LISA MIGDAL doesn’t look like a taxi driver. There is no light on the top of her Toyota Verso, no cab number painted on the side and no novelty air fresheners hanging from the rear-view mirror. But spend a day in her company and you would be hard pushed to tell the difference between Migdal and your local minicab firm.
In a typical week the single mother from Cambridge spends on average more than 16 hours on the road covering more than 80 miles in dozens of short journeys, picking up and dropping off passengers. Migdal’s “fares” are her three children — Marek, 10, Alina, 12, and Alicja, 15 — and her route takes her from two schools (primary and secondary) to dance clubs, sports clubs and swimming galas, skate parks, concert rehearsals and friends’ parties. She refers to herself as a “taxi mum” and is one of a growing number of parents for whom spending the majority of their spare time at the wheel of a car is not unusual.
“When I was a child I used to cycle or walk to school,” says Migdal, 47, a freelance graphic designer. “Cars were usually kept in the garage. But now there are so many journeys we jump into the car for, when before we would certainly have walked. Safety fears are one factor. But there are lots of reasons really; often it’s just more convenient, plus I don’t want to say the kids expect it, but there is more of an expectation because all the other parents are doing it. It just becomes part of your life.”
Parents ferrying their offspring round is nothing new, but according to statistics, modern life has intensified the burden. The emergence of the taxi mum can be seen in tandem with the phenomenon of “Fomo”, or fear of missing out.
In a competitive school environment, parents are worried their offspring will miss out if they don’t have a full roster of after-school activities — piano lessons, ballet classes, rugby training, netball practice, drama club, choir, extra maths and tae kwon do. A YouGov survey suggested that more than 80% of parents believed a busy schedule was good for their children’s development. More than half the 1,100 parents questioned agreed that their children’s lives were busier than their own were at the same age.
Modern safety concerns also mean that fewer parents are willing to let their children make their own way to extracurricular activities. According to research by Westminster University, only about 25% of children walk to school unaccompanied by an adult today, compared with 86% in 1971. The findings are borne out by government data that suggests increasing numbers of youngsters are being chauffeured: more than 40% of primary school pupils now are driven to school and in one in three cases the journey is less than a mile.
The results can be clearly seen. A separate survey of 2,000 parents published last month by the tyre manufacturer Goodyear found mothers and fathers clock up an average of 26,741 miles driving their children around by the time they turn 20. It all adds up to 197 days spent ferrying youngsters to and from school, friends’ houses, clubs and parties. And that doesn’t include time spent waiting — the survey found that every year parents waste 30 hours and 46 minutes sitting in their cars waiting for their offspring.
A survey found mothers and fathers clock up an average of 26,741 miles driving their children around by the time they are 20
As any parent knows, the challenges of driving children evolve over time, from struggling with car seats when they are toddlers to negotiating busy nightclub car parks when they are in their teens.
If you want an insight into modern parenting, log on to the online forum Mumsnet, which abounds with laments about lazy teenagers who would rather waste half an hour nagging parents for a lift than risk breaking sweat on a five-minute cycle ride. Meanwhile, others debate how to stop their diminutive Houdini from perpetually wriggling out of his car-seat harness.
Perhaps it is no surprise then that all these demands have fuelled the increase in the number of households with two or more cars, which has trebled in the past 40 years.
There is a silver lining for taxi mums, however. A fifth of parents in the Goodyear survey said they found the time they spent ferrying their children around was a good opportunity to talk. Of that fifth, half of parents ask about school work, 15% test general knowledge and 14% have realised that, with nowhere for their offspring to run, this is the perfect time to ask those tricky questions about their personal lives.
“You have to try to make it fun,” says Migdal. “Sometimes someone can say something funny and we all get the giggles. It can be a time for family bonding, the only time, apart from mealtimes, when they’re not stuck in their rooms. Occasionally we have heart-to-hearts in the car. And, of course, sometimes I’ll just block them all out and have some me-time with the radio.”
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A week in the life of a Taxi Mum
8.10-8.30 Drop Alicja, 15, and Alina, 12, at secondary school in Cambridge.
8.30-8.50 Take Marek, 10, to primary school in a village just outside Cambridge — the one bonus is that we’re usually travelling in the opposite direction to most of the rush-hour traffic.
8.50-9.10 Return home to begin work. I’m fortunate that I work from home now.
12.30-1.00 Collect Alicja from school as it’s her half-day.
1.00-1.15 An emergency dash to a shopping centre to buy Alicja a white shirt for her dance performance tomorrow night.
