6 Tips for Making the Most of Your Car Time Together5 min read

Despite the fact that my parents worked very hard to provide for their growing family, some experiences were memorable in an uncomfortable way. I’ll never forget driving through Death Valley during the summer. It was 105 degrees in the middle of the night. We did our best to keep us all from roasting to death in our rusted-out Suburban that had no air conditioning. It was memorable, if not miserable too.

Ah, road trips! My parents drove us to national parks and amusement parks every summer of my childhood. But wonderful memories and close family relationships were made every time we loaded the family into our rustic travel vehicle. We sang songs, told stories, counted license plates, made up word games with the signs we saw, read and discussed books as a family, learned about history, and came up the most ridiculous jokes — all while trying to keep Dad from falling asleep at the wheel. The various journeys to the destinations seem to stick out in my mind more than the fun times at the parks because our family unified when we had that many hours together in the car to talk, learn, sing and laugh.

Can Car Rides Change Relationships?

Car rides do change relationships, for better and for worse.

A few days ago, a father rather loudly said to his friends, “My favorite possession is the DVD player in my car! Now I don’t have to answer questions about how long it will be until we get somewhere or hear stupid knock-knock jokes anymore. In fact, I think the DVD player has saved my relationship with my kids. Now, I actually enjoy them sometimes.”

This statement made my heart ache for this father and his children. He’s missing the point of car rides and missing the opportunity to really strengthen his relationships, all in an effort to get more of something he wants: “peace and quiet.”

Additionally, his children will not receive the bonding or education time from their father, which distances them from him. Not to mention the fact that TV viewing inherently makes a person feel more entitled to stimulation and self-gratification, which will encourage them to be dissatisfied with organic family culture time.

I’m not suggesting there might not be a place for DVD players in cars and a responsible way to use them. The point I’m trying to make is that the DVD player in this father’s car has actually replaced him in the eyes of his children, and he is (sadly) totally fine with that.

The abdication of parental role to please the senses with “peace and quiet,” or similar desires, seems to be more and more prevalent. I regularly see parents snap at, and even swear at, their children in grocery store aisles. And I hear parents vent with each other and joke about what a nuisance their children’s needs and behaviors are. The parent support culture is adopting a selfish attitude, and it has negative consequences for them and their children.

When parents talk to other parents about how much they hate parenting or being with their children, they aren’t likely to actually enjoy, embrace or magnify that role anytime soon. This decreases their joy, and the joy of their children. Both parents and children, no matter their ages, require bonding and security of role to experience happiness and contentedness. When parents talk bad about parenting or children, they’re also behaving in an entitled manner while disconnecting from their children.

6 Tips for Using Car Time for Strengthening Family Bonds

It doesn’t cost money or take any extra time for parents who want to create close bonds with their children and strengthen their relationships. The only change a parent must make is to deliberately use the time they’re already spending together in the car for bonding, teaching and inspiring their children.

First, parents must choose to see car time as precious time with children. The time happens no matter what, so it’s the perfect time to use for relationship building.

Second, parents must explain to their children how car time will change and why. Give children a vision of the memories they will create with the family on car rides — especially since DVD players, stereos, etc. will be turned off.

Third, parents must choose to have quiet car time in order to turn on family communication. Don’t turn on phones, radios, DVD players, etc. These devices turn brains and mouths off. If the radio is on while someone is talking, everyone tends to get over stimulated and short tempered. Quietness promotes more self-control.

Fourth, parents need to really focus on their child. Listen carefully. Wait for conversation. And ask questions that promote discussions, not just “yes” or “no” answers.

Fifth, parents should always remember that stories from their own life are much more memorable than a story on a DVD. Always have stories ready. Don’t be afraid to spontaneously start telling one.

And sixth, parents have to teach their children how to be creative on a car ride. It’s the parents who teach children to keep track of license plates or how to play silly sign games. These games will never be forgotten because they were taught by mom or dad.

Even though my family, while I was growing up, had a car that was uncomfortable to ride in during practically any season, the car rides we had were joyful and made family life more comfortable. Increased family unity and joy were possible because my parents used these six simple steps that all parents can do to make their family car time more memorable.

What About Bad Car Behavior?

If your children have bad behaviors in the car, this Teaching Self-Government Course can help.