The last time I drove was in the very early stages of my pregnancy. We were house-sitting in a stone house in the French Alps. Nacho, my partner, had gone to Russia to report on the World Cup. I had to get into town for groceries, pick up friends who were coming to visit, and make it to Geneva to pick up Nacho who was on his way back. I did all of that, in our van that kept all of our belongings. I did it safely. I even listened to podcasts while driving. I did it because I had no choice.

Right now I’m trying to figure out what I hate about driving because I am trying to learn how to drive again. I’ve had a driver’s license since I was 18. I have never felt particularly comfortable driving, but over 20 years I drove many cars in some twenty countries around Europe and the Americas, even if reluctantly. Yet I have been unable to drive since I got pregnant for the first time, over three years ago. A friend told me that US reality star Kim Kardashian went through a similar block after having one of her babies (not necessarily connected to her being a mother) and she overcame it through therapy, apparently.

I do plenty of therapy, but a friend gave me money for driving classes for my birthday and that obliged me to be more productive about my “driving block”.

The truth is that I don’t like cars. I loved riding a bike along the canals in East London all the way to work at the BBC World Service headquarters at the Strand. I loved lugging it onto the train to reach Buenos Aires from the northern outskirts and having my freedom around the city — though plenty of Argentines will tell you that the capital is not especially bike-friendly, except for its flatness. I still love riding a bike, but the southern outskirts of Athens are not bike-friendly, especially with a baby in the back seat. Public transport is sketchy and walking doesn’t get you many places — except for the beach, for which I am very grateful.

If I can’t drive, I depend on Nacho to do it for me. He likes driving, he is good at it, so it’s a no brainer. But is it so easy? Psychologically, having him take responsibility for something that he’s better at gets me stuck. I feel like I can’t be behind the wheel myself. I get scared. I am afraid I will hurt Lorenzo. And so Nacho drives us these days.

I recently heard in the podcast I recommend below that there is no growth in the comfort zone and no comfort in the growth zone — I’m not sure who said it, but it’s catchy. So I’m trying to push myself beyond my non-drive comfort zone. I took a few classes south of Athens, where I live. The classes have been pretty intense, with an instructor who speaks little English and gives me instructions in Greek — a sort of Greek language and driving class all in one. He’s very calm, and I like his encouragement, but I also hate his horror stories of how many accidents he sees daily. I’ve had ups and downs. Whenever I try to drive up the steep hill where we live, just off the coast, I get nervous and my driving gets worse as I become more nervous. Going downhill is even worse — looking at the Mediterranean sea ahead of me, with cars speeding through the high road below.

One morning Lorenzo asked me to drive him to school. I said he had to wait a little longer. One weekend I practiced in our van in an empty car park. “What’s mamma doing?” Lorenzo asked from the backseat. What was I doing? I was trying to show myself that I could take the responsibility on, that I could push through it and overcome my fear. I was trying to show myself and to show him too.

In a recent post by Argentine child psychologist Sofia Celeste Lewicki, she said it was “not atypical for women to be ‘afraid’ to drive”. She compared driving to “having wings” — a freedom which women were not used to, “in a world where, historically, freedom has nothing to do with the freedom that one can self-determine, but with the freedom that the ‘man’ determined over the woman.”

I think that cars are hugely problematic — I especially hate how they have contributed to making cities less and less friendly for children — and are far from a means towards freedom. But I know that if I want to live outside of a big city, driving means I can take care of myself and be independent.

Whenever I get stuck, I think of women truck drivers in the United States, taxi drivers in Brazil, or the Saudi women who fought for the right to drive. I feel that if I had a bigger mission it would help me get to the wheel with more self-assurance. So I look for my motivation: is independence enough? I think about how my mother never drove. I would like for Lorenzo to know that it’s not just fathers that drive. I’d like to show him — and myself — that I can drive too.

Are you a driver, and do you have tips for me to feel more comfortable behind the wheel? If you are a woman who has struggled to drive, please let me know how you are dealing with it now. Please let me know below this piece.

What I’ve been reading

In China, shyness is considered a positive trait of a child’s character, with studies finding positive associations between shyness and social acceptance. On the other side of the spectrum, there are societies which put a lot of emphasis on the importance of sociability, such as in North America, where shyness is considered a potentially dangerous characteristic that can lead to loneliness. This article in Psyche magazine helps us contextualise why we consider some children shy, and tells us not to pathologise them: shyness may in fact be the “yin to sociability’s yang”. Thanks to Claudia B, a member of this community, for sharing.

What I’ve been listening to

This three-part special of the Terrible, Thanks for Asking podcast is a thoughtful introduction to how childhood trauma can influence a person’s mental and physical health, and the impact it can have on entire communities. The series explores the idea of Adverse Childhood Experiences, or Aces, which I have explored in-depth in the past. In the first part of the series, US author Nora McInerny interviews Britt, a young woman who shares what went wrong in her childhood, interspersed with the tapes that Britt would record when her stepmother verbally abused her. In the second part, the show looks at the things that were positive in Britt’s childhood, which helped her offset some of her negative experiences. The third part looks at the big picture and asks a question, and I share the sentiment completely: why does society not invest more in trying to better take care of our children?

