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How even a short drive can be a gift to your kids

Mother and Son car ride

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J-P Mauro - published on 02/15/23

Car time is family time. Give the gadgets a break and use the time to engage your children in thought provoking conversation.

[Note: An Aleteia editor came across this article about learning to parent from our parents, and started to muse about how we learn to believe, often, from our parents. The Pope likes to talk about how his grandmother was instrumental in his faith. So, the Aleteia staff decided to share an anecdote about our believing and our parents’ role in it. We hope you enjoy them! Click for the reflections from John Burger and Cerith Gardiner; today we have J-P Mauro.]

Ever since I learned how to drive, one thing has bothered me to see on the road more than anything else. Sure, there are any number of uncouth driving habits that might draw an emboldened honk on the streets of New York, but my pet peeve isn’t the lack of a turning signal or a near collision from a reckless speeder. What bothers me most is when I see a television light shining through the back window.

Throughout my childhood, those minutes or hours locked within the close confines of a moving vehicle were considered family time, and they spurred some of the most impactful conversations of my life. A captive audience in more ways than one, here kids must face questions and concepts head on, with even the smartphone escape route blocked by fear of car sickness. These car-time talks can veer in any direction, taking turns that no GPS can predict, which may be why releases like Carpool Karaoke and Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee are so appealing.

So, to see a parent so casually set that time aside, plopping their children in front of yet another screen rather than engaging with them, strikes me as a missed opportunity to strengthen familial bonds, to impart wisdom to the next generation and to encourage a curious mind.

This is not to say I never took them for granted at the time; but even as I write this in my 30s, time alone with my mother in a car has become a precious and rare commodity. As I look back, I see even the briefest conversation — in a ride up to the supermarket — presented a wealth of information that has influenced the person I grew into, be it consciously or subconsciously.

Sometimes it was as simple as hearing a song and playing it over and over, analyzing it together to hear something different – an almost hidden guitar line, a melismatic backup singer — with each replay. Other times the conversations might have gone deeper to explaining an aspect of the world, or a faith perspective that a child may never have considered.

For example, on one particularly rainy day when we were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, my mother noted how the rain that fell was the same water that has been on earth since the very beginning. “It is the same water that God placed on the world in Genesis, that Moses parted in Exodus, and that Christ was baptized in by John the Baptist.”

That Christ sanctified the waters through his full immersion in it was a formative thought for me and continues to influence the way I view and approach the environment. Surely a sacred intention from the Son of God will never diminish, which suggests that the waters of the Jordan remain sanctified by the savior. These waters evaporate and move great distances high up in the atmosphere, falling back down upon the land to nourish the vegetation, cleanse the seas, support our lives with the blessing of Jesus Christ.

The mere fact that I can remember such a conversation nearly 20 years later is a testament to the impact it had on me. This lasting impression shows the value of conversations between parents and children. Letting your child pick your brain will help them develop a respect for your knowledge and the hard-won wisdom forged by the many mistakes and failures made in our lives. Conversely, it gives parents an opportunity to learn and guide the thought processes of their children.

So, the next time you’re in the car, I implore you, forgo the gadgets and leave the TV off. Ask your kids questions and listen to their responses. They may even thank you for it … 20 years from now.

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