As much as women are said to be good at multi-tasking, driving with children in the car must be one of the toughest circus acts to handle.
Children are restless and easily bored, and it becomes an absolute nightmare trying to keep them entertained whilst having focusing on the road.
Upgrading to a bigger car like a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) or a Multi-Purpose Vehicle (MPV) upon starting a family is common, but what kid-friendly features can such cars have in order to enhance the driving experience with kids?
Also, with such short attention spans, how can kids be kept occupied so their mothers can concentrate on the road?
Meet four mothers who share their experiences and insights on driving with kids…
Kerry Thomas, 39, homemaker
Mother of two kids Ellie Thomas (10) and Lucas Thomas (6)
Having moved to Singapore from the United Kingdom two and a half years ago, British mum Kerry has been driving since she got her licence two decades ago.
Kerry has been driving Ellie since she was six weeks old when she used to drive Ellie 200 miles away to her parents’ home and trying to fit that four-hour journey in between feeds was quite the challenge.
Previously, Kerry drove a Ford Focus back in the UK until her husband Sheridan Thomas changed it to a Renault Megane 225 Sports which the kids adored and felt disappointed about when it wasn’t brought along with them on the move to Singapore.
Currently driving a Subaru Forester 2.5 Turbo, Kerry has to juggle between her children’s commitments. Her younger son Lucas is always asking to go to the go-kart track Kartright Speedway, which is all the way in the West at Upper Jurong, whilst Ellie practises wakeboarding and ice skating, which is done in the East.
It helps that the Forester has plenty of space which is good for friends to jump in for play dates. It also has sufficient storage for the kids’ drink bottles, which is an absolute must for the weather conditions here.
Q: What are some of the challenges you face when driving the kids and how did you overcome them?
A: Children can get quite impatient and over-excited in the car, especially when they are eager to get to their activities no matter how short the journey is. I like to use the time in the car to talk with the children, find out how their day has been and what interesting things they've learnt about. Other times we listen to music, they play games together or Ellie reads whilst Lucas plays with his toy cars. If they start getting really restless, I would suggest play sleeping lions or the quiet game, which rewards a treat and gives me a few minutes of peace.
Q: What kid-friendly features do you think would be useful in the car?
A: Automatic belts could be a useful feature, however I can't see it working for my two kids – they find it very uncomfortable when the seatbelt locks tight and have to undo and refit their belt. In the UK we had a DVD player for the car, but I wouldn't go for the additional option of installing that to a car here in Singapore as I can get to wherever I need to be within 30 minutes.
Q: What tips or advice would you give on driving with kids?
A: Always have a drink of water for them in the car; it's amazing how being dehydrated can change their moods. Also, make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to get to where you are going. Children seem to instinctively know when you are running late and start being more noisy and boisterous than usual.
Mary Goh, 43, homemaker
Mother of three kids James Pull (10), Maddy Pull (8) and Sophie Pull (6)
Mary has been driving for 24 years but only started driving her kids around in 2001 when her eldest boy James went to nursery. The Malaysian moved to Singapore two years ago after living in Hong Kong for eight years.
One way Mary keeps her three children occupied in the car is by popping an exciting DVD for them to watch whilst they feed on a healthy snack. Tested and proven by her, this method keeps them occupied and quiet.
Q: What is the greatest challenge of driving with kids?
A: The greatest challenge I face is whilst driving is trying to keep the kids occupied and entertained so I can concentrate fully on the road.
Q: What car do you drive to ferry your kids around?
A: I currently drive the seven-seater Toyota Estima. The car is spacious, comfortable and has loads of storage space which is useful for the whole family’s luggage on our road trips. Some kid-friendly features it has are seats that can recline fully so they can sleep properly if they fall asleep, a TV for them to watch movies during long journeys, and also plenty of space in the back for their school bags and belongings. In addition, the automatic doors are very helpful in times of rain.
Q: What features do you wish a car would have that would make driving these kids around easier?
A: In-car Bluetooth connection for the mobile phone so making and receiving phone calls will be hands-free, and controls like audio or volume on the steering wheel for easier access.
Karen Law, 35, research analyst
Mother of two kids Evan Marc Chua (7) and Erin Mae Chua (3)
Before having kids, Karen used to drive the Volkswagen Golf but has since switched to MPVs like the Volvo XC90 and currently the Honda Odyssey.
Having been driving for 17 years now, Karen started driving her kids around since they were born.
Whilst the Odyssey makes a great car for them with its smooth drive, excellent safety record and roomy interior, Karen hopes that more cars will have its child lock conveniently located at the centre console alongside the air-con and audio system.
Q: What are some of the challenges when driving the kids around?
A: The challenges I face whilst driving make no difference with or without the kids – crowded roads and inconsiderate drivers. Both my children are very disciplined in the car as I have trained them. My daughter is only three years old and she knows she has to be in her car seat. Likewise, my son knows he can only sit in the back (not in the front seat until he is 12) and must be belted up at all times.
Q: How did you instil such discipline in them?
A: I have been very particular about using car seats for my children from the time they were born so I know they are safely secured and hence can concentrate on driving without worrying about them.
Q: What tips would you give to mothers and mothers-to-be about driving kids around?
A: Insist on using car seats from the day your baby returns from the hospital. It is your responsibility as a parent to do all you can to ensure their safety. I feel in Singapore we do not enforce this enough and too often I see babies in the arms of their parents, young children sitting in the front seat, children moving around with no seat belt in place. All these make for unnecessary distractions when the driver should be focusing on the road.
Pauline Boey, 34, homemaker
Mother of two kids Jordan Tay (9) and Jolene Tay (4)
Sending the kids to school, to enrichment classes and to their activities like piano lessons, ballet lessons, go-karting practice and go-kart races in Malaysia are just some of the items in Pauline’s driving itinerary.
Q: What’s the hardest thing to make them do when in the car and how do you solve it?
A: Keeping them in their seat belts is the greatest challenge for me. I get them to listen by telling them what the consequences without their seat belts, and if they behave I will reward them.
Q: What do you drive to fetch your kids around and what do you like about it?
A: I alternate between the Suzuki Grand Vitara and my husband’s BMW 3-Series. We chose to get the Grand Vitara because of the kids. Also, it’s rugged and has lots of storage space and generous seating capacity – perfect for my husband and son who go go-karting regularly. Because of its size on the road and also a higher seating position, I feel safer and less vulnerable driving the Grand Vitara.
Q: What are some kid-friendly features that could be offered in cars?
A: Unfortunately, the Grand Vitara has no kid-friendly features such as a DVD player, unless we install it ourselves. Child seats with head rests and automatic seat belts would be useful.
Q: What advice would you share with fellow mothers who drive?
A: Get your kids to make the habit of putting on their belts on whenever in the car and train them to get used to car seats, especially from infancy.