The Family Road Trip’s Toughest Job: The Passenger Seat


passenger on road tripThere is a place, found on interstates everywhere in the summer months, sure to test the patience of saints and the grace of angels.

It’s the front passenger seat of the vacationing family’s car.

This is the epicenter of daylong road trips, the command post for managing back-seat requests, demands, and negotiations.  

We’ve all experienced this seat.

Passenger Seat Duties

My husband regularly volunteers to take on the passenger seat. He willingly engages in nausea-inducing gymnastics to pass out snacks, entertains the rear-facing baby, and mediates conflict. Other duties of the seat include:

  • Bladder Denial: She thinks she has to potty now that we’re 62 miles from the next exit and the baby just fell asleep.
  • Screentime Manipulation: After three hours of screens, it’s time to re-enter reality. The challenge is to find natural wonders outside the window that compare with the children’s animated fantasies. Oh, and we’re in Nebraska for the next four hours.
  • Nonsensical Argument Destruction: Their shouting match has lost its thread in reality and needs to be resolved. They’re fighting over who loves the letter A more.
  • Split-Second Navigation: The kids could use a playground and Siri is dragging her feet…Is it this turn? Is it?!
  • Creative Truth-Telling: The sign says we have 300 more miles but it really only takes 20 minutes. We’re always 20 minutes away from where we’re going. All day long.

Driver Seat Observations

I watch all these masterful moves and more from the driver’s seat, offering my husband an occasional shoulder shrug of empathy and a helpless what-are-you-going-to-do look of chagrin. After all, I have to focus on keeping us safely on our way and can’t possibly provide more assistance.

Inwardly, I cheer at landing the pilot position, where I can gleefully battle fellow drivers and idly take in the scenery on our journey west. For once, I have caffeinated brain time in which I can follow my inner monologue’s wormholes and not be responsible for addressing the children’s every whim.

Yet their whims are aplenty as the scenery zooms by and somebody’s got to deal with them.  

The family road trip’s legend is built in these hours on the highway and the levels of patience and grace coming from up front can help define the memory. They’ll always remember the trip Mommy ended bathroom breaks or Daddy banned joy.

So I salute those of you climbing into that passenger seat in the coming weeks. You are the summer’s unsung heroes.



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