What life’s Big Moments really look like.

What life’s Big Moments really look like.

A few months ago I was contemplating making a big change to our family routine—one that involved a whole lot of driving, with the kids.

I hate driving. I fantasize about moving somewhere where I can sell my car and walk everywhere. For now, we’ve deliberately chosen to live near what we do. We love staying close to home.

And yet—we were thinking about it. I thought the end result might be worth it, but I couldn’t see any upside to the actual driving part.

It was a big decision, so I turned to some friends for advice. The most surprising feedback came from a friend whose life is structured quite differently from mine. She lives in farm country and spends hours and hours in the car each week, driving herself and her kids around.

When I told her we were contemplating a change—and the driving it required—I expected sympathy, or a are you sure? But she didn’t hesitate: That’s golden time, she said. I have my best conversations with my kids in the car.

She went on to explain that if her kids are ever going to pour out their souls, they’re going to do it in the car. My friend had theories: they were a little bit distracted, there was no pressure, they didn’t have to look her in the eye. She wasn’t sure about the why, but she was sure their family’s quality car talk was a real thing.

I was reminded of this the other day when I listened to Seth Godin talk about why he makes his family dinner every night. He explained that there’s nothing like a relaxed, semi-distracted environment to promote low-stakes but important conversations with the people that matter to you. It’s an environment that builds trust and encourages truth-telling.

There’s a misconception that life’s important events—and conversations—look like Big Moments. But so many of my life’s meaningful moments—including the Big Conversations—have zero fireworks or fanfare. Instead, they unfold on a walk, or at the kitchen counter, or in the car.

As for my family: we made the change. We’re driving a lot. And we’re having lots of good conversations in the car. It’s not the non-stop meaningful sappy sharing hour, by any means; sometimes we just listen to the radio. But it’s a safe space for my kids to talk about what’s on their minds—and they’re talking.

Where do the important conversations and meaningful moments unfold in YOUR life? I’d love to hear your thoughts on fireworks and fanfare and cars and kitchen counters in comments.

P.S. I take the long way home, and the conversation that changed my life.

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51 comments

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  1. Yes! We live in a tiny town and hardly drive at all. When we do have to be in the car for a while, I always feel like it’s quality bonding time because we talk so much more without any screens on.
    Our other quality conversation time is during our daily walk with our dog. No electronic devices + plenty of nature to look at = good conversation apparently!

  2. Sara K says:

    I have learned to value time in the car with my daughter too. We don’t have a long commute (about 10-15 minutes morning and evening), but often my daughter spends the evening drive telling about the social difficulties of 4th grade life. It’s time she can just open up and spew out all the hurtful things so that she can put them behind her.

    Sometimes she reads aloud (for homework). She also asks me a lot of very intelligent questions which I try my best to answer.

    I am glad that she doesn’t ride the bus and I hope our special car time continues as she gets older.

  3. Shar says:

    I love this post about conversations not having to look like a big moment. This is so true. Two times in my life, I have had the ability to have the full on continuous dialogue thanks to the car. First was when my husband and I were college students in Weatherford, OK but worked part time in Oklahoma City (1 hr 10 min. one way) and the second time is now, with our children. It’s not that we have as long of a drive now, but my children’s schools start/end 40 minutes apart. That means, each day I have 40 minutes of alone time with each of my kids, ages 14 and 11. Although I don’t look forward to the 3 hours each day that it takes for me to drop off and pick up my kids, I know that I am laying the foundations of teenage communication. And I will say, it totally pays off. I had a very closed off relationship with my parents, I told/confided nothing. My kids and I discuss everything…and I do mean everything. And sometimes I am shocked at how open they are about their worlds. Talking about the little stuff like Han Solo and My Little Pony makes room for the big stuff like adolescent bodies and drug use. And I am so thankful.

  4. Tory says:

    I lie down with my kids (ages 4 and 6) while they fall asleep at night. This is always when they want to start talking! I try to give them 5-10 minutes before I tell them it is time to be quiet and go to sleep. This seems to be the time when they are ready to unload what they have been thinking about all day, and a rare moment when each child has my undivided attention.

