an actual license. The thirteen-year-old will need 100 hours, due to the requirements recently increasing again. I’m fine with it. There have been many teen-aged deaths due to car accidents over the past many years and Illinois is doing something about it (probably–hopefully–along with many other states. Each hour behind the wheel is, well, an hour of more experience that is truly valuable. How many other skills do kids learn that will carry them through the rest of their lives? Okay, probably alot. But this is a biggie. We’ve come a long way from having no other requirement than taking a quarter of driver’s ed class in high school and then just skipping on down to the DMV on our 16th birthday to pick up that little laminated rectangle. Now, teens really have to “work” for their license.

Well, the ones with responsible parents do. It’s the other ones that should still be a concern, the ones whose parents will sign off their 50 hours when they’ve really done far fewer, because the parents “don’t have time” to work with them. I wonder if those parents would be forgiving of that excuse if another kid–with far fewer than 50 hours–critically injured, or dare I say killed, their child? But that’s for another post; it’s obviously an issue I feel strongly about.

So, over the past year, driving practice has gone really well. When he did his six hours with his official instructor, he got an “A” and his instructor constantly raved about what a good driver he was. That’s always a good sign. It’s hard to believe that about a year ago, he and I were spending twenty minutes at a time in a nearby church parking lot, and most of what came out of his mouth was “Oops!”. His progress (Thank you, State of Illinois and your 50-hour requirement!) has been amazing.

But not completely uneventful.

We were finishing up his night driving hours on Monday–and also practicing the maneuvers he needed to know for his driving test, when he almost made me cry. He was backing out of a driveway to turn around and I suddenly heard a screech. I thought he had backed into a car but thankfully it was only a mailbox. I made some kind of noise (a scream, maybe? Can’t remember) and he stopped, totally shocked. I said, “You hit the mailbox…go forward!” He did, and the mailbox, thankfully, was totally fine. When we returned home where we had light, we went to check the damage on my car and found this:

It’s about six inches long and Ugly with a capital U. I was mortified, and he was horrified. My car is 2 1/2 years old. I didn’t yell or scream; frankly, it could have happened to anybody, even me! I was just a little upset about the damage and what we would have to do to fix it.

We calmed down and went to the auto parts store yesterday to get a kit so that we can get rid of that ugly blemish, and we’ll probably do it this weekend.

This morning, we headed down to the DMV nice and early to try and avoid the inevitable crowds. Here’s the scene of the “crime”:

I was getting a little emotional as I watched him go through the motions of showing the examiner that he knows how to operate the turn signals and all that jazz:

He took his road test, passed it, and got his license! Woo hoo! He totally has a serial killer-ish smirk on his face in his official license photo. That quality he gets from his dad, because Jim’s license is sort of scary too. (so proud: LOL)

Here’s our family’s newest driver:

Here he is with his brother, who is very excited to finally get to sit in front while his brother is driving:

And lastly, here he is, sniff sniff, driving to Walgreens to turn in some film for developing on an errand strictly made up for his first day of driving pleasure:

I know, I know: the image is blurry. But that’s life when you’re a parent, right? It goes by too quickly.

With such an important milestone looming over us for the past few months, I knew it was time to start working up another list of rules, just to put it all “out there” for him. Since my last major venture with this method was so well-received out in cyber-land, I’m posting, for your enjoyment and possibly your own usage, the Wells Family Rules of the Road:

1. Attached you will find the special Illinois laws for drivers younger than 18. These are obviously in addition to all of the other driving laws; Make sure you know these very, very well because you are responsible for following them.

2. Seatbelts. Always. Do not move the car until everyone in it is wearing a seatbelt; no exceptions.

3. You will cover the $100/month it will cost to carry your car insurance. We will pay for gasoline, unless this benefit is taken advantage of (see number 5).

4. You will keep your Grade Point Average at a 3.0 or higher in order to continue receiving the Good Student Insurance Discount. If your GPA falls and your insurance goes up, you will pay the additional amount.

