As we headed out the door and into the horrible cold darkness of the drive to school, my son stopped at our still spinning clothes dryer. I was so confused. Who is doing laundry at 6:30 AM? From the dryer he produced a warm blanket, wrapped it around himself, and walked to our car all toasty warm for our ride.

My car ride to school with my 12-year-old son is one of my favorite parts of the day. I’ll take any car ride, anywhere, really. We get into all sorts of conversations in the car. We talk about grades and sports and friends. Sometimes it’s important stuff- we’ve had our heaviest conversations driving around in the car. (Car rides are perfect for awkward topics because I have to keep my eyes on the road and not the kid cringing in the passenger seat because I just brought up pornography.) Whatever the topic, I make it a point to listen. Like, really listen.

Car rides are awesome relationship opportunities. They have been for my whole life.

I credit car rides with the closeness I enjoy with one of my older sons. He attended the high school where I taught and rode back and forth to school with me for four years. I did the math- it’s over 36,000 minutes together in the car or the equivalent of going on a 38-day trip with your child. These rides add up as your kids grow up.

When I think about growing up and my relationship with my father, I always loved it when it was just us in the car. The longer the ride the better. I soon realized that the car ride was maybe the only arena where he felt comfortable enough to let down that armor and open up to me a little.

Don’t sleep on the car ride as a relationship-builder.

Technology wants to insist upon itself in the car. Cars today are practically rolling entertainment centers with plenty to offer the driver and the passengers. What would happen if you turned everything off?

Here are a few ways you can make the most of your time in the car together:

  • Do your own karaoke.
  • Ask your child questions about what’s being discussed on talk radio.
  • Listen to a podcast or audiobook together and talk about it.
  • Play car games like I-Spy, alphabet games with signs, count up states by license plates.
  • Ask open-ended questions that begin with, “What is your favorite… What was the best… What was the worst…?”  Let your kids ask YOU questions.

There is relationship magic in car rides. Keep it interactive and not isolating. If you’re going to listen to something, do it together. It is so easy to turn something on and tune everyone out. Remember, this is awesome captive audience time. There is a unique intimacy in a shared car ride. It can be a small space where big things can happen if we are open to them.

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