There was great whoop of delight from my son. There was an even louder whoop from me. The reason for celebration: Duncan had passed his driving test. No longer do I have to sit in the passenger seat while he clocks up his 120 hours of driving experience.

120 hours is a long time. Ask any parent who has a learner driver. It is a huge commitment, helping a young person get their P plates so they can get out on the road alone. Of course it is an enormous achievement for a learner to pass the driving test. They should be proud of themselves. But it is also an enormous achievement for the support driver. I think anyone who has sat by the side of a L plater, teaching, supporting or just going along for the ride, should receive official recognition of all that hard work, patience and courage.

When my children were babies, I never thought about the day they would need to learn to drive.  I suppose I would have said if asked, that each of my children would have a dozen or so lessons with a qualified instructor and then they’d book a driving test. Easy. But times have changed. Now 120 hours of logged driving experience is needed (in NSW) before a test can be attempted. Who can afford 120 hours worth of lessons with a driving school? Certainly not us. Like most families, we have had no choice but to be support drivers for our children.

My husband and I think being a passenger with a learner driver is an extreme sport. Who needs to canoe down a rapid or scale a sheer cliff face? It is just as thrilling being driven along in a car controlled by a young person with little or no driving experience. It takes a lot of courage to even get into the vehicle. My heart begins to beat faster from the moment the key is turned and the engine roars into life. I place my foot on the imaginary brake pedal on the passenger side of the car. I get prepared to react to the unexpected. I think: will we return home in one piece? And afterwards, the feeling of relief: it’s all over for another day. My heart slows down and I collapse exhausted. And all I did was sit still for an hour or so. Of course, things do improve. As the hours of experience tick slowly by, our young people gain confidence and skills. I begin to relax and start to trust that they know what they are doing and even enjoy being taxied about. But at first…

Passing the driving test is only the beginning. There is one more hurdle to be faced: the first trips out on the road alone. Our son grabs the car keys and hurries out the door eager to try out his new freedom. We stay at home wondering if he’ll be OK. Will he and the car return without incident? We stand impatiently by the window waiting for the first sight of our returning young driver. Here he is, a big grin on his face.

“No problems?”

“No. It was great. I can’t wait to go for another drive.”

I can. It will be a long time before I can relax and not think about what could happen out there on the road…

Why shouldn’t our son be safe? He’s a good and competent driver. But you just never know…

My friend Di waved her teenage son Mark goodbye. He’d had his licence only weeks. Some time later Mark hadn’t returned home, and being worried, Di tried to phone him on his mobile. No answer, so she set out in her car taking the same direction as her son. It wasn’t long before Di came across a roadblock. There’d been an accident up ahead. Then she realised the mangled, concertinaed car embedded into the tree was Mark’s car. Can you imagine how she felt as she drove to the hospital where her son had been airlifted?  Amazingly, this story has a happy ending. Mark sustained serious multiple injuries but he is alive.

I imagine it was very difficult for my friend to let her son back on the road once he had recovered. But she had to do it. Driving is a skill a young person just can’t do without. She had to trust Mark would be OK. She had to avoid eroding his self confidence by expressing her fears and holding him back.
Being a parent is not easy. I want to wrap my children up in cotton wool and protect them from all dangers. I can do this when they are young. But there comes a time when I have to let go. It is risky. They might make mistakes. My own heart might be hurt. But it has to be done. Parenting babies and little ones is difficult. Parenting teenagers and young adults, in many ways, is even harder. Perhaps all I can do is teach my children the skills they need for life out there in the big world as best I can. Then I must stand back and abandon them and myself to Divine Providence.
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