Volvo debuted a new idea for its XC90 Excellence model: a swivel child seat built into where the front passenger seat would normally be.
A video — complete with trippy music — shows how the seat would be able to fully recline, move forward and back, and how it includes storage underneath.
USA Today called it a “cool idea.”
CNN Money quoted Volvo chief designer of interiors Tisha Johnson:
“For us the safety, convenience, and emotional factors outweigh everything else,” Johnson said. “Being able to maintain eye contact with your child from the rear seat, or being able to keep a bottle warm in the heated cup holders in the XC90 Excellence, would go a long way towards making life easier for parents taking their small child on a trip. Such alternative seating arrangements will become increasingly important as we move towards autonomous vehicles.”
Safety may be a primary consideration for Volvo but many Americans say the seat isn’t safe enough.
The only criticism of the car seat thus far has been that a rear-facing car seat in the front seat violates U.S. safety regulations and, further, that a woman driving with her baby in the front seat would be too distracted to operate the car safely.
It is absolutely true that car seats, properly installed, have made travel for children far safer than the days when, for instance, my parents drove cross country with my older sister — still a baby — laid out on pillows across the back seat. It’s also true, as Jonathan Last points out in his excellent book What To Expect When No One’s Expecting, that these same safety rules have pressured parents to have fewer children. You can’t pile a ton of kids into your car when each one requires a large car seat that takes up as much horizontal space as a large man.
Still, the problem with Volvo’s idea is that it treats the child as the god of the car. A friend posted on her Facebook wall that she didn’t like this design because she wanted to sit next to her husband while driving. It is not a coincidence that this mother of two (with another on the way) is in a happy marriage! Other friends commented:
This is a metaphor for a lot of failed marriages made real. “It seemed like the baby came between us. My spouse and I weren’t close anymore. We rarely saw eye to eye on anything. It was like our marriage took a backseat to the baby.”
Exactly! Kids are so time-consuming on a moment-to-moment basis that you actually have to work to make sure your marriage is cared for. Others posted different concerns:
Maybe the baby wants some alone time and doesn’t need a parent staring at it the whole trip. “Mom, I love you, but we need to start establishing some boundaries.”
Agreed. One has to love the assumption that a parent hovering from the backseat over the child is a good thing for child development instead of a harmful precursor to helicopter parenting. Or perhaps we should call it Volvo parenting, and note how a discussion of same can be very helpful:
Thank you, Volvo, for providing an innocuous “Canary in a Coal Mine” discussion piece. To wit, if you’re dating someone and they think this is the greatest thing since sliced bread…EJECT, EJECT, EJECT!
Seriously! Yes, travel with young children can be headache-inducing. It’s no fun to have a screaming infant in the backseat while you’re navigating bumper-to-bumper traffic. But it’s also a very short period of time before the child ages out of screaming and into the lengthier, Momma-why-is-the-sun-so-bright, oops-I-just-spilled-the-juice-I-promised-I’d-be-careful-with, why-can’t-we-go-to-the-pool? phase for which backseat placement is ideal.
And whether your bundles of joy are needy infants or needy teenagers, what makes things go well is a married couple that faces the challenges together — in the front seat, metaphorically speaking.
My husband and I have been quite clear with our children that we love each other first and foremost and that our love for them comes out of our love for each other. We absolutely prioritize the needs of the parents — including intimacy and respect — over the needs of our children. And that’s what enables us to sacrifice so much for our children, whether it’s all-nighters tending to sick children, or the day-to-day grind of planning and making meals and keeping a home.
If my husband ever put me in the proverbial back seat, as the white-gloved driving Volvo dad does above with his well-dressed and perfectly-coiffed wife, I wouldn’t appreciate the downgrading.