Are you a helicopter parent? Do you hover over your child? Well, you’re out of fashion. The helicopter parent has come back down to earth as the lawnmower parent.
So what is a lawnmower parent? Where a helicopter parent hovers over their student, checking what they’re doing, and swooping in to save the day, a lawnmower parent will mow down anything in their student’s path that could make life difficult for them.
The term started in a post on ‘We Are Teachers’ that has since gone viral. Written by an anonymous community member-slash-teacher, they describe lawnmower parents as such:
Lawnmower parents go to whatever lengths necessary to prevent their child from having to face adversity, struggle, or failure. Instead of preparing children for challenges, they mow obstacles down so kids won’t experience them in the first place.
A lawnmower parent, simply, doesn’t let their child suffer or face adversity in any way. Did they forget their homework on the counter, or their water bottle, or their charger? The parent drops it off for them. Are they frustrated at a teacher or professor? The parent intervenes on their behalf. Did they get their hours cut at work? The parent calls their manager. Did the “check engine” light come on in their car? The parent takes care of it. Is the college roommate bothering them in some way? The parent contacts the RA or even the roommate’s parents.
In a nutshell: The parent takes care of it. Instead of helping the student work through the problem, and giving advice or guidance on how to manage and process the challenge or failure, the parent just does it for them.
Remember: Challenges Are Needed In Order to Learn
Of course all parents want their children to succeed. But it isn’t all about winning, all the time. Failure, stress, and struggle are normal parts of life. The problem starts when the parent handles the hard parts, and leaves the child unable to know how to do it. And I think every parent has done this, in some way, just because it’s just easier to do it for them sometimes… but we’re not doing them any favors by making it a habit.
Think about it: so many necessary adult skills come from managing problems! Social skills, decision making tools, and communication know-how all develop from a young person finding themselves in between a rock and another rock, and navigating out of it.
As the anonymous teacher points out, “In raising children who have experienced minimal struggle, we are not creating a happier generation of kids. We are creating a generation that has no what idea what to do when they actually encounter struggle. A generation who panics or shuts down at the mere idea of failure. A generation for whom failure is far too painful, leaving them with coping mechanisms like addiction, blame, and internalization.”
Don’t Manage; Guide
So how do you unlearn managing your child’s life while teaching them what to do? It all comes down to communication. Start small, like explaining how to ask a teacher for help or an extension. Role-play the conversation even. Defuse the stress and anxiety over facing something difficult with two mantras: “Everyone makes mistakes” and “what is the worst that can happen?”
Mistakes create growth. Communication is a skill. And the world isn’t going to end if your son doesn’t like their roommate or professor.
But what about the “rushing things down to school” dilemmas? Sometimes, there is a legitimate need for help, and we don’t want to leave our child in a tough spot. But Hannah Hudson, the WeAreTeachers.com Editorial Director, shared a handy “yardstick” to use for these situations with All the Moms: “If there were no smartphones, would the child feel his or her request was enough of an emergency to use the school office phone to call the parent about?”
In other words, that water bottle can stay on the counter.