Your heart swells to epic proportions when you think of your kids. Those great lengths you go to when it comes to protecting them from harm are only natural and show your deep love and concern.
Maybe you’ve heard that some parents take it a step further and shield their child from any type of failure and adversity. Maybe you’ve even told that you do this. If so, you might belong to a new breed of moms and dads known as “lawnmower” parents.
The good news is that your heart is in the right place. But could removing every obstacle your child faces could affect them negatively long term?
Here’s what you need to know about lawnmower parenting, as well as what you can do to overcome some of the pitfalls.
Also referred to as “snowplow” parents or “bulldozer” parents, lawnmower parents have a strong desire to protect their child from any type of struggle or obstacle. And as a result, they’re said to “mow over” any problem their child faces, as well as prevent problems from occurring in the first place.
This may seem very similar to another parenting trend, the helicopter parent.
The helicopter parent hovers and keeps a close eye on their child’s every move. Lawnmower parents might also have hovering tendencies in addition to rescuing their children.
To illustrate the difference, a helicopter parent might consistently check their child’s homework or grades online and constantly remind them to turn in assignments.
A lawnmower parent, however, may complete homework and projects “for” their child — knowingly or not. (Again, these parents want the best for their kids.)
Here’s a look at six characteristics indicating that you might be a lawnmower parent.
Conflict is a part of life. But it can be painful to watch, especially if it starts at a young age. Siblings and cousins may fight with each other, and your little one may have at least one spat with another kid on the playground.
While some parents may view these experiences as a normal part of childhood, the idea of your child being disliked or upset might be more than you can emotionally handle — we get it, trust us.
To ensure their child doesn’t deal with these types of problems, a lawnmower parent might cancel play dates or block their kiddo’s ability to play with certain children. They might even call their school to report a child who upsets their child, even in minor incidents.
This approach to parenting can be dangerous in some situations because it doesn’t allow your child to build mental strength, which can help them become more resilient. Plus, it may not allow your child to foster problem-solving skills, which can help them overcome obstacles.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with helping your child with homework. This is what engaged parents do. The problem, however, is that lawnmower parents may do their children’s homework and class projects for them.
This can start in elementary school when a child has difficulty with fractions or multiplication. The pattern can carry into middle school or high school, where some parents will even go so far as to write research papers, if it’s too much work or creates too much pressure for the child.
Eventually, though, these kids go off to college and the workforce. If they have little experience handling deadlines and time management, it can be harder for them to adjust to fast-paced college life or a demanding job.
Remember: Wanting to be involved is a good trait. But if you feel an assignment too demanding for your child, you may want to use other parents as a litmus test or talk to the teacher.
One aspect of learning to be a responsible person is remembering to bring homework and projects — or gym clothes or signed permission slips — to school. But if you’re a lawnmower parent, you’ll do whatever it takes to prevent your child from being reprimanded or getting a low grade because they forget an assignment at home.
So if you notice a project, homework, or library book left behind, you’ll drop everything and quickly run to their school. But unfortunately, this doesn’t teach accountability. Rather, it might teach that you’ll always be there to rescue and bail them out.
There’s a fine line for this. For example, if there’s a field trip and your child forgets their signed permission slip once or twice, it’s probably perfectly reasonable to take it to the school if you can. But if the forgetfulness is habitual, missing the field trip might be a good way to get them to remember in the future.
No one wants to see their child fail. But you might be lawnmower parenting if you remove your child from hard classes or activities.
Realize that this may backfire, sending the message that you don’t believe in your child — which we know isn’t the case at all. This can cause them to develop insecurities and low self-confidence. (Remember, too, that one natural reaction to high expectations is to rise to them.)
If the kid down the street gets a new bike, you buy your kid a new bike. If another family takes their child to an amusement park, you schedule a day trip too.
This isn’t “keeping up with the Joneses.” It’s making sure your child doesn’t feel left out or slighted — which shows your deep love. But as a consequence, your child might end up getting everything they’ve ever wanted. While we wish life were like this forever, it’s not. Your child may grow up thinking they always have to have what others have.
If you’re a lawnmower parent, your child’s teachers and guidance counselor likely know you by name. Not a bad thing in and of itself, but…
All it takes is one complaint from your child and you’re at the school arguing on their behalf. If your child feels that a low grade was unjustified, you immediately take their side without hearing the facts.
You may also contact their guidance counselor repeatedly about the college application process. And speaking of applying for college, you may pick the schools you feel are best, complete their college entrance application, and even determine their class schedule.
We’re not saying you should never meet with your child’s teachers. In fact, an ongoing relationship with their educators — especially if your child has unique circumstances that require it, like an individualized education plan (IEP) — is a good thing.
Lawnmower parents have good intentions. What they want for their children isn’t any different from what all parents want — success and happiness.
But although “mowing down” obstacles may seem like an excellent way to set a little one up for success, it can do more harm than good.
Conflict and problems teach children how to deal with discomfort, disappointments, and frustrations — and help them develop mental strength. This way, it becomes easier for them to cope with life.
With too much parental intervention, some children may experience heightened anxiety when they are under stress you can’t control. Plus, too much parental involvement may not emotionally prepare some adolescents for college, which can play a role in how first-year students adjust.
According to one nationwide survey of 1,502 U.S. young adults transitioning from high school to college, about 60 percent wished their parents had emotionally prepared them for college. And 50 percent said that they needed to improve their independent living skills upon entering college — and this poll was even done without focusing on helicopter or lawnmower parenting styles.
So what can you do if you think you’re a lawnmower parent and would like to change?
Wanting to give your child a leg up is understandable. Just know that it’s possible to be an engaged parent without going overboard. In fact, it might be a good first step to start by knowing that letting your sweet kiddo experience adversity is a leg up, especially for the future.
Keep in mind that over-parenting or excessive parenting can potentially lower your child’s self-confidence and self-esteem, and it doesn’t prepare them for the real world. So allow your child to stand on their own two feet.
Trust your child to be responsible for homework and class projects, and fight the urge to come to their rescue if you notice a little struggle. Allow room for them to work through their own conflicts, although it’s perfectly OK to give practical tips and suggestions — now and well into adulthood, when they’ll likely appreciate it even more.
Also, allow your child to make mistakes and handle the consequences of these mistakes. Their resilience may surprise you. Rather than view setbacks or disappointments as a major life obstacle, view them as opportunities for your child to learn and grow.
Talking to fellow parents and school counselors can be a great way to find out what’s working for others.