Baby on Board an Eighteen-Wheeler!

Stephanie GrandestaffPrime Good Dads

It’s not what you expect to see on the back of an 18-wheeler, but it’s the absolute truth for Prime drivers James and Shelby Abell. They have had their baby, Amelia, on board almost since she was born in 2017. They’ve overcome a lot of challenges to stay together as a family and learned a few helpful things about child development and their own capacity to parent in the process.

It all started in 2013 when James decided to seek employment as a driver for Prime, partially because they allowed spouses to accompany the driver. James drove a “reefer” for one year and then switched to driving a flatbed because he enjoys the challenge of arranging the pipe they typically haul on each load usually between Muncy, Pennsylvania and major cities in the northeast region. After about two years on the road, James convinced Shelby she also needed to earn her CDL—something she accomplished about the same time they discovered they were expecting Amelia. Since James served as the trainer for Shelby while she was learning to manage a large vehicle, he admitted the tension between them during this process was probably, in part, explained by hormones.

Since James and Shelby drive a flatbed truck, this requires the ability to manage large heavy tarps. They wondered if this activity would be permitted during Shelby’s pregnancy, but their doctor advised it would be acceptable since it was something she was already accustomed to doing. Because of this, Shelby was able to continue driving into the last days of her pregnancy. About a month after the birth of Amelia—and with the blessing of their pediatrician, James and Shelby hit the road again. Of course, this required making all the adjustments in daily routine, including sleep, feeding, and diapering that all new parents must make. They learned to adjust in the cab of their truck.

How Do They Make It Work?

Like most driving teams, one sleeps while the other drives. In this case, Shelby drives at night and James takes the daytime. Since Amelia tends to be awake during the day and more often asleep at night, this means James has a lot of “hands-on” parent time. He’s learned to change a diaper quickly on the very bed Shelby is sleeping without waking her. He’s also learned the importance of consistency in the life of an infant and toddler. “These things,” he says, “make it easier to help one avoid getting caught up in a child’s emotional reaction.” When it comes to handling Amelia’s unacceptable behavior, he has found a restrictive bear hug to be useful in monitoring her actions. It’s sort of like a “time out,” but in a less spacious environment.

Planning for Amelia’s Future

When it comes to the future, James and Shelby are thinking ahead. They’re considering renting a house so they all have a residence to “come home to” when they’re not on the road. They’re exploring ways to potty-train a two-year-old who is mostly confined to the truck. They looked into ways to offer preschool to their daughter on the truck. (Michigan, their home state, does offer an option.) For them, it’s all about managing their business as drivers while also providing for the needs of their child.

Things You Want Other Dads to Know

  1. “When you become a father,” says James, “your personal time is limited, but every moment you give your child is a learning opportunity. They’re sponges. Give them that time.”
  2. “Beware of the robotic lifestyle as a driver. Allow yourself to be emotionally connected to your child.” 
  3. “Allow your child to get involved with what you are doing.” James says he allows Amelia to get involved with video games he enjoys playing.
  4. “Keep in mind that parenting is a moment-by-moment experience. One minute your child is learning something new; the next she may need correction for poor behavior. Be there!”