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Breaking up With Your Carpool

Photograph by Getty Images

The kiddie carpool. It seems like a fantastic idea, right? Carpooling hit its peak in this country in the 1970s, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The phenomenon took hold—some of you may remember—because of the gas crisis, when Middle East embargoes on oil drove gasoline prices through the roof. You could visit the pump only on odd or even days of the month, depending on whether your license plate ended in an odd or even number.

But these days carpooling isn't really about the gas. For most parents it's about convenience. Having your child or children picked up by another parent lets you get to work on time, go to the gym, hit the store, start laundry or stay in your pj's. Carpooling saves gas, but it also saves time—and sanity.

But what if carpooling is also stressful? It's almost an absurd concept—what possibly could be stressful about efficiently getting your child to school in a timely manner? It's not like the bus, on which god-knows-what happens.

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Here's why your perfect little ride-sharing arrangement could turn sour. The family that happens to live near you doesn't happen to share your parenting values. Or, the parents who were so amenable to carpooling in September are now considering the "sharing" to mean a 60-40 split of driving, or 70-30, in their favor. And finally, perhaps most stressful of the souring scenarios—that kid who seemed so cute and adorable, whom you were so excited for your kid to become besties with, has revealed himself to be a potty-mouthed louse.

I know people who have bowed out of carpool because of bad kid dynamics—and they didn't mince words.

What to do? How do you extricate your child from the increasingly undesirable backseat of that once-so-promising SUV? I know people who have bowed out of carpool because of bad kid dynamics—and they didn't mince words, saying to their carpool cohort: "Your kid is mean to my kid." But for those of us who are less evolved, who cringe at the thought of saying something like that, try these options:

"I have a lot going on this week so I'm just going to grab my kids and run errands after school." This could go on for a few weeks until you say, "It's easier for me to just do my own thing with driving. We'll have to back out of carpool for now." The downside to this approach, of course, is that you have to drive your kids to school every day.

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If the problem is not nastiness but flakiness, you don't have much to lose by bagging out, but it may be harder to explain why you can't give the other kids a ride. If you're always holding up your end of the bargain while the other parent seems to repeatedly need you to fill in for her or cancel, you could say carpool just isn't working for you. Then again, if the kids are pleasant, you could just chalk it up to one of those good deeds that will probably come back around to you in the future.

In the meantime, your kids are getting one of those seminal childhood experiences, albeit at your expense. As if that's different from any other seminal childhood experience. Drive on!

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