How I Drive a Minivan and Live With Myself

by Craig Playstead for

(This piece brought in over 850,000 page views and national media attention.) 

I used to be just like you—way too cool to drive a minivan. My Dad drove one for business when I was in my mid-20s, and I made all the “soccer mom” and “driving 40 mph in the left lane” jokes. The minivan was sad, it was pathetic, and worst of all it was boring. But then it became something else after my kids were born: a lifesaver.

Like most up-and-coming young professionals, I blew through my 20s worrying about what was cool. What you wore, what you drove, where you worked; it all mattered—a lot. At that age, I suppose, some of it is insecurity, and the rest is just trying to understand who the hell you are.
Then I got married. She was beautiful and much more hip, cool and together than I was. At that point, I could have never imagined her in a minivan. A convertible BMW? Sure. A minivan? No way.
After my daughter was born, life got more difficult in the blink of an eye. We dealt with everything new parents do—no time, no sleep, no money, and carrying an obscene amount of stuff whenever we went anywhere. My priorities changed from worrying about an image to worrying about ways to make our lives easier. Then I borrowed my Dad’s minivan for a weekend trip.

Unlike the SUVs I had owned, this minivan blew down the freeway, cruising comfortably at 75-80 mph with a sound system that rocked. And then it hit me—this thing had a ton of space—much more room than my last SUV. My wife could actually walk into the back if the baby cried; I could move my arms around and have easy access to my coffee, cooler, and hair metal CDs. This wasn’t half bad.
I resisted urges to buy a van when we only had one kid. Still, my wife’s issues putting our daughter in her car seat that sat in our Volkswagen Jetta didn’t go unnoticed. Not to mention that we had to cram the car with baby stuff whenever we went anywhere.

Then “The Bull” was born; 9 pounds, 10 ounces, all butt and legs. Once you have that second kid, you officially become a full-scale, four-alarm family. Fitting two rugrats into that Jetta was like pouring a pitcher of beer into a 16-ounce glass. Three months later, the very minivan that I once mocked became mine.

The one thing that always puzzled me about why people won’t buy a minivan is the “image” argument. And surprisingly, most of those comments have come from the wives of my friends. More than once I’ve heard, “I’m not going to be caught dead in a minivan,” or “I would never buy a minivan.” This is nice to hear as you’re driving them around in the one you own.
We have a friend who claims she would never, ever drive a minivan because they’re not hip and would destroy her image, even though she has three kids. But c’mon, let’s be honest. When you have kids, you lose a few things: freedom, some money, and definitely what passes for a “cool” or “hip” in this country.

Let’s look a little closer at “image.” I love being a parent, but after those little monsters enter your life, it becomes more about survival and the kids’ comfort than what we look like or own. And this lasts for a long time.

Does a family really look any cooler stumbling out of a $60,000 SUV than a minivan? It might not be what you’re driving that hurts your image. Maybe it’s the fact that you’re exhausted, screaming at your kids, hauling two diaper bags, pushing a double stroller with a Venti quad-latte, carrying an extra 15 pounds, and sporting a massive trail of snot on your shirt. Think about it.
Let’s look at a few of the big advantages that come with minivan ownership:
  1. Lower insurance rates.
  2. Huge savings in buying a van instead of an SUV
  3. There is a lot more space after the third seat of an average minivan than in the average SUV. And don’t go by the space listed on car reviews, you have to get in and experience it yourself.
  4. Nothing beats sliding doors when getting the kids out a parking spot. And a 6-year-old slamming a mammoth SUV door into the parked car next to you can be a tad embarrassing.
  5. Do I even need to go into gas prices? The one feature that an SUV will always beat a minivan is the four–wheel drive. If you need it, an SUV is the only way to go. However, our Toyota Sienna performed ably in last winter’s Pacific Northwest snowstorms.
How do I know all these things? Well, between our first and second minivans we fell into the same image trap as many do and bought a huge SUV.

Just like after tasting New Coke in the ’80s, I knew I’d made a mistake almost immediately after I bought it. My kids couldn’t easily climb into it, I was dropping an extra $20 every time I pulled up to the pump, and the “real” usable space just wasn’t cutting it. I sold it and bought our current minivan in less than a year. Life got a little easier—again.

While my family has had a lot of fun in the minivan, the highlight of my experience was taking a road trip with my college buddies back to our alma mater for a football game. We pulled into that small town with Nirvana blowing through the speakers. While the college kids may have laughed at the group of seven guys in their mid-30s piling out of a minivan, all I could think was: They’ll understand in 10 years. On our way home, I even got my most cynical friend to comment, “You know, this thing isn’t that bad.” And he complains about everything.

Saving all that money and making life easier for my family was just too much to turn down. And I’ll take the hit in the image department; I already embarrass my 8-year-old daughter as it is.
So let’s be honest: At this age, with a family to support and bills to pay, are you really that worried about being hip? Or should you be more concerned about your image as a parent?
(This piece originally appeared at MSN Lifestyles and had 850,000 page views.)