Lily already put this in the newsletter, but I was so grateful to see this article in the New York Times about “snowplow parents.”
From the piece: “Helicopter parenting, the practice of hovering anxiously near one’s children, monitoring their every activity, is so 20th century. Some affluent mothers and fathers now are more like snowplows: machines chugging ahead, clearing any obstacles in their child’s path to success, so they don’t have to encounter failure, frustration or lost opportunities.”
THANK YOU for making the distinction! Finally.
I struggle a lot around the whole topic of helicopter parenting. Before I had kids these parents were easy to sneer at, and I’m not as extreme as some. I witnessed a dad in Tahoe who enrolled his kid in a ski lesson and then basically skied with the kid, holding his hand the entire time.
But you know what? I shouldn’t have sneered at him. I don’t know the context. Maybe that was the best thing for his kid. My kids would take more risks without me there, but those are my kids. What he didn’t do was put his kid on his shoulders and ski for him. There is a difference.
I have become dangerously close to a helicopter mom, which shocks me more than anyone. I’ve done it where I need to. I was encouraged to get more involved in my kids’ school because of my son’s challenge making friends, for one. Playdates are a bit of a popularity contest between adults at the preschool level. If a child is bullying either of my children, I will step in. I tell Eli, in particular, all the time that he is the general and he is in charge but I am his warrior.
I do my best to equip him to face challenges himself: Whether finding the right school, culturally, or paying out of pocket (and going into debt) to get him a therapist or signing him up for classes and activities that I think will bring out and validate his own greatness. But at the end of the day: I have a badass daughter and a gender-fluid son, and I don’t want either of them getting crushed and destroyed by the world. They are six and seven, and I will step in if I need to step in. Take your judgement elsewhere.
That does not mean I’m giving donations to get them into dream schools, it doesn’t mean I’m calling teachers and disputing grades, or—at any extreme—cheating and rigging the system on their behalf. I appreciate the NYT making a long overdue distinction.
There’s also the distinction when it comes to the ends. It’s one thing to try to ensure your child’s emotional mental health and sense of confidence. Mental health kills gender nonconforming children at an alarming rate. I’ll err on the side of coddling my son to losing him. Working to hack their potential earning power and up their privilege is another matter entirely.
But you know what? I feel queasy even judging those snowplow parents. We are mostly all doing our best and doing this out of love. Perhaps the criticism needs to be leveled at a society valuing schools and pedigrees. A system that rewards arbitrary privilege.
The criticism of helicopter parenting is also a reflection of the general “damned if you do/damned at you don’t” attitudes around motherhood in this country. There is a fine line between giving your kids autonomy and being neglectful. And it’s typically luck. I started letting my kids go down to the car in our garage by themselves in the morning when they were young, and that autonomy was important to them. But I worried everyday there might be a mass murderer hiding in my garage. There are a million daily struggles like this when you raise your kids in American cities. It’s as much a fear of the judgement as it is a fear of something happening.
Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:
- How do you know when to give up, and quit work to be a mom? Or is it normal, and better to stay?
- Which are the BEST companies for Mothers globally?
- How do I keep my baby girl from becoming the domestic female cliche?