Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Carpooling: How to Learn Your Kids' Inner Secrets, Meet their Friends, and Monitor Where They Are

When your kids are very little, say preschool age, carpooling is tough. Just fitting that extra car seat into the car is a challenge. Yet, it’s well worth the effort. Carpooling has value when your kids are little, and that value only increases as they get older.

When they’re young, there are a couple of benefits to carpooling. First, you get to have an extra amount of time to work, shop, hit the gym, tool around on-line, or do whatever it is you like to do given the time. A half hour is precious when your kids are little. Beyond that, you get to hear your child interacting with a peer. When they are safely and comfortably sitting in the backseat, they lose all track of time and space. They don’t remember you are their chauffeur…they are too busy socializing. Keep the radio volume low, and just listen. Enjoy what they have to say. Learn by it. You may have no idea what your child is thinking when she isn’t talking to you. And, what does her friend have to say? It’s often eye-opening.

As your kids get older, the conversation becomes juicier. Again, unless the kids are calling for a particular station on the radio, keep the volume low. And, stay quiet. This time isn’t about what you have to share - it’s about what your kids are thinking when they forget you’re in the front seat.

My carpooling preference has always leaned toward driving up to wherever the kids are going. I prefer to go to bed on the earlier side, and staying awake long enough to cart the kids home is not my happy place. So, I’ve learned to volunteer to drive first, when I have the chance to “take up” versus “take home.” It doesn’t always work that way, but it’s worth a try.

I do admit though that the conversations on the way home are often more interesting. Your kid may not tell you about his evening, but you'll learn a lot as the kids discuss it in the back seat.

I’m happy to fill as many spots in my car as I have available, because the dynamics change as each seat is filled. My youngest child is a son, so I especially love picking up the girls. It’s amazing what you learn when you make yourself invisible. Don’t sing, don’t ask questions, don’t change the radio station. This is your opportunity to be that fly on the wall. The quieter you are, the quicker they forget you are there and the more they are willing to say.

Carpooling allows you to learn a lot about your child’s friends. Who is the obnoxious one, the sweet one, the suck-up, the ring-leader? It is incredibly insightful. Just be careful how you use the information you learn. Find another time to casually bring up something mentioned in the car.

My youngest child is about to get his learner’s permit. While I am proud and excited for this rite of passage, I know that our lives are about to change forever. Once he’s literally in the driver’s seat, my role will instantly change. I am now his teacher, not his chauffeur. And, a short year from now, he’ll have access to the keys, and my time driving the carpool will be history.

So, take advantage of this time. Drive the carpool with a smile on your face, and enjoy the backseat banter. You’ll be amazed at what you learn.

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