  5. Carissa says:

    My best friend and I used to drive together a lot, and a strange occurrence became jokingly consistent: We called it car seat confessionals. During difficult seasons of our lives, whoever was the passenger would just be having a regular conversation and out of the blue we’d just open up and share those deep things in our hearts. We started noticing it when there would suddenly be tears. All we could guess was that it was low pressure and the lack of eye contact for us that allowed the honesty and emotions to come out. Those car rides grew our friendship, and now that we live in different states I treasure that time we had together driving (our frequent stops for ice cream on the way back were also lucky).

  6. Kelli Wick says:

    I can’t get past the Seth Godin makes dinner for his family every night thing… #ineedachef 😉

    I do completely agree with the car talks, though! We have great convos and the kids go on and on -or I have them pick their own playlist and we talk about the songs, etc.

  7. Ann Marie says:

    My children are grown now and have children of their own, but I remember mentally remarking on how “drive time” was so significant with them. We would listen to Dr. Laura who was handling some pretty diverse issues. My teenagers would often offer their own good advice, or comment on Dr. Laura’s advice – in either case, I was able to hear their spontaneous processing. It opened a door to diverse and often hefty topics for conversation and exploration. Adolescence can be a tumultuous time for kids AND their parents, but I felt a great peace trough this process. I was able to appreciate that my kids would make good choices. If their choices weren’t always the correct ones, they would get on track quickly. And, because they always asked what I thought about Dr. Laura’s advice, I felt they would always stay in touch with what Mom thought… which they have faithfully done. But even now, when they call for input, I always ask what they think – first – and usually they are RIGHT ON!

  8. I remember a friend telling me when my boys were little that the car was the place he and his mom and meaningful conversations. It was much, much easier for him because they weren’t face to face. I filed it away to use at a later date and have found the same with my boys. It is a much less threatening setting somehow. I’ll also say car-ride conversations can veer into the utterly ridiculous, which is just as important sometimes!

  9. Katia says:

    My husband and I carpool to and from work five days a week. At home, we are focused on the kids and our routines, which leaves almost no time for ‘adult conversation.’ We always look forward to catching up in the car.

  10. Katie Toffey says:

    I, too, live in farm country and drive all day. I have 4 children that all attend/attended schools on the opposite side of town from where we live. I absolutely have treasured the time we spend in the car together. We have listened to audio books for years, have great conversations, listen to all kinds of music – and just share! There are times when I tire of the drive and the endless hours spent in my car, but I try to remind myself of the blessing it has been to have this time with my children – and when you add a friend or two into the mix (especially when they hit high school) you learn so much about that world without having to ask a lot of questions. Everyday blessing!

  11. Jane says:

    Not only are the conversations precious with you and your child, I’ve learned a lot ‘eavesdropping’ on the conversation between the siblings and/or their friends. I spent one year driving to clients over a 3 state area in a car with no radio. That was quality time being alone with my thoughts. I’m a big fan of driving and enjoying the moments.

  12. Katie says:

    I love this! My mom says the same thing-of course not when we were younger, but now that we’re older, she reminds us of the great car trips that we thought were random. Now we never shy away from car trips with our own kids. We carry a book in our cars (my sister and I) called 100 Questions and use that to prompt chatting if we’re/they’re in the mood. Also-there’s an app called KidQ that has a daily question for kids and discussion.

  13. Mary Lou says:

    Before I even read your friend’s advice, I was practically yelling at my computer, “Do it. Don’t be afraid of a lot of driving. Drive time can be the best time for conversation.” My daughters are 19 and 14 now, so those precious hours in the car are fewer and farther between these days. I have driven my girls (now just one girl since older daughter is away at college) to school everyday (15 minutes from home) since pre-k. I have learned more about what’s happening at school and in life in those 15 minutes than any other time of the day. We also say a prayer for the day while we wait to make the left turn onto the street where school is located. It has been our routine for many years.
    I would also add–bring their friends along sometimes. I drove entire volleyball, basketball, and softball teams all over the state of Virginia and just listened. I learned so much about my children and their friends, and I had many opportunities to speak wisdom or to gently offer guidance. We’ve tackled some tough subjects (like the time my daughter’s friend said she felt responsible for her parents’ divorce. My 2 children, the friend, and another friend had a long discussion about divorce and how much both parents still loved their child and how she was NOT to blame). We’ve also been very silly and laughed an awful lot.
    While the girls were still fairly young, we purchased a minivan, much to my dismay. I didn’t want a minivan; I thought I was too young to drive a minivan. But it was one of my greatest blessings. I always had room to take a group of kids to whatever event was happening, and I wouldn’t have traded that minivan or the time spent in it for the cutest sports car in the world.
    Will you get tired of driving? Oh yes! But embrace that time with your children and make the most of your captive audience.

