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Snowplow Parenting

March 23, 2019

By now I’m reasonably sure most everybody’s heard of “Helicopter Parents.”  These are parents who hover, making sure nothing bad happens to their kids, and that they are protected and taken care of against all the possible difficulties in life.  There should be a decal of the motto, “To Protect And To Serve” on the side of the helicopter.  These parents do this because they think they have loving motives.  They want to protect and shepherd their kids toward their best possible future.

There are lots of problems with this parenting approach.  Enough that somebody’s probably publishing a book about it.  I see a couple of down sides to Helicopter parenting.

First of all, it’s exhausting to the parent.  Most Helicopter Parents I’ve been around are constantly tired and worn out from all the rigors of hovering over and around their kids.  They’ve got to be at every activity, every event, every time.  That’s a lot of work.  And this in addition to the rest of their adult responsibilities.

Another aspect of this is that when the child is out of their house, after 18 or more years of hovering, the Helicopter Parent has no mission in life.  When there’s no kid to hover over, what will they do with themselves?  How will they find fulfillment and significance?  And then there’s their spouse, who they’ve been able to generally avoid for these many years in favor of time and energy given unselfishly to the kids, who so desperately need to be hover-shepherded.  Now it’s just you and the spouse, and you don’t know if that’s going to work.

Then there’s the kid’s side of this.  Lots of these kids leave home mentally and emotionally long before they leave it physically.  They resent the intrusion of their Helicopter Parent, but they’ve learned how to wring out the maximum benefit from it.  They’re not stupid!  When they finally “leave the nest,” they have no idea how to take on the independence they’ve been given, which is what they’ve been dreaming about for the last 5 or 6 years.  There’s nobody there to make their bed.  They’ve got to figure out how to get their laundry done.  And what they should wear today.  Mommy or Daddy isn’t there to do their homework for them.  It quickly gets messy.  If you talk with a college professor or administrator, they’ll give you stories ranging from the hilarious to the absurd to the tragic on kids who haven’t a clue how to step up to the responsibility of an independent life.

This week I read of a parenting term I’d not heard before: Snowplow Parents.  This is taking the Helicopter Parent thing to the next level.  These Snowplow Parents make their mission in life to snowplow away any and every obstacle that might get in the way of their precious baby’s success.  All the kid has to do is to stay in the wake of the snowplow.  If Helicopter Parenting is a bad idea (and I think it is), Snowplow Parenting is two or three clicks worse.

You’re neither a Helicopter or Snowplow Parent.  If you were, you wouldn’t have time to read a blog by some unknown guy at the edge of civilization.  You’d be busy laying out the socks and matching shirt for your kid for tomorrow, or scrambling to make sure your menu for dinner will meet their discriminating and delicate tastes.  Or beating yourself up for not sponsoring a parade for the B they got in math.

This is where it’s right for me to offer my best alternative motto to “To Protect And To Serve.”  You may want to highlight this.  Ready?  Here it is: Never do for your kids what they can do for themselves.

This idea is predicated on the idea that your God-given role as the parent is not to make your kids happy and comfortable, but to train them to step into life as a responsible and maturing adult follower of Jesus.  There is often a very wide valley of difference between these two approaches.

I’m not advocating that you become abusive and indifferent to your kids.  To help them grow up and step into independence, and then interdependence doesn’t have to be some version of Marine boot camp.  But you won’t be able to pull it off helicoptering and snowplowing.

Never doing for you kids what they can do for themselves isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.  Every kid in your house is different, and their specific abilities may be considerably different.  But even accounting for this, all kids grow up following a similar developmental pattern.  Healthy kids crawl, then walk, then run.  But not on the exact same schedule.

Discovering what your kids is capable of doing for themselves happens when you study your kids.  Don’t hover, but observe them.  What do you think they could do for themselves?  I don’t mean what they can do easily.  I mean, what could they do, even if it won’t be easy for them and the end product won’t be perfect?  A good question here is, “What could they do that I’m doing for them now?”

This soon becomes part of a strategy for teaching kids how to contribute to the family, not just to their own happiness and success.  Many of the things they’re capable of doing, but which you’ve been doing for them, are things that will benefit the whole family.

The goal of this kind of thinking is to release your kids into a progressively more responsible life.  What they can do for themselves at age 3 is very different from what they can do at age 13.  But if you wait until they’re 13 to begin expecting them to take care of things they can take care of, and hoping they’ll do it with enthusiasm, you’ll be in for some really ugly reality.

Go to your kids’ activities and events.  Cherish their childhood.  Love them and love being close to them.  But, please, don’t hover.  It’ll hurt them and you.


From → Parenting

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