Thursday, March 15, 2012

Guinea Pigs

This kid?

She's a nut. 

But I love her very much.

With my whole heart, in fact.

She’s our oldest. Our first born. We brought her home from the hospital without a clue in the world how to care for her. Or how to parent her—at all, let alone well.

We’ve made many mistakes along the way, and sometimes we’ve just had to throw up our hands and say, “Sorry. You’re our guinea pig. We don’t know how to do this.”

Over the past 20 years there have been a lot of firsts with her. First to play piano. First to walk to school by herself. First to get a job. First to play a sport and first to quit a sport. First to go to college. . . .

You get the idea.

And with each of those firsts we’ve had to decide how, as her parents, we were going to handle each scenario as it came along. Sometimes the decisions were easy; other times not so much.

Last week, we hit another first, and this was probably the hardest first yet. Because last week, B and I became the guinea pigs, heading into parenting territory yet unknown.

As she and her friends began planning their spring break, Kate asked us if they could borrow our my van to drive to Florida.

*huge gulp*

Yes, that’s right. She actually had the NERVE to ask if she could take my van to Florida. My van! To Florida!

Some of you reading might just stop right there and say, “Um, no. Not happening. Not in my lifetime. Find another way to get to Florida.”

But we had a couple of things standing in our way.

First, we had precedent. See, when B was a sophomore in college, he and a friend took his parents’ station wagon to Florida for the week. They drove around, visited his grandparents, hung out on beaches, AND THEY SLEPT IN THE CAR! They went much farther into Florida than our daughter wanted to go, . . . AND THEY SLEPT IN THE CAR!

At least the girls had the good sense to rent a house.

But the second thing we had to consider was our philosophy. I’ve written about it before, but basically we are raising our girls to not need us.  I know that sounds terrible to some, foreign to others, and totally frightening to most, but our hope is to train them to be responsible, mature adults who can handle life independently of us. And we’re training ourselves, slowly, along the way, to let go gracefully.

(O.K., forget the gracefully part. That hardly ever happens. But we ARE trying to train ourselves to let go.)

So, taking into account precedent (I blame B’s parents for that one!) and our philosophy, we felt like we couldn’t say no. Well, we could have said no, but then we’d be kind of hypocritical, wouldn’t we?

Of course, there were some in our family who thought that our decision to let our daughter take a 16 hour road trip in our family car was . . . shall we say . . . irresponsible

And maybe it was.

Maybe if the trip had turned out differently, if something terrible had happened, we would have regretted our decision and called ourselves irresponsible for the rest of our lives. I don’t know. What I do know is that we stayed true to what we believe about our kids: they need to be trusted to make good decisions, to be allowed to explore the world, and to grow up. All without their parents’ constant companionship.

So we became the guinea pigs, making a tough parenting call--one that left us biting our fingernails and checking our phones for most of the week. Thanks be to God, the girls (eight girls in two cars) made the trip safely.

We did entrust them into His care last week, but really, we have to do that every day of their lives, don’t we? 

Let's talk. What do you think? Were we irresponsible parents to let our daughter drive to Florida last week? When have you felt like a guinea pig as a parent?


  1. Ah, those hard choices. Glad the girls had a great time and are safely home. Strong work, mom.


  2. You know your own child best, right? My oldest is only 7, and for now I'd say I would let her, at 18, drive to Florida. The other one? Not so much. It varies with the child, I think, and the situation. The title of this post made me laugh with irony, as my oldest woke up this morning and the first thing she said to me was, "Mom can I have a guinea pig?" :) Weird!

  3. Let me just say here, that I would have let my oldest do something like that. He is very responsible and mature and aware.

    But when my 19 year old wants to do things like that it is so different because she is CLUELESS. The first time she drove home from the town where she now lives and goes to school she got lost at night while alone. She made it but it makes me tend to be more cautious with her and going places. Each child is different and sometimes you have to gauge your decisions on their maturity level.

  4. Very true, maturity level does matter. And a GPS sure helps! :)

  5. Good call on the van situation. I think when you are 20 you can go to Florida... of course, we live much closer than you do. In our parts, road trips to Florida are common place... especially by 20.

    It will be interesting to hear about the debrief when she gets back. Spring Break in Florida is kinda... wild.

    But, I think learning how to live (survive) in a fallen world is also a big part of growing up.

  6. Viewing them as real adults is hard. and it's sad that your car is going to Florida without you! On the other hand, you do want her in a safe, well-functioning vehicle on this adventure.

    I think the hard part is having them go so far away that you can't swoop in and rescue them, if necessary. My oldest went to Tajikistan and I told her she would do great and have an amazing time and then worried like crazy while she was gone. Now she lives in DC and I frequently have to remind myself that this is what we raised her to be--an independent, unafraid woman. It is hard, though, and I wonder how "helicopter parents" ever manage to let them go. It is much better to do it gradually, when they are ready to take small steps towards independence.

  7. You sound like us, actually. It's hard, isn't it? But we're trying to rear our boys to be responsible men, not boys-who-need-their-parents-with-them. I must say, though, that I'm glad YOU'RE the one with girls!!

  8. HURRAH!!!! Great job, B. and Shelly! I love the fact that you're raising them to leave the nest. And knowing K., and how you've raised her and the other girls, I know they will be just fine. :-)

    But (GULP!) cannot imagine this for my J. right now. Thankfully, we have a few years before that happens. :-)

  9. Hill, she's back and the trip went GREAT. They had a mom with them (because of renting the house), so that was nice.

    Tracy, you've done great, and I know she's doing well in DC. It's a long way though!

    Richella, I feel the same way about YOU having the boys! Ha!

    Julie, thanks. Trust me, that day will be here before you know it!

  10. I went to Texas with girlfriends in college, and I can't even remember whose car it was. I think it was white. I didn't even give it a second thought that that might have been a big deal to our parents--maybe because it truly wasn't a big deal to mine since I was the baby of the family.

  11. My daughter isn't
    that brave, so I don't
    think that one is on
    the horizon for quite
    a while. My son, on
    the other hand, is
    going to be a much
    different story! I am
    amazed at how he has
    matured in the last
    year, though, so
    perhaps by the time
    he is in college, I will
    have the confidence
    that he could handle

    It's TOUGH to let go,
    isn't it?!

    So glad the girls were
    safe and hope they had
    an amazing time testing
    their wings!

    Happy Friday, Shelly....

    xx Suzanne

  12. My parents let me get married when I was 20. So...I'm of the mind that you were perfectly reasonable in letting her drive to Florida. Of course, feel free to check back with me in about 16 years and see how reasonable that decision seems when I have my own 20-year-old!