It is perhaps the most cliché of all the cliché dad-threats: “If you don’t stop right now, I will turn this damn car around.” Every kid has heard it. Many sitcoms have featured it. And many parents, at some point on a road trip or vacation or five-minute drive to dinner, have been so frustrated with their arguing kids that they’ve likely uttered the sentence in anger. But it’s rare that the threat is actually seen through, probably for one reason: usually, you want, or need, to go where you’re headed. As it’s vacation season, a time when this phrase leaves the lips of many dads, we spoke to three fathers who, tired of their kids’ behavior, actually did go through with the age-old threat. Here’s how it went down.
“I’ve Done It at Least a Dozen Times”
I met this parenting coach. We started talking, and her thing was that if you say something, kids pay attention. I took that to heart. I realized that if I said, if you don’t stop, I’ll turn the car around, if they’re egging each other on, if I didn’t actually do it, they would never stop. So I started doing it.
So one day, I turned the car around. The kids were really upset, in shock, crying, being kids. We got home and I said, “From now on, when we say what we are going to do, we are going to do it. We are going to turn around.” Of course, a week later, the same thing happened. Really, after that, it was established that that was going to really happen.
The truth is, it makes everything easier. You don’t want to keep threatening your kids that we’re going to turn around and we’re going to leave. You want them to self-police and figure it out for themselves. It’s a really small way of setting a good example of following through with something. Even though it has a negative source, in the end, it’s a positive thing. Especially if you have two kids. I’ve found that if I just say, “I’m going to turn the car around,” they work together.
I’ve done it at least a dozen times, if you count also leaving a place. We have a big outdoor concert series here, and a couple of years ago, both of my kids were having meltdowns. And I was just like; if you guys don’t stop, we’re going to leave. That was another moment where I was like, I don’t want to go. But once I said it, it worked. I don’t think I have had to turn the car around or leave in over a year. I have used the threat, though. I actually used it as recently as this weekend. We went to see Incredibles 2 at the drive-in, and for whatever reason, on the way there, they were just like, going at it. But they stopped, and we had a great night.
— Edward, 44, Vermont
“Their eyes were wide and they realized I really meant it.”
My ex-wife, and my son, and I had gone to North Dakota to visit my daughter who lived with my ex-girlfriend. There was always this yearly hot air balloon race in North Dakota at the International Peace Gardens. We were on our way up there, and it was raining a little bit down in Minot. The kids would not stop arguing. Absolutely would not. And, of course, that’s the way kids are. But I told them for the first half hour to basically shut up, stop arguing, and get along. They wouldn’t do it.
Everyone was looking forward to the balloons. When I made the turn on the divided highway, on one of those turnouts where you can turn around, everyone just went silent. And stopped. That’s it, almost immediately. I looked in the rear-view mirror and their eyes were wide and they realized I really meant it. So, and they were, for the most part, quiet and whispered all the way back to the hotel.
We couldn’t do anything else that day because it was raining cats and dogs outside. When we got back to the room, they played with their toys on the hotel floor.
— Robert, 56, Arizona
“I get out of the car, and I just start walking.”
I have two boys. They’re five and eight. It seems like oftentimes, when it’s just me with the boys, they tend to ramp up and really get after each other while I’m driving. I am probably the king of empty threats. I’ve tried to find the way to not do that. It’s so easy just to make those threats. One time, I was taking the boys to Lake George to meet family. An hour and a half into the two-hour drive and we’re on the last stretch, and they are so at each other’s throats.
Nothing I’m saying is getting through whatsoever. I pull over the car, and I’m thinking to myself, I can’t ask them to get out of the car. That would really freak them out. So, I grab the keys, and I get out of the car, and I just start walking. I figured that might actually get their attention. It did. When I came back it was completely silent. They were wide-eyed and ready to start the next leg of the drive. It actually worked.
I think I told them that we weren’t going to the lake and I was just going to go by myself. I just took the keys, got out of the car, walked down the side of the road — which was a road, not an interstate, or anything dangerous — and then I turned back and they were totally quiet and ready to go.
We went to the lake in the end. Being around kids, sometimes it’s like, it just takes something to shake the scene up, and really just change their perspective for a minute. Making empty threats and yelling doesn’t always do the trick. We try to avoid that kind of thing. That’s just one thing that was unexpected and it caught their attention.
— Jackson, Vermont, 38