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Auntie SparkNotes: My Mom Panics Whenever I'm Behind the Wheel

Auntie SparkNotes: My Mom Panics Whenever I'm Behind the Wheel

Hi Auntie!
Let me just start by saying I LOVE my mom, and she is a fantastic driver. I was really excited to learn how to drive with her, as I've had my permit for over two months now. And I understand that most parents have some anxieties when teaching their teens how to drive.


Things have not been going so well. My mom is extremely nervous in the car with me, and therefore her teaching style is a bit, well, panicky. For example, the other day I was driving. We pulled out of my neighborhood, and began to approach a light. It was green, so I began to speed up in order to keep up with traffic. Not speeding, just approaching the limit. After about four seconds, the light turned yellow. She starts screaming "YELLOW LIGHT! YELLOW LIGHT!". Now, I had seen the light, and had plenty of time to stop, and the stop I made was fine. Things like this occur every time I drive with her, and I don't think I can take it.

There's also another problem, and this is partly my fault: when I am driving with my mom, my driving isn't terrible, but it isn't fantastic, because I feel like I have to drive perfectly and that makes me nervous which affects my driving. When I am driving with my dad, however, my driving is great, because I am relaxed. My dad expects me to follow the rules, obviously, and to not drive recklessly, but he doesn't expect absolute perfection. He is very calm when teaching me, even if I make a mistake that could have been dangerous. My mom freaks out at simple things like accelerating a little too fast. Sometimes I feel like she expects me to drive like her (she's a really great driver), but I don't have over twenty years of driving experience, like she does. What should I do?

To begin with, you can give yourself a break for reacting the way everybody reacts when a panicky, impatient, hyperreactive passenger is totally stressing them out. Because it's normal and natural to be less skilled, and less sure of yourself, when you've got someone in the car who treats you like an accident waiting to happen. (Fun story time: back when Auntie was fifteen, i.e. in a long-ago era when Green Day was a brand new band and dinosaurs still roamed the earth, my mom gave me my first driving lesson on a back road in rural Maine—and while she was fairly relaxed about it, my boyfriend, who was a year older than me and therefore thought he knew everything, insisted that he ride along to "help." Which he did by haranguing and shouting at me from the backseat until I was so frantic and stressed out that I did what any self-respecting red-blooded American teenager would do: namely, I panicked and drove directly into a tree.)

And while you can certainly address this issue with your mom (which we'll get to in a second), you might want to ask yourself first whether this is a battle you really need to fight. Your mom might be a great driver, but she just isn't a good driving teacher and you know from experience that you learn better, and do better, when your comparatively relaxed dad is in charge of instructing you. Which means that all things considered, it might come as a relief to all involved if you just quietly asked your father to be in charge of teaching you to drive.

Y'know, just a public service announcement from the department of Sometimes It's Just Easier to Politely Work Around the Foibles of the People You Love.

But if you really need to log some time with your mom in the passenger seat, then here's the deal: wait until it's been at least 48 hours since you were last behind the wheel, and then calmly, politely approach her as follows:

1. Express empathy for her position: "I understand that it's stressful to be teaching an inexperienced driver, and that you're anxious about me getting into an accident."

2. Then, explain yours: "But it's really nervewracking to be screamed at when I'm behind the wheel, and it makes me extremely nervous, which makes it more likely that I'm going to panic and do something stupid. So I'm going to make every effort to drive cautiously, but I'd like you to make an effort to speak to me in a normal tone of voice instead of yelling."

Which, unless your mom is the world's most unreasonable person, she'll certainly agree to—especially since even experienced drivers get freaked out by a screamer in the passenger seat. And if she raises her voice while you're behind the wheel again, all you'll need to do is stay cool, keep it together, and calmly remind her that being yelled at doesn't make you a better driver.

And then pull into the nearest drive-thru for some ice cream, because it'll make you both feel better.

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Topics: Uncategorized, Advice
Tags: auntie sparknotes, drivers, moms, conflicts, driving stories

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About the Author

Kat Rosenfield is a writer, illustrator, advice columnist, YA author, and enthusiastic licker of that plastic liner that comes inside a box of Cheez-Its. She loves zombies and cats. She hates zombie cats. Follow her on Twitter or Tumblr @katrosenfield.

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