Two teenage daughters. Two car accidents. One month.
Thankfully, my daughters walked away from their accidents scratch-free, but I can’t say the same for the cars they were driving. The vehicle from the first needed to go to an auto body shop for massive (and expensive) repairs.
When my daughter called to let me know she got into a car accident (first daughter, first accident), my life flashed before my eyes. I rushed to the scene to make sure she was OK. I got there within a minute because the crash occurred only five houses from my own. I was lucky; I found my daughter standing on the street scratch-free and felt an immediate surge of relief. I don’t know what I would have done if she was hurt.
But as I dealt with the police report, the insurance company, the rental car company, and informing my ex-husband the car he bought our daughter had been damaged severely, a subtler feeling of dread crept over me, triggered by the stress of the incident. Part of me wanted to yell at her (even though she wasn’t at fault; she moved to avoid a car barreling towards her and hit a parked car). And part of me wanted to keep her at home from that point on, out of harm’s way, a situation not healthy for either of us.
My daughter, in turn, worried about driving in the future. I worried about her driving, too. What if she got into another accident, this time far away? What if she forgot to text me when she arrived somewhere? I would have to fight the urge to call the police to make sure she was OK. For the most part, I would like to say I resisted those urges, though, I admit, I had my moments of hysteria in the weeks that followed. It was a lot of pressure for me, not just as a mom but as a divorced, single mom who is responsible for the comings and goings of my children day-to-day. During the seven years since my separation and ex’s move out of the country, the inclination to become overprotective has increased despite my children getting older. My daughters (and my son) find it irritating, and it has become the source of some heated interactions between us.
Enter my younger daughter.
Thanks to my older daughter, her car was in the shop, so last week, when she took her younger brother to the movies, it was my car she scratched after hitting a parked car in a mostly empty parking lot because she wanted a closer spot. I got the call again: “Mom, I hit a parked car.” But this time, I had to sit through an hour of traffic, allowing ample time for my frustration to incubate.
On the one hand, my younger daughter was luckier than my older one. The man whose car she dented didn’t even want an accident report, and my car only had a few scratches, not enough to warrant taking it to the shop, though not invisible either. On the other hand, my younger daughter didn’t get to enjoy the same emotional benefits as my older daughter. I used up all of my energy with my first daughter so that by the time accident number two came around and my son—”my baby”—was sitting in the passenger seat, I was out of patience.
My daughter received more than an earful from me when I arrived at the scene, and the traffic-ridden car ride back home offered me more than enough time to voice my frustration. The money! The time! The aggravation! Except for this time, I didn’t have to worry about calling the police if she left the house and forgot to text that she arrived at her destination: her car was still in the shop, and she didn’t dare ask for mine after that. I didn’t offer either.
In hindsight, after lots of apologies and offers from her to pay for the damage to my car, I concede that I handled one of these accidents better than the other. I made the mistake of conflating the two situations. In a sense, they are related: if my older daughter didn’t crash my younger daughter’s car, my younger daughter wouldn’t have hit my car because she would’ve been driving her own. But this long-term cause-and-effect doesn’t make the situations comparable in reality. It’s not like this was my younger daughter’s second accident. So why didn’t I offer her the same emotional support and encouragement as my older daughter?
It is easy to get caught up in the emotions of a situation. My older daughter was visibly shaking when I approached the scene of the first accident. I didn’t have the heart to yell at her because I could tell that she was already beating herself up more about the accident than I ever could. But with my younger daughter, by the time I arrived, she had been at the scene for 90 minutes, already dealt with the police, and appeared more calm and collected. Of course, emotionally, she was shaken up as well, but she already had time to process the accident, while for me, it had just happened. I let her know exactly how I was feeling.
I believe mistakes stick around in people’s minds longer than good deeds. Inherently, many of us get fixated on the bad rather than the good. A car accident at the movies will stick in my daughter’s mind (and mine) forever, while an ordinary trip there would have faded from memory in about a week. It hurts to say that she will probably remember the way I scolded her for scratching my car, even though I did apologize later. I still regret it.
As parents, particularly single parents who must bear the brunt of the stress alone, we must remember to keep calm during a crisis and not let its ill effects linger afterward. In this case, I made a point to let go of my anger and fear and move forward. Both of my daughters are out and about and, hopefully, driving a little more carefully than they were before given the experiences both of them had.
Having just endured two minor car accidents (headaches, if you will) within a month, I know all too well emergencies, large and small, are inevitable. As always, though, the difference in how they transform us lies in our reactions to them. In the long run, if we keep our emotions in check, act logically, and keep the incident in perspective, especially in the face of mounting pressure, our relationships with our children, instead of being undermined, will grow stronger. Amazingly, so, too, will we.
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