Lawnmower parents, as a concept, is so new, that when querying experts for this article, one respondent asked, “Do you mean a helicopter parent?”
No. We did not. Helicopters hover. Lawnmowers mow. Hence the difference.
Lawnmower Parents Hamper Independence
Helicopter parents are never out of the picture. They hover over children so they are always in sight, always there to offer support. The helicopter parent hampers a child’s development by shadowing him and preventing his independence.
Lawnmower parents are actually worse. They remove all obstacles from a child’s path. Here is a kid who will never have to experience or deal with anything unpleasant or difficult. When you’re the child of lawnmower parents, it’s all smooth sailing. (And dare we say it, boring.)
Lawnmower Parents=Curling Parents
Kathy Fray, author of OH GROW UP … Toddlers to PreTeens Decoded, explains that while the term “lawnmower parents” is relatively new, the concept is not. “The old term was ‘curling parents’—taken from the Scandinavian sport of throwing the curling-stone to slide across the ice, and the parents running ahead of it with their broom to clear its way smoothly across the ice. But the term ‘lawnmower parenting’ is easier for the majority to understand,” says Fray.
Is this really so bad?
The answer is yes. It is bad. It’s a crippling experience to be the child of a lawnmower parent. The child of lawnmower parents arrives at adulthood with no clue how to handle the inconveniences and difficulties of everyday life. His mom or dad always did it for him.
A child of lawnmower parents, once grown, is completely unprepared to write a check, earn a living, or navigate a highway, or develop intimacy. Intimacy?? He’s never had to work at relationships. Lawnmower parents arranged his playdates, and wangled invites to the important parties so he never felt left out.
The children of lawnmower parents are afforded no opportunities to develop social skills. Should there be a spat at the playground, lawnmower parents are there to swoop in and waft the child away to a calmer, less-challenging environment. How then, can a child learn to work things out with others when there is conflict? How can he or she grow to adulthood and have meaningful relationships?
Lawnmower parents don’t believe in leaving kids to face challenges. Kid doesn’t feel like going to school? Lawnmower parents will let him stay home and write a sick note. Kid calls you because he doesn’t like the lunch being served that day in the school cafeteria? Lawnmower parents rush over from meetings with important clients to bring the child takeout from his favorite burger joint. Kid, on the spur of the moment, doesn’t feel like going to her piano lesson? Lawnmower parents call the piano teacher and cancel on her behalf.
No School of Hard Knocks
The thing about being the child of lawnmower parents is that you never learn the things you need to know. There is no school of hard knocks. No way to understand life if you haven’t ever grappled with its ups and downs, its unpredictable nature.
All parents, lawnmower parents included, take measures to protect their children from danger. We childproof our homes and plug up electric outlets. We pad sharp corners and furnish our homes with an eye to safety for our children. We breastfeed to protect them from allergies and strap them firmly into car seats.
These are sensible measures. Our children are not Mowgli, left in the wild to his own devices. But parenting isn’t only about protecting children from danger, disease, and death. Parenting is also meant to nurture children, and foster their development. And we need to be realistic: if children never get a booboo, never confront pain or injury, they won’t learn how to keep safe. If children never touch something hot, they won’t come to understand the danger that fire represents.
By the same token, if you bring that burger to school instead of forcing your child to manage, he won’t have to adapt. He won’t learn to make the best of things and eat the fruit, if not the sandwich, drink the milk, and ignore the gloppy stew congealing on the tray.
Robbing Children of Opportunities
If you call and cancel your child’s piano lesson, you’re robbing your child of an opportunity to take responsibility for her actions. You haven’t taught her that a piano teacher’s livelihood involves the student’s commitment to showing up at the appointed hour for lessons. You’re making your child selfish, and turning her into a helpless infant, besides.
“The problem with lawnmower parenting is that it takes away opportunities for children to learn coping skills, dealing with differences, problem solving, and how to be resilient in response to difficult situations and, yes, even failure,” says Developmental Psychologist Stephen Glicksman, Ph.D., an adjunct professor of psychology at Yeshiva University and director of clinical innovation at Makor Disability Services. “Think about every hero, real or fictional, that you have ever heard or read about, and then imagine what that hero’s life would have been had someone removed every obstacle in their way; you probably never would have heard of them.
“Every parent wants, and should, try to protect their children from danger, but when protecting from danger shifts to protecting from any feeling of discomfort, challenge, or uncertainty, that’s when problems can arise. And, if you are very demonstrative in your lawnmower parenting and present the world to your child as one in which there are numerous obstacles and dangers to be avoided at every turn, you could even be sowing the seeds for an anxiety disorder,” says Glicksman.
What if some of this sounds familiar to you? Are you concerned you’re a lawnmower parent and hampering your child’s development? Be assured that it’s natural for parents to be protective. We probably all have a little bit of lawnmower parent in us, at heart. We have all been the parent who takes the cop out and makes things easy for our children to make things easier for us. Especially when we’re tired or stressed.
Rising to Challenges
What we need to remember as parents is that a challenge doesn’t have to be a bad thing. One can rise to a challenge. So don’t clear that challenge from your child’s path. Instead, be bold, and give your child a chance to rise.
As you let your child meet life’s challenges, ask yourself:
- Is this something my child can do on her own?
- What lesson might my child learn from handling this situation on her own?
- How can I encourage my child to be independent in this matter?
- What is the worst that can happen if I let my child handle this?
- What will happen if my child fails?
- How can I support my child without taking over?
The lawnmower parent asks, “How can I make things easier for my child?”
If instead you ask, “How can I help my child grow?” you’re more than halfway to healthy parenting and the most terrific, resilient kids.
Found what you just read useful? Why not consider sending a donation to our Kars4Kids youth and educational programs. Or help us just by sharing!