"I am teaching my teenage daughter to drive"

It is one of those moments of gentle parental hypocrisy.

Not one of the gobsmackingly obvious ones. Like thinking the time when you’re pouring a glass of wine at the end of a day is a teachable moment for your teenager on the dangers of overindulging in alcohol.

But one of those times when, having arranged your face in a vague approximation of a centered, calm and benevolent presence, you pass on tender advice while all the time your inner chat is screaming.

Like “you might want to steer to the right a bit” when what you actually mean is “WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING? YOU’RE GOING TO CRASH INTO THOSE VERY EXPENSIVE PARKED CARS”.

I am teaching my teenage daughter to drive.

It is a thing in which I had very little choice. My teenager, having reached the appointed age, became armed with a learner’s licence and having assessed the various merits of her parents stress-wise, she declared that she would like me to be the one to help her learn to drive.

Despite my suggestions that maybe some professional help may suit her better at this initial stage of the project, she insisted that she wanted a parent – being me – to be the one to impart the mysterious knowledge.

And so I am here. A gentle parental hypocrite. Trapped between outward benevolence and the inner torment.

Having the two conversations at once.

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The what I say out loud – “the important thing is not to panic” – and the what I say to myself – “BRAKE BRAKE STOP OH MY GOD”


And “it might be good to brake now/BECAUSE WE’RE GOING TO HIT THAT TREE” and “It’s ok, the concrete kerb stopped us hitting the tree/I THINK YOU’VE BROKEN THE CAR IT’S GOING TO BE EXPENSIVE I’M NEVER DOING THIS AGAIN”

And finding out that the car has gone from being a symbol of independence and self sufficiency to being a metal death tube on wheels.

Of course it’s not my car. I’m not that stupid. The teenager is learning to drive in her father’s car because, as I keep pointing out, it’s important to learn how to drive a manual car right from the start than having to step up later if you learn in (your mother’s) automatic.

While learning the differences between her parents cars, the teenager is also learning that perhaps her parents aren’t as different as she first believed.

This idea coalesced in her mind after the time when, mistaking confidence for competence during a lesson on parking the car at the local shops, I bought some coffees and hot chocolates to take home and jokingly suggested that she should be able to get the car home without me spilling the coffees.

Please note this is not Lyndal and her daughter.


Five minutes later with coffee and hot chocolate dripping down my jeans and having let my inner voice become my outer voice (YOU’RE GOING TO FAST TO TAKE THE CORNER I’M GRABBING THE STEERING WHEEL TO STOP US HITTING THAT TRUCK), she realised that she may have erred in assuming her mother was going to respond in a less anxious manner to the whole driving lesson thing than her father.

After we stepped foot back inside the house she suggested gently that maybe her father should take her for the next lesson.

I’m not ashamed to say that I approach each driving lesson with something ranging between nervousness and terror. Usually edging more to the terror side of the scale. Actually, usually right on the terror side.


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And we’re only really still travelling in second gear for most of the time.

Third gear is an only occasional excursion. An expedition to fourth is a cause for dread. I actively block out thoughts of fifth. And dual lane roads. And speeds above 50km.

Don’t even mention traffic. I don’t know if my heart can stand it.

After all of this, she seems to be built of sterner stuff and still wants her parents to teach her to drive.

During the in-between times - while recovering from the last lesson and waiting for the next - I’ve have some time to think about what is the root cause of my obviously extreme approach to nervousness vis a vis the teenager driving.

I’ve realise that at the heart of it, from deep in my consciousness, what’s driving it (pun completely intended) is not so much the idea of being squashed concertina-style in metal mashed between a tree and the impatient driver behind us, although there is a bit of that. Nor is it the thought of the panel beaters hoovering our life savings out of the bank account to repair the damage that might be caused, although there is a bit of that too.

It’s the thought that someday soon my beautiful, interesting, thoughtful daughter will walk out the door of the home where she’s spent her entire life up until now to some new place far away where she will build the rest of her life occasionally remembering to call or see her mother.

Political Journalist Lyndal Curtis.


And I will miss her. I will miss the conversations at the end of each day where I gently try to inject the shades of grey that make up reality into the Very Definite Opinions of Things that are the province of both the young and the politician facing re-election. Where her insight into herself and her siblings help me navigate the sometimes messy world of family dynamics. Where we pick apart problems and I try to help her learn from my mistakes so she doesn’t have to bother too much with the traumatic business of having to learn from her own.

And I will miss the hugs at the end of every day.

Read more: “50 things I will tell my daughter”.

However much I may wish it won’t happen, the process of her growing up and, at least geographically, apart is now unstoppable.

So I realise now that she is not just getting into the drivers seat for each journey. She’s learning what it’s like to do adult things.

She is not just working out how to change gear and indicate and brake at the same time. She’s learning what responsibility for herself and for others really looks like.

She is not just figuring out whether to turn left or right at the intersection. She’s learning how to decide which direction in life she wants to go and then having the courage of her convictions to go there.

So she is not just learning to drive. She’s learning to fly.

And I am learning that however much I want to keep her safe and protected, I have to put aside my own nerves and teach her how.