College Admissions Scandal Reveals Dangers of Clearing Smooth Path for Kids
You’re really not a parent of import anymore unless you’ve nabbed yourself a slick motor-vehicle label. First there were Helicopter Parents, hovering figuratively over their poor children’s heads, overseeing every miserable aspect of their orchestrated lives. I never fretted much over this classification, as it doesn’t apply to me; I lack the energy to be that controlling.
But the latest sobriquet intended to shame inept moms and dads hits a little closer to home. Like the front yard.
Have you heard of Lawnmower Parents? Known in chillier climes as Snowplow Parents and in less subtle neighborhoods as Bulldozer Parents, these are the well-meaning but misguided folks who continually clear a smooth path for their children, pre-empting any potential embarrassments, challenges and discomforts, and removing any obstacles that might impede Junior’s success. (Some call them Curling Parents, after the Olympic sport that involves shoving a toddler, sorry, a heavy stone towards a goal while someone sweeps the ice in front of it to decrease friction.)
From innocuous-sounding things like rushing to school with a forgotten lunch to more obvious line-crossing like calling in a sick day for your child so she can finish an overdue homework assignment, Lawnmower Parents think they’re being helpful. Supportive. Even loving. But the recent college admissions scandal showed us how parents can go from mowing lawns to clear-cutting entire freaking forests for their kids.
While it’s great to “have your child’s back,” it’s not actually great to be their savior. It creates entitled little brats who grow up to be entitled large asshats. But also, each time we rescue our kids, we teach them that they can’t handle the situation on their own (did the college-scam parents really think any degree could make up for the damage their illegal finagling would do to the kids’ psyches?). It robs them of opportunities to succeed and grow confident and, perhaps more importantly, to fail and grow resilient. I’ve heard experts argue that the alarming rise in depression among today’s teens is due in part to this generation’s inability to cope with the predictable bitch-slappings that life regularly hands us (I’m paraphrasing). The mopey lot has never so much as stumbled over a dirt clod, thanks to Mummy’s mulching lawn tractor; how can they possibly be expected to surmount the slings and arrows of adolescence??
While I never stalked a teacher to demand a make-up test for my high-schooler (*shiver*), I’ve mowed some paths I oughtn’t have. When you’re parenting someone who once needed your assistance to eat, stand up and fall asleep, it’s harder than you’d think to know when you’ve stopped being helpful and started being harmful. When you’ve stopped empowering and started enabling. For his own good, though, I’m handing more and more responsibilities back to my eighth grader. And it feels fantastic.
Him: “Did you call my counselor for next year and ask her to switch me from AP Physics to bio?”
Me: “Nope. Did you?”
Him: “Me?? No … I don’t know now to do that.”
Me: “Neither do I. But I’m confident you can figure it out as easily as I could. Maybe easier—no one ever tried to put me in AP Physics.”
Him: “OK … where would I find the phone number? And the name?”
Me: “Probably the same place I would, if I had to find ‘em. Good luck. You got this!”
I should have been clear: It feels fantastic to me. Feels awkward and unpleasant for him. But life – the un-mowed jungle that is real life – is a minefield of awkward and unpleasant feelings. If we’ve been allowed to experience them, we know how to take a deep breath, face them down, learn from them, and move on. I’m committed to letting my son master this, even if it means watching him struggle, and occasionally suffer the consequences of a forgotten lunch, in the process.
My Helicopter’s grounded. Lawnmower’s in the shed. I’m aiming to be an Airstream Parent: trailing lazily behind my kid, enjoying our family adventure – and just kind of here if he needs me.