Helicopter parenting was annoying enough for its notable hovering and swooping, and today we may all happily boil our own blood over lawnmower parenting, its troubling cousin.
Lawnmower parenting is a snappy term for a terrible style of childrearing where the parent, in effect, “mows down” any obstacles, issues or problems for their kid so they never have to deal with anything bad. It’s been on the high-alert list among teachers and behavior experts for a few years at least, but a new viral essay by a middle school teacher outlining its pervasive presence in schools has gotten people all hot under the collar again.
It isn’t hard to see why. In the essay, the teacher, who smartly prefers to remain anonymous, is befuddled by a parent who swings by school to drop off a forgotten (expensive) water bottle for a teenager. The teenager had texted dad to cart it over to school, so he did, because the teenager made clear she simply couldn’t put up with drinking from a fountain a couple times that day. Meanwhile, another parent called the teacher to ask for an extension for son Josh, who somehow couldn’t bring himself to ask the teacher directly. “If there’s something about me that is making him nervous or hesitant to approach me, I need to know about it,” the teacher tells the parent. “Oh no, it’s nothing like that, he loves you,” she explained. “I just usually handle this kind of thing for him.”
“What kind of thing? I wanted to ask,” the teacher writes. “Anything less than perfectly comfortable?”
In a companion roundup of other outrageous parent requests of teachers so as to clear the decks of any rough spots, we learn that a fourth grader’s mom asked the school to blow on the daughter’s soup because it was too hot. Another parent asked to be texted her 9th grade son’s daily homework assignment because he had difficulty remembering it and she wanted to oversee it. Another mother sent along several tea bags so the teacher could prepare hot tea to soothe her son’s sore throat, and instructed her to feel free, of course, to toss in any honey of her own she might have on hand.
The argument against lawnmower parents here is simple and unassailable: If the kid never has to deal with anything on their own, how will a kid learn to deal with anything on their own? They won’t.
“In raising children who have experienced minimal struggle, we are not creating a happier generation of kids,” the teacher writes. “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.”
Some schools have fought back: An Arkansas Catholic high school caused a stir when a sign they keep posted on the front doors went public. It instructs any parents who are there to drop off their son’s “lunch, books, homework, equipment, etc.” to turn right around and leave. “Your son will learn to problem-solve in your absence,” it reads.
The funny thing about lawnmower parenting is that, from my parental perch in L.A., I know very few parents who aren’t like this. My child is only in elementary school, but I’m already seeing elaborately “helped” school projects that make 8-year-olds look like award-winning writers, designers and photographers. Similarly, I’ve experienced a high number of parents who want to get a little too involved in smoothing over every little conflict their child encounters if it involves any slights, perceived or otherwise.
Here’s an easy example of a run-in I recently had a with a lawnmower parent lady. Recently, my kid and a kid she knows apparently had some kind of beef. They’re normally friends, but her kid asked my kid to meet her by the library one day, and according to that kid, my kid stood her up. She told her mom, who got pissed.
So pissed, in fact, she secretly rearranged an extracurricular lesson the kids normally shared so they would be apart, but then still showed up at the lesson and confronted me about how not cool my kid is. She walked off in a huff, and then told her kid to tell my kid that her kid and my kid would never have this lesson together again.
Funny part about it, by the time all this happened, the two kids had already made up, and it wasn’t at all a big deal. They were still friends, and it was as if nothing happened. No parental intervention was needed in the slightest. But there was no telling this woman that, who’d already devised a longer-term strategy for separating them (not likely to help them resolve conflict) and then supervising mediation (not likely to help them resolve conflict). She also had no interest in actually finding out what my kid said happened, who said it went much differently. She just wanted to get her kid what her kid wanted — her way.
I’m inclined to let children sort these things out unless it becomes intrusive, physically violent or truly an instance of persistent bullying. But by standing back, it often creates the perception that I simply care less, when in reality, I care just as much, but would rather let my kid work stuff out on her own.
That said, helicopter and lawnmower parenting aren’t as new as we’re pretending, and I’m not sure it’s as simple as parental disposition. Nearly all the people I know who seem uniquely ill-equipped to roll with any punches in life — at any age — all have one thing in common, as far as I can tell, if not just a history of a codependent dysfunctional relationship with a parent: affluence.
Studies have borne this out. Often the more resources a parent has, the more likely they are to play concierge to their kid. And as has been widely noted in the press, this parental behavior trails the child to college, too, where they argue for better classes, better grades, better dorm rooms and better internships.
That’s great for jockeying to give your child the best possible outcome in everything. But it’s hard to imagine how the kid keeps it up for life. At some point, the jig is up, and the very thing the advantaged believed insure the advantages may be easily outpaced by someone who knows how to weather a basic setback. Unless, I suppose, the lawnmower parent intends to see this thing through to the very end and become a lawnmower grandparent, moving in and helping their kid keep their marriages and own children afloat, too.