Navigating The Joys Of Parenting A First Born – The Driving Years

Here’s me and my family the summer before I headed off to college.

I’m a first-born child.  I’m the oldest of three boys.  My middle brother, David, is two and a half years younger than me, and my “little” brother, Erik, is thirteen and a half years younger than me.  We are different although you might not recognize that if you hear us answering the phone.  I think it’s pretty safe to say our parents have had challenges parenting each one of us.  We each respond to correction and discipline a little differently.  While my parents tried to be fair, there is no question that we were each parented a little differently.

As a first-born child, I sometimes felt like I was the guinea pig.  There were certain privileges and expectations that came with being a first-born, and there were also periods of testing.  I tested the boundaries (but not too far as I wanted to please my parents), and my parents were trying to figure out the boundaries as they ventured through parenting milestones for the first time.

I was the first child to go to school.  I was the first child to play on a sports team.  I was the first child to go on an overnight youth group retreat.  And I was the first child to drive.  Driving is a pretty big deal.  In New Jersey, I had to wait until I was seventeen to get my driver’s license.  I didn’t get my own car until I was a junior in college, but I was still expected to pay for my portion of the car insurance bill as soon as I got my license.  I’m not sure how my parents made this decision, but I’m sure it partially had to do with the fact they couldn’t afford to pay for me on their insurance plan and they wanted to make sure I took responsibility for my part of the family driving privileges.

We are currently navigating these waters with our daughter.  Hannah is our first-born child, and she just earned her driver’s license in June.  Leanne and I have been learning a lot through the process.  I think we’re generally doing the right thing, but I feel like we’re also learning and experimenting along the way.

Here are the basics of our agreement with Hannah:

  1. She has to pay for her portion of the car insurance.  We haven’t changed our insurance policy for a while.  Adding Hannah to our plan has meant investigation and price comparison.  We think it’s important for her to pay her share of the insurance, so she has ownership in the whole process.
  2. She has to pay for gas when she uses our car.  Gas is expensive.  This could be one reason many parents pay for gas for their children.  This is why we choose to make our kids pay for the gas they use.  Driving costs money, and we are not made of money.
  3. If we get another car (to be used by her), she will pay for half of the car.  Neither Leanne or I had cars until we were into the second half of our college careers.  My parents had two cars I could use when they were available.  We only have one car that Hannah can drive.  This may make having a second car more attractive to Hannah.  She is currently looking at a couple of cars.  The idea of paying for half the car came from Dave Ramsey’s 401DAVE Plan he used with his children when it came to their first car purchases.  When a child pays for a major portion of their vehicle, they are more likely to take care of it.
  4. Any costs incurred as a result of a ticket or accident will result in additional payment by Hannah (and possible further results).  Hannah is a good driver, but tickets and accidents happen.
  5. She cannot drive with other people besides her brother until we agree it’s okay.  The state of Pennsylvania limits the number of non-family members in a car driven by a minor.  We are enforcing this limit and adding our own stipulation until we are all more comfortable with Hannah’s driving.
  6. She must clearly communicate with us about times, places, and people.  She has a cell phone for a reason.  We expect her to call us when she arrives at a place.  We expect her to tell us where she will be and when she will be home.  In addition, we expect her to ask us before she goes someplace.  We know that Hannah is trying to figure out her boundaries of independence, and this is something we want to encourage with appropriate limits.  Communication is key to trust.
  7. Driving is a privilege and not a right.  As parents, we reserve the right to restrict or remove driving privileges based on attitude, grades, family participation, and overall performance.  Just because she has a license (and potentially a car) does not mean she is completely independent.  She still lives under our roof.  We are still the parents, and she is still our child.
  8. Safe driving is a must.  This goes without saying, but it must be said.  I was a teenager, so I know it can be easy to have a feeling of invincibility.  It only takes a split second to get into a dangerous situation, and in today’s world of cell phones and other devices, it’s easy to be distracted while driving.
  9. We love you!  No matter what happens, we love our daughter.  We have these “rules”, because we love Hannah.  We want what is best for her.  The Bible says that parents who love their children discipline them and set appropriate boundaries for them.  This is our aim.

Are these all the right rules?  For us, it’s a place to start.  Leanne and I are definitely learning through this experience.  We have been reminded about the importance of communicating with each other and with our children.  Some people may think we are being too strict, and some may say we are too lenient.

Will we change the rules at some point?  I’m not sure.  We are trying to do our best, but this is the first time we’ve done this.  Our second child will hopefully benefit from watching his older sister navigate these waters.  And we will hopefully benefit by better communicating our expectations to our son.

Parenting is a challenge, and parenting a first-born child is an adventure!

Where do you fall in the birth order of your family?  How did your parents handle driving privileges for you?  How have you handles driving privileges for your children?  If your kids aren’t driving age yet, have you started talking about it yet?  What rules will you have for your kids when it comes to driving?