5. You are not allowed to drive around just for the purpose of driving. As you know, gasoline is very expensive these days and shouldn’t be wasted. You should only drive when you need to get somewhere. If we see that you are driving excessively, we will talk about how much gasoline you will need to pay for.

6. You will be responsible for fines accrued by any sort of speeding ticket or other violation.

7. You must notify us immediately of any violations.

8. We hope that you will make responsible decisions when in a social environment and refrain from drinking alcohol until you are 21 years old (and refrain from drug usage altogether). That said, should you make an error in judgment, you must not drink and drive. You must not get into the car of another person who would be drinking and driving. You must call us to come and get you, no questions asked, and we will discuss it the following day.

9. You may not use your cell phone for talking or texting while driving at any time. If you need to communicate with someone via phone, you must pull over safely to a spot that is acceptable before using the phone.

10. Don’t assume that a family car will always be available for your use. You must communicate to us when you would like to use the car and if it’s not available, you will have four options: Arrange with us to drive you, Arrange to get a ride with someone else, Ride your bike if it’s safe, or Change your plans. It will help us all out if you use the kitchen calendar to write down when (and where) you have arranged to take one of the cars.

11. Sharing the cars means that we all have to help keep them clutter-free. You are already pretty good at it; let’s keep it that way!

12. If you get into a car accident, you should do the following things (we will keep a copy of this in each car):
A. Remain calm.
B. Check for injuries.
C. If it’s a minor accident and nobody is seriously injured, move the cars to a safe place. Otherwise, just stay put.
D. Turn on the hazard lights.
E. Call the police, even in the case of a minor accident.
F. If the other person is trying to leave before the police arrive (assuming this is a minor accident), do your best to at least get their name, contact information, and insurance information.
G. Do not have a back-and-forth conversation with the other driver over what happened. Tell your story to the police.
H. Do NOT leave the scene before the police officer tells you it’s okay.
I. Call us at your earliest convenience after all of this, and when it’s safe.

13. Remember this (Advice originally given to Mom from Grandpa W. when she got her license): A car is not just a mode of transportation; it’s also a weapon. It is dangerous and can kill, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. BE CAREFUL.

14. Abuse of these rules and/or the laws of the state will get your license suspended by us.

15. We are excited for you and very proud of you during this important milestone in your life! You’ve become a really good driver (well, except for that mailbox thing…but that can happen to anyone!) and we look forward to giving you this added responsibility!

Yikes, everybody! My son has a license!!!

20 Comments

  • Mags

    Oh….I’m not a parent but I can bet that if I were, I would be very nervous about this! Congratulations to the new driver though!!

    As always your parenting skillz impress me. 🙂

  • tutugirl1345

    Your rules sound really good! I’m very excited for your son, I loved finally having the freedom to drive and being able to hang out with friends without parents to drive me around. That being said, I’d like to suggest that you take out the “we will discuss it the next day” out of number 8. Even though not drinking is certainly a really important rule, its more important that he stay alive. The threat of being punished for calling you while drunk or with people who are drunk may make him more likely to get in the car (or someone else’s car), knowing that he will get in trouble if he calls home. This is a rule I wish my parents had had (I would have kept myself out of danger a lot more in high school), and a rule that my university also employed when it came to taking people to the hospital. Obviously, you know your child far better than I do, but its certainly something to consider.