    • Beth says:

      Yes yes yes! My mom was this mom, and our van was always one of the “team vans” that traveled to away games or took kids on Christmas shopping trips when our class adopted a local charity. I’m sure she learned more than she bargained for on some of these trips, but it was always nice to have her there.

  14. I’ve always hated driving and typically see it as something to be avoided at all costs! With that in mind, the amount of driving I’ll do in the future will be hugely impacted within the next year or two as we look at buying a house. I love the idea of living somewhere further into the countryside with lots of land, but was dreading the thought of having to drive further to get anywhere. This post provides a much-needed different perspective on that dilemma and instead shows how valuable that time can become!

    • Jules says:

      I had the same fear when we moved into the country try. I rarely drove until then as we could walk everywhere from our previous home. It wasn’t until we moved here I suddenly realized we were isolated (I know how silly that is, not to have thought of it before!) and if I wanted to go anywhere at all I would have to drive. Our children are grown so it was just me and my miniature schnauzer along for the ride. However, I have discovered audio books and now driving is something I look forward to – going someplace is a long stretch of time to listen, uninterrupted. Listening also stops my mind wandering which means I am more focused on driving, in an odd way. Instead of cutting into reading time driving has actually increased my book consumption! I also sing along to CDs, really loudly and off-key, at times, much to the dogs consternation!

  15. beth says:

    I’ve heard a lot of people say they have great conversations with kids in the car. I do not. I am concentrating so much on the driving in crazy traffic part that I cannot have a good quality conversation with my kids. WHo both like to talk at the same time. Too many inputs! Sometimes when the driving is really hairy I even have to ask them to be quiet for a few minutes so Mommy can concentrate on the highway. It’s jsut one of those things that doesn’t work for me. I, too, would love to walk everywhere!

  16. Valerie says:

    I live rural and must drive everywhere. My 19 year daughter and I have had many heartfelt conversations in the car. A few times I thought I might drive off the road due to the shock of what she just said. When my daughter says mom let’s take a road trip, I know she wants some girl time. We have always had our girl time a least once a months since her birth. We have many memories. My daughter also has time with her Dad which is very important.

  17. snydertxgal says:

    I don’t mind driving for two main reasons. One is the kid in the car. My baby is now 18, is busy and school, has a job, is active at church. I’m lucky to see him for 30 minutes during the day some weeks. We took a weekend road trip this past weekend, so I had him 4 hours Saturday/4 hours Sunday. All to myself! The THINGS I LEARNED!! So grateful for that time to reconnect with him.
    Two, I listen to books in the car when by myself. Sometimes I have to drive around a little and not go straight home if the end of the chapter is especially good!

  18. I love this post! I agree that important things are discussed in the car. My son will ask many deep questions while we’re driving. I think his mind just wanders without the distractions and electronics of home.

    I also love car time because it means audiobooks. I very often miss my longer commute. I enjoy time alone in my car.

  19. Jessica says:

    I hate driving too but you bring up a really great point – I’ve been blindsided by my kids “car questions” more than once. The car really does seem like it’s a safe space for them. (I think it’s the lack of eye contact + lack of other stimulus too.)

  20. Cheryl says:

    The car time is so important and I didn’t realize it until recently. My husband “hogs” the morning drive to school because he loves the twenty minutes he gets with the kids. As a matter of fact, we both dearly miss the one who is driving himself these days because of those conversations in the car. And my husband also originated the idea of using car time as a confessional of sorts. “Car talk” is respected, and it doesn’t get brought back up except at the kid’s own choosing. Crushes, bad grades, and embarrassing moments have all been shared, our kids secure in the knowledge that they won’t get made fun of later because of it. The window on our having lots of car time is closing soon, and I kind of dread it. I think I’ll need to enlist kitchen help to keep the car talk going.

