• Mary K. Armstrong

Backseat Driver

Looking outside from a car window to see a rainy night

It was a dark, rainy night on Princess Street when I pulled out my phone to call a taxi. I saw the distinctive roof light approach... and pass me. "Hey!" I shouted into the dark night. The car stopped, backed up, and nearly ran me down. I opened the door and slid onto the empty seat. The driver turned out to be a thick-set forty-ish woman. By the time I'd buckled my seatbelt, a gang of high school kids had gathered in front of the car, pushing one another and hooting over their power to keep the taxi from pulling out.

It was almost a minute before the driver could pull away from the curb and head to my destination. She was gripping the wheel with one hand and pounding the dashboard with the other. She was really angry. "It sure was different when I was a kid," she said. "My mother whacked us with a broom handle if we stepped out of line. Today's kids get away with murder." I doubted that parents sparing the broom handle was the cause of the rowdy behaviour of that bunch of adolescents. "Parents knew how to raise good kids in those days," she went on. "We didn't dare misbehave."

This was too much. I had to say something. Having spent my professional life as a psychotherapist helping clients heal from the wounds of childhood, I couldn't help but deliver a lecture about a more enlightened approach to child-rearing. I leaned forward. "I disagree," I said. "I absolutely know that it's harmful and wrong for adults to hit their children". She froze. The car stopped. She turned slowly to face me, as if she couldn't believe what she'd just heard.

I continued before she had the chance to interrupt me. "I agree that adults need to be in charge, but look at the difference in size between a small child and an adult. Why is there a need for physical force? If the adult hit anyone else, it would be called assault. Adults have to learn how to be in charge without resorting to physical punishment." I thought she was going to pull the taxi over to the curb and tell me to get out.

"My mother didn't hurt us none. We just got a good whacking and learned never to do that again." She sped up again. This is when I started having an argument with myself. Should I tell her that children who are spanked are more likely to grow into adults who believe force is the way to settle problems? I thought of asking her if she'd considered whether we'd have less domestic violence and fewer wars if children were raised differently. My better sense took over. I was pretty sure she'd only get more upset. Nothing good would come of my backseat training session. I sank back into the seat and stayed silent for the rest of the trip.

I wonder how many Canadian adults still believe, as did my taxi driver, that physical punishment did them no harm. I guess it would have been cruel to ask her, "And how much happier, calmer and more successful do you think you might be if you hadn't been raised in fear of authority?"

What do you think? I'd like to hear from you.

Email me at and let me know.