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My Teen’s Independence: Driving Towards Freedom

I took my son to his first driver’s ed class yesterday. The instructor told us that students are taught to keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times. It’s called the push-pull method: one hand feeds the other a little bit at a time as the car makes a seamless turn.

As I said goodbye to my boy and left him to handle the rest of the coursework on his own, something occurred to me.

Our whole family has been doing our own kind of push-pull for the last 16 years. But it hasn’t always been seamless.

Our First Try at Independence

For 10 years, I had my own writing, editing, and public relations business. I worked out of my home—mostly at night and into the wee hours of the morning when the kids were little. But occasionally, I’d have to conduct an interview during daytime business hours. On one such day, when my girls were two and four years old, I set them up in the living room with snacks and their favorite Disney movie. Then I headed downstairs to make a 10-minute call. They were so quiet while I was on the phone that after I hung up I came bounding up the steps full of joy and pride. I had given them a little bit of freedom, and they handled it like pros.

But when I rounded the corner, I saw my little angels, completely nude, rolling on the floor in Shedd’s Spread. Apparently, without mom around, they saw an opening to break into the industrial-sized Country Crock we had picked up earlier at Costco and they seized the opportunity with reckless abandon. I had pushed a little freedom their way and they pulled hard. Do you know that margarine doesn’t come out of carpets? Or off ceilings?

Take Two at Independence

When everyone got a little older, all three kids were in grade school. At that point, I went back to work in a real office setting. For the first few years, my son hung out after school with his buddy who lives three doors down. His mom (and my best friend) could watch them both. By the time he was in seventh grade, though, he longed for a shot at teen independence—staying home alone after school. He was 13 years old, so it didn’t seem like that big a risk. I gave him permission, and he promised that he was up to the responsibility. Plus my friend was right down the street in case anything went wrong. Like the time he lost every spare house key and accidentally locked all of the doors—including the one to his second-floor bedroom—getting himself stuck inside when he really had to use the bathroom. Sigh. At least my friend had an extension ladder.

Driving Toward Independence

Now just three years later, that boy is growing up. Soon my teenager will be driving a car, confidently holding the wheel in both hands as he turns all sorts of exciting new corners and travels down unexplored roads on his own.

He’s not pushing me away exactly. He’s just a boy growing up. Still, I am filled with an overwhelming desire to pull him back with all my might.

Kathleen Osborne is a mom of two teenagers and a soon-to-be teenager. She’s head of communications for Hathaway Brown School in Cleveland, Ohio. And she’s a writer whose work has appeared in The Plain DealerCleveland Magazine, and now Your Teen.

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