  21. Jackie says:

    Thanks for sharing. Reminds me of F. Buechner:
    “There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly. . . . Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.
    – from Now and Then and Listening to Your

  22. Dana says:

    My husband and I love taking road trips and this is one of the reasons. We have always had our best conversations in the car.
    There is something about being on the way to a favorite destination or the relaxation that is induced from the anticipation of the getaway that creates an environment for “real talk”. My husband calls it having “good car.” We have had some wonderful talks about faith, dreams, plans, fears, finances, our relationship and so on as we have traveled. I do think it is because there are no other distractions or people around, the serenity of the rhythms of the road and the time allows for concerns or heartfelt issues to emerge. We never really plan talks, they just gently emerge in the calm cocoon we find ourselves traveling in. We have not had a trip away in quite some time due to caring for an elderly family member. We have taken to having some talks in the hot tub at night, which is another conducive environment ( but that is only 30 minutes). We have managed to arrange 2 days away this coming weekend and I am sure there are topics that are waiting for a chance to present themselves once we are on the road.

  23. Emily Hartung says:

    I also love the peace and quiet as well as moments to think when I am driving. In fact it is how I de-stress.

  24. Camila says:

    I never thought about that in this way…I don’t have kids yet… But, like you, I hate to drive and I always want to live next everything, what never happened with me, but always with my husband! Thank you for sharing it !!

  25. Beth says:

    I couldn’t agree with your friend more. All growing up, the moments that my sisters and I asked Big Questions of my mom always happened in the car, especially at night driving home from softball or soccer games. The longer the drive, or the more familiar the drive, the deeper the conversation, at least in my family. Golden hours is right!

  26. Suzanne says:

    Thumbs up for this reminder about car chats. It’s true for my husband and me. We are apt to drive 4 hours round trip just to go out for dinner. The car time is precious.

    This also plays to the post you did recently about being bored. Looking out the window. Playing the license plate game. Reading billboards. I remember old fashioned road trips and hope to encourage some of that boredom in our lives.

  27. MelissaJoy says:

    Love your friend’s input. My six year old daughter goes through waves of loving/hating car trips. We are out in the country for a transitional time and it takes time to go to the places we need to go to get groceries and keep friends (!) among other things. Some days are full of great conversations and idea sharing, some are full of audiobooks and some just quiet. There was a stretch a few months ago where I was fielding questions about many things including tobacco (we are not tobacco users but Mr Edwards in Little House…well…) I would have to say I knew more than I realized.

    Sounds like you’re embracing your new routine 🙂

  28. I agree about car time being sharing time, but it’s also when my kids are in their top form comically. Sometimes it’s unintentional, but most car rides include me laughing hysterically.

  29. Kristina Mullen says:

    I am so with you on the driving thing! I just hate it. I don’t mind riding in a car, if say my husband or a friend is driving, but I just can’t stand it. The only reason I would ever move to a big city (versus our current small town, population 1,200) would be so that I could sell my car and walk or take public transport everywhere. Funny enough, my husband is a mechanic and a car “geek” so going carless would never be an option for him.

  30. Karen says:

    I have a friend who purposefully had the “birds and bees” talk with her daughter while in the car. She says it went great, because they didn’t have to make eye contact. ?

  31. Angela says:

    I’m the Children’s Ministry Director at my church. We moved into a family ministry this year officially, and one of the things I’ve been thinking about is how to leverage family car time so conversations about God and life are happening between parents and kids. The biggest hurdle is technology screen time: phones, iPads, and YouTube. Glad to hear you’re getting quality conversations with your kids in the car!

  32. Shelley says:

    When my daughter was little we used the travel time to play “20 Questions”. Twenty questions to preschoolers: “What is our phone number, what is our street address, and what do you do if there is a fire in the house”? As she grew older she needed the car time to decompress from her day. It was hard to find time to chat. One night, when she was maybe a freshman in high school, I went into my daughter’s room while she was studying and laid on her bed. I did nothing but lay there. After about 20 minutes she started talking. I listened and only spoke if she asked a question. It was the start of a new season for us. About once a week I would go to her room while she was studying. I would lay on her bed, take my glasses off, stare at the ceiling and wait for her to start the conversation. It wasn’t long before she was joining me on the bed, staring at the ceiling, sharing her life with me. She came home from her first semester at college this Christmas. Late one night during her break I heard a gentle tap on our bedroom door. She opened the door, came over to the bed, crawled in and started to stare at the ceiling. This time I tried to fight the tears as I laid there staring at the ceiling listening to her. Life, the important things in life, happen in the quiet moments. PS your therapist was right, they don’t stay little forever.