  • Melisa

    Mags: Yep, I’m a little nervous, but he’s a good driver (for his age and experience, that is). It’s one of those instances where you have to slowly let out the reins without grinding your teeth. LOL

    Tutugirl: Hi! I see what you’re saying; we’ve actually talked to him several times about drinking/driving, etc. and we put it in the context that as with all things that don’t go along with our family values, there are consequences. We told him that BECAUSE we want him to get home alive, that’s why he should call us for a ride home and that, like anything else that he could do that was unacceptable, there would be *civil* discussion about it. My hope is that, since he knows our feelings NOW about drinking and driving and that there are consequences, it will make him do the right thing in the first place. We hope. We hope. We hope. 🙂

  • Kat

    w00t w00t! Congratulations!!!!! This is major news and Melisa, will you write that darn book already??? LOL 🙂

  • Melissa

    I’m impressed…the mailbox thing would have thrown me for a loop!! I’m so glad Hope has a long way to go until she starts driving….it gives me a long time to stockpile Xanax! 😉

  • tutugirl1345

    It sounds like you really have covered all the bases. I agree with Kat- you should totally write a book.

  • nukedad

    Everything you’ve ever written about your children in a situation like this shows what a great parent you are. I’m sure he will do you proud. It’s amazing what kids can accomplish when they know that their parents are behind them. Great job!

  • Sarah

    Congrats on your family’s newest driver!

    I liked your rules and may need to implement them when the time comes. Thankfully my oldest will only be 7 later this year, so I’ve got some time before I need to fret over all that.

  • Melisa

    Kat!: Don’t worry, it’s down the road! LOL

    Colleen: Exciting AND scary just about cover it!

    Melissa: Ha! You probably won’t need the Xanax. You’ll find that she will give you challenges that increase in difficulty from now until that point, so it won’t seem like such a big jump. (or maybe not. You’d better stock up anyway! Ha!)

    Kathy: Thanks! 🙂

    Aunt Doody: Totally! I bet he’d even wear a chauffeur’s hat if you asked him to…

    Nukedad: Aww, you make me blush. Thanks for the nice words.

    Sarah: Feel free to bookmark the page! LOl I’ll let you know how they work out since you have nine years to play around with them!

  • Michelle

    Congrats to him on getting his license on the first try! Just tell me that isn’t the Niles station.

    I’m not looking forward to that 100 hour span. I totally agree with Jesse White on this one, but I think I’ll let my husband be the one to teach them. 12 years from now….

  • Anissa Mayhew

    What a HUGE milestone! My oldest is 10 and instead of a college fund, I’m saving up money to cover the cost of the insurance surge. I can’t wait until you start posting about THAT.

    Those are some rocking rules, I may save that and print it out the day mine gets behind the wheel…after I’ve awakened from my XanaX induced coma.

    –Anissa
    http://www.hope4peyton.org

  • Anonymous

    From Dawn:

    Woo Hoo! Congrats to son #1!!! I’m so proud of you. 🙂 Hey, D, feel lucky Mom and Dad are paying for the gas! Nick has to pay insurance AND gas.

    Oh, and I feel like I was right there with you since we were on the phone during that time. Sorry about that, but thanks at the same time. Love ya!

  • Dea

    WOW – huge day! Congrats to ds1!!!

    Love the rules – my parents had a similar list, and I was a stickler – as my friends. I think if you lay it out there, and treat them with respect – teenagers will do the right thing. 😀 I threw a friend out of my car in a parking lot for unsafe passenger practices! LOL!

  • Melisa

    Michelle: Nope, not the Niles station. Further south. 🙂 And don’t worry, I bet by the time your little one gets there, the driving age will be 18 and the permit phase will be the two years before. I’m just putting that out there…

    Anissa: Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the insurance, other than the fact that he’s paying for his own. It DOUBLED our insurance cost. Just for little old him. That’s because teen boys are the most accident prone, apparently. I think I read recently though that teen girls are, sadly, catching up to that statistic.

    Huckdoll: Thanks! 🙂

    Anonymous (LOL): I was glad to be there (on the phone) for you. That’s what friends are for!

    Deanna: I HOPE that he would throw a friend out like you did! That’s awesome!

  • My boys are Army Brats

    Yay another driver to run errands! I will love being able to send a kid to the store for diet pepsi when I run out and we’re in the middle of another deployment! Wait by then he should be retiring from the military woohoo!

    Your set of rules are very thorough. I like that! Great parenting!

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