The 6 stages parents go through when your kid does something really stupid

My son is dealing with the fallout from several really bad decisions he’s made as a college freshman in the last couple of months.  I originally wrote and published this essay last year, but I’ve since discovered these “6 Stages” pretty much sum up ANYTIME your kid does something really stupid.  Fortunately, I come back around to #6.
You’ve read about my son, Z, before. He’s the bright, funny, goofy, tennis-playing, pianist who’s going to become an astrophysicist. (Yes, really) 

He’s also a lousy driver.  (REALLY!)

This past Saturday, on his way home from school after a tennis tournament, he had his third accident.  This doesn’t count last Saturday when he left the lights on in the car for 8 hours parked at school during an out-of-town tournament. This is the second (beautiful) Saturday afternoon in a row I’ve spent waiting for a tow truck.

Now, granted, the very first accident was not his fault (another driver ran a stop sign and hit him).  But this is the third time our poor little hybrid has been in the shop in less than a year.  Our body shop loves us; we’re putting at least one of their kids through college, I’m sure.  On the other hand, we are getting our money’s worth out of our AAA Roadside Assistance.

How can he be so smart and so stupid at the same time?

I tried to be calm.  I tried to be understanding.  But the THIRD time in one year?  What in heaven’s name is happening in his brain while he’s driving?  No, he wasn’t texting (the police and I checked); no he wasn’t speeding; no, he wasn’t doing drugs, nor had he been drinking; he didn’t fall asleep at the wheel; and this last time there was no one else in the car with him.  As far as I can tell, this time it was pooexhausted wrecked carr judgement, pure and simple: he made a bad decision to try and get around a truck parked on a curve in the street, just as another vehicle was coming towards him on the curve.  No one was in the truck he hit, and the only damage he caused to it was smashing the back-up light on the driver’s side.  Our car took a dreadful hit…and scrape…and dent…and puncture… you get the idea.  The car that was coming towards him never slowed down and continued on its merry way.

I’m not making any excuses for my teen.  This was his fault.  But after going back to where the accident occurred, and looking at it literally from his perspective, I can understand what happened.  His fault, because the parked vehicle was in his lane, but I can see where the problem originated: you can’t see around the curve when a truck is parked there (when I went back to look, there was a truck parked in the same place — it might have even been the same one).

It doesn’t make things any easier, and it doesn’t make any difference as to what the insurance rates will do (heaven help us).

And it doesn’t do much for my trust in his driving abilities in the future.  Do we trust him to ever drive one of our cars again?

So while sitting in a hot, parked car, waiting for the tow truck, I did some serious thinking about my state of mind during these moments.  I discovered there are six distinct stages to dealing with a teen driver immediately following a stupid driving scenario:

  1. Incomprehension.  “What?  You did what?”
  2. angry momAnger. Well, duh.  While he was protesting that it wasn’t entirely his fault, I very calmly looked him in the eye and very quietly said “you need to be very quiet and let me be very angry right now.”  The scary, quiet calm is what subdued him into uncharacteristic peep-lessness.
  3. Selfishness.  “Now I have to become the chauffeur AGAIN?”  “I have to accompany you to traffic court AGAIN?”
  4. Tactical.  “Ok, this is how we’re going to get through this…you know the drill: police, insurance company, tow truck.”  They are all on speed dial now.
  5. Fear.  This is the one I dread most.  This is the one that creeps in while I’m trying to stay occupied with doing enough to move things along, without taking care of the whole mess for him.  This is where the “oh my god, he could have killed someone — or have been killed” bone-chilling fear comes over me.  And now I tell him “don’t ever scare me like that again or I will hurt you!
  6. Acceptance.  Ok, we do have to move on.  Eventually.  And we will.  And no one was hurt (this time).  And “I love you more than anything no matter what.”

I want him to have the privilege of driving.  I want him to take the responsibility seriously — but I don’t want to cripple him with fear.  He needs to get back up on that horse, and he needs to do it with confidence; not cockiness, but the feeling he can be proactive in driving safely and responsibly.

In the meantime, I’ll be driving a lot more.  He won’t be until after his court date — and if he’s lucky, they won’t suspend his license.  Even then, I think his bike is going to get more of a workout: he just got a job.

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!drawn heart

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