14.30-14.50 Back home, where we discover the £6 man’s shirt we bought in desperation is far too big and there is “no way” Alicja is wearing a “lab coat”.
14.50-15.15 I have to head back out to pick up Alina from school and drop Alicja back at school for rehearsals. I do a detour via the home of one of Marek’s friends to drop off a birthday present for an after-school party.
15.30-15.45 Back home with Alina.
18.00-18.20 Collect Marek from his party, plus another detour to drop off one of his friends. Then to pick up Alicja from school.
18.30-18.45 Back home.
Approximate mileage: 12
Time spent in car: 3 hours 20 minutes
8.10-8.30 Drop Alicja and Alina at school. Most days it’s either Kiss FM — their station of choice — blasting out of the radio, or they’re all plugged in and silently nodding along to their iPods.
8.30-8.50 On to Marek’s school.
9.00-9.20 Back to the shop alone to return the offending white shirt.
10.00-10.20 Back to Alicja’s school to drop off a new shirt for the evening performance.
10.30-10.45 Switch the car radio back to Radio 2, then back home to do some work – finally. It’s a wonder I find the time to earn a living.
14.45-15.00 Pick up Alina from school. Of course my children are rarely at the gates waiting, so I frequently have to send a shirty one-line text to let them know I’m waiting. Naturally if I’m half a minute late, they’ll be calling me straight away and leaving anxious/stroppy messages.
15.00-15.15 Back home.
16.30-16.45 Pick up Marek from his after-school club: it can be anything from cricket to rugby, tennis to football — I lose track.
17.00-17.15 Back to pick up Alicja from school.
Approx mileage: 12
Time spent in car: 2 hours 35 minutes
8.10-8.30 Load all the children up in the car, to drop off Alicja at school (the girls start at different times on Wednesdays). Immediate argument about which Ed Sheeran track everyone wants to listen to.
8.30-8.50 Drop off Marek — Alina rejoices in being able to control the music selection.
8.50-9.15 Finally drop off Alina.
9.15-9.35 Back home and, fingers crossed, a good five hours to crack on with work.
15.05-15.40 Collect Marek and the girls.
15.40-16.00 Back home.
17.30-17.45 Take Marek and Alina to swimming training.
19.00-19.15 Back home with Marek – it was his first time at swimming club and he is a bit overwhelmed. Give in to demands for sweets.
19.30-19.45 Take Alicja to the school arts festival for her dance performance, looking lovely in her new white shirt. Feeling proud.
19.45-20.00 Back to collect Alina from swimming.
20.35-20.50 On to Alicja’s school with Marek and Alina to see her dance – worth the journey, she performs beautifully.
21.40-21.50 Back home. Phew!
Time: 3 hours 45 minutes
8.15-8.35 After the usual nagging about teeth-brushing and the inability to put shoes on until the 100th time of asking, I bundle the children into the car, then drop off Alina at school — just in time.
8.30-8.50 On to Marek’s school.
9.00-9.30 Into town to drop Alicja at her sixth-form college taster session.
9.30-9.45 Back home to do some work, interspersed with chores.
14.50-15.05 Collect Alina.
15.15-15.25 Collect Marek.
17.00-17.15 Back to collect Alicja, who stayed after school to record a pop song for a music assignment.
17.25-18.35 Back home via the takeaway. (Absolutely too tired to cook!)
Time: 3 hours 15 minutes
8.10-8.30 Drop off Alicja and Alina.
8.30-8.50 Drop off Marek.
8.50-9.10 Back home.
14.50-15.05 Collect Alina and Alicja.
15.20-15.40 Collect Marek.
16.00-16.20 To the shopping centre to buy some essentials. We decide to pop into B&M, a discount store, which prompts lots of in-car banter about the funny characters we always see in there and some largely incomprehensible — to me — chat about a Katy Perry perfume. Sometimes it’s hard to cater the conversation to our age range.
17.00-17.30 Back home.
Time: 2 hours 25 minutes
17.00-17.20 – To Granny’s for tea. This was a quiet weekend; sometimes I have to drive long distances to take Alina to swimming galas. Or Marek has a party, or wants to check out a new skateboard park, or Alicja has to get to a Duke of Edinburgh event. Or we need to make an emergency trip to Boots to buy her new mascara — I could go on . . .
19.00-19.20 Back home.
Time: 40 minutes
17.50-18.05 Take Alina to swimming training. Decided to skip the usual supermarket run.
20.20-20.35 Back home.
Time: 30 minutes
TOTAL TIME SPENT IN CAR: 16hr 30min