  33. liz n. says:

    The kids are grown and moved out and on their own, so car conversations are rare. Most of our conversations are phone calls, and once a week or so, we plan for everyone to eat dinner at the same time, put our phones on speaker, and then it’s us, the kids, grandkids, and sometimes great-grandparents all chatting away with each other. It’s great!

    My 6-year-old grandson is also fond of sitting you down on the sofa and saying, “Let’s have a conversation. Tell me about your day.” Too adorable!

  34. Maryalene says:

    I drive all the time and have a love/hate relationship with it. My older teens go to a school that’s a half hour drive one way, and during the busy band season, I’m sometimes in the car for 4-6 hours a day. Driving gets really old on those days!

    But you are right. Car time is great for fostering conversation. Two years ago when our family was going through a tough time, and my daughter was having a rough transition to high school, that hour we had together In the car everyday was golden time.

    The other thing that’s helped me embrace drive time is podcasts. I can never listen at home uninterrupted so the car is my prime place to catch up on them. So it’s 30 minutes of chatting with the kids on the way to school and 30 minutes of podcasts on the way home. I almost find myself wishing I needed to drop someone off somewhere else on some days just so I can squeeze in another episode.

  35. Leslie says:

    Your friend was right…car time is golden time. It illustrates my belief that you can’t plan when you will have quality time. Quality time most often happens in the context of quantity time.

  36. Connie C. says:

    I have three teen age sons. A couple years ago, one had a really rough year in school. We would lay on his bed after dinner, shoulder to shoulder. And then, and only then, would he talk. I mean, *really* talk. Like you mentioned, you aren’t face to face and we could both pretend to be staring at the ceiling or something.

    My husband discovered the joys of eavesdropping when he drove a different son and his friends to a weekly meal they shared for a long time at a local restaurant. I can still see his quizzical smile after he got out of the car that first week!

  37. Other Mary says:

    I found the same thing. Also, after you’ve dropped the kids off or before you’ve picked them up and you’re in the car alone it’s a great time to listen to audio books.

  38. Kandace says:

    Yes, my daughter shared with me in the car once, when she was 4 almost 5, about where she thought we were before we were here, on Earth. She said that she thought we were everywhere, always. Wow! In the car and at bedtime, when we’re snuggled and the lights are off after reading. I hear their little theories and their feelings and it means so much. And when they’re not in the car, I catch up on podcasts– like yours! Thanks!

  39. Anna says:

    We live in a medium-sized city but intentionally chose our kids’ doctor’s office to be an hour out to a small town. We drive through beautiful landscape scenery to get there and my husband and I find it to be immediately relaxing, perspective-giving, and a time when we can converse freely and casually — our kids are five and twenty-five months, so they typically fall asleep in the car, leaving open time to talk. We always come back refreshed after such a trip. Last time, we went to an old pancake restaurant after the appointment, which my husband knew about from when he was young. We are in the first year with our youngest, so we have these trips every two months for well-baby check-ups. It’s fun! It might be counter-intuitive that a doctor an hour away is great, but really it is the best way for us. We don’t rush to get it done after a ten minute drive. We get to slow down and relax and day dream as we drive through the pretty landscape by a big river. As well, some people might think you have to get to a big city to go the doctor, but the small town offices are so friendly, mellow, and never over-crowded.

  40. Laura says:

    This rings true to my experience growing up. My mom and I talked a lot in the car. She always took an interest in what music I liked on the radio. She got a front row seat to chit chat from my friends and me when they were in the car as well. As a teenager, it was often easier to talk to someone when you didn’t have to look directly at them (e.g. the other person was driving). I think we’d both agree we have fond memories of all the trips to swim practice and piano lessons!

  41. Kristin says:

    I’ve found that to be true, too. I had a baby in January and that meant we didn’t have enough seats in our vehicle to hold all of us when we went places together. Until we bought a new vehicle earlier this month, if we went somewhere as a family, I drove one vehicle with 4 of our kids and my husband drove another vehicle with 2 kids. At first I hated it, but then I realized that my normally quiet 13-year-old really opened up while we were driving. We had some amazing conversations driving around town!

  42. Annette says:

    Our charter school bought a campus 15 minutes away so we will be in the car a lot more next school year. I’m wondering if that extra time will turn into good conversation time for us too.

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