What I’ve been watching

Pieces of a Woman was a painful film to watch, especially with its opening 25 tense minutes of a home birth. The film is partly based on the real story of Hungarian midwife Agnes Gereb, who was unjustly sentenced to prison in 2018 for malpractice. It is also based on the Hungarian screenwriter Kata Wéber’s personal experience with miscarriage. She initially wrote the story for a play, and said she was partly pushed to explore her own feelings of loss and the taboo of losing a child by her husband and the film’s director, Kornél Mundruczó. The film looks at what can go wrong when a couple doesn’t know how to discuss pain and loss — and the expectations that societies have of a new mother-to-be.

Who’s been inspiring me

This piece on the importance of community and slowing down by US journalist Heather Lanier. I found it so impressive that I leave you with a section from it. “Parenting my daughter, Fiona, has made me wary of our culture’s worshipping of speed and productivity. She was born with a genetic code for a slower developing pace. She’s taught me that the pursuit of becoming Superhuman is not a virtue. It’s a trap. It asks us to deny our humanness — our vulnerability and our tenderness, our mortality and our need for naps. (…) When we worship the powers of the individual, we not only exclude people who simply can’t go it alone—people who need helpers in the field and accommodations at home plate. We also rob ourselves of the opportunity to belong to each other. And for true flourishing, we do in fact need each other.”

With love and care,
Irene

📣 Nabeelah Shabbir, a member of this community and a friend, edited and improved this week’s newsletter with lots of love, logging in from Spain. Thanks, Nabeelah! (If there are mistakes, they are my fault, not hers!)

Photo credits and alt-text: Nubia Navarro on Pexels, Wall-E model in front of a toy car

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3 thoughts on “The novel anxiety of driving with children in tow

  1. I have a driving tip for you … you are already taking lessons. That’s #1 in importance.

    Next, I suggest you always plan your drive (even if it’s just a local destination) by mentally tracing your intended path. I use a highway / street map that I bring up on my computer (well I have an iPad and I use an App called WAZE). Any online map will do the same thing. Even if you know the route, take a few minutes to drive it virtually. Try to picture intersections where you plan to turn. If your route has street names and highway numbers, note them. Be deliberate. If there are multiple lanes, which should you be driving in? As your driving instructor says, this is dangerous business. … so think “RISK”. Where should you expect hazards like merging traffic lanes? Think through your drive as you would plan a meal or any challenge.. You might discover that you enjoy driving.

    Not everyone plans their drive: They react to every situation as if they enjoy surprises. So you need to watch for their erratic behavior.. Slow down at intersections and watch for other drivers. Try to anticipate problems they might throw at you. Be defensive. They will thank you when you save them the trauma of an accident.

  2. Irene, you really stroke a chord last week. I have to confess that I’ve always hated driving. Probably because my father drove me to school for around 10 years, regularly cursing at the morning traffic and climbing on the sidewalks in order to gain a few meters . Taking a bus was one the major achievements of my adolescence. So, when I turned 18, I didn’t want to get a driving licence. My friends persuaded me with two arguments: 1) What if somebody needs help?; 2) The licence allows you to drive camper vans. I still prefer to walk and live in “car-unfriendly” cities (cities where you don’t feel a car is needed). I wish this was normal for my daughter. And I hope to buy a camper van soon.

  3. Driving was a big “issue” for me. It took me a long time to stop being afraid when driving and enjoy it. It all started because I wanted to feel the independence that driving would give me. I felt that driving is too much of a men’s ability -and for no good reason.
    i am a greek female but I started to drive when I moved in the Netherlands. I drove a lot in NL, even a road trip to Switzerland, however when I had to drive to Greece it was a different thing all along…
    It is not easy to drive in Greece -drivers do not always adhere to road rules- and overcome your fear at the same time. Driving in Athens, having an instructor that doesn’t speak english, being the first carer of your child and the responsibility that brings…seems a lot.
    Sometimes we put ourselves into situations that are predefined to fail and then we feel even worse when we indeed “fail”.
    If I could give any advice, choose a route and repeat it. Make yourself familiar with this one route. Try not to add extra challenges, for instance parking. What would make you feel more comfortable ? Maybe do not take your child with you the first times, maybe a friend or even alone feels better?
    Starting to feel comfortable in this one route and the challenges will add themselves; only this time you will be familiar with the basics and you will only have to face the extra challenge! This is something that worked well for me. It took me time and patience and fear (and it still does sometimes) but I saw later that the quote “feel the fear but do it anyways” needed to be combined with the some balance (you don’t do bungee jumping when you fear heights, you first walk a high bridge).

    P.S. Driving in Athens is itself a fearful and difficult task.

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