Edmonds Kind of Play: From helicopter to lawnmower, parenting is more than latest goofy label

Mother and sonPer my Facebook feed, there is another “parenting type” making the rounds — this time it’s “Lawnmower Parents.”
When I saw the headlines floating around Facebook, which is apparently now only for “old” people, I asked myself the question I always do when I see these things: “Oh no, what am I doing wrong now?” Thinking, “well, it says ‘parent,’ but I think we all know they mainly mean ‘mother'” and “if with all my privilege I feel dismissed and diminished by these things, imagine how they affect people with less privilege, less resources, and less overall slack.”
Now, before we get into what parents are doing that make them akin to a “Lawnmower,” let’s review the major types of “parents” we’ve heard about already.

In the mid ’90s, we started hearing about “Soccer Moms.” Per Politico.com, “the term caught on almost overnight, and ‘soccer mom’ became an instantly recognizable stand-in for the prototypical swing voter.” With a soccer mom being, in part, “a harried suburbanite of the anxious middle class, overextended behind the wheel of her minivan, cheering on her kids from the sidelines while juggling a million details.”

Then we got “Helicopter Parents,” which was coined in the ’90s and made popular in the early 2000s as the oldest Millennials began reaching college age. Per Wikipedia, this is a “parent who pays extremely close attention to a child’s or children’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions.” They are given the name because “like helicopters, they ‘hover overhead.’” Like “Soccer Mom,” it’s certainly a term we still hear a lot and when Googled, you can find “10 Warning Signs That You Might Be A Helicopter Parent.”

“Free-Range Parents” follow the concept of “raising children in the spirit of encouraging them to function independently and with limited parental supervision, in accordance of their age of development and with a reasonable acceptance of realistic personal risks,” according to Wikipedia. It is “seen as the opposite of “Helicopter Parenting.” The 2010 book, Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry), is described on Amazon as a “national movement, sparked by the incredible response to Lenore Skenazy’s piece about allowing her 9-year-old [to] ride the subway alone in NYC.”

After “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” hit the shelves in 2011, “Tiger Mother” was added to the list. According to Google’s dictionary, a Tiger Mother is a “strict or demanding mother who pushes her children to high levels of achievement, using methods regarded as typical of childrearing in China and other parts of East Asia.” A Google search of author Amy Chua today leads you to current news first and book controversy second.

Now to the newest conversation, according to the viral post in an online community for teachers, WeAreTeachers.com. “Lawnmower parents go to whatever lengths necessary to prevent their child from facing adversity, struggle or failure.” The post, “contributed by a WeAreTeachers community member who wished to remain anonymous,” describes the term further by saying “Instead of preparing children for challenges, they mow obstacles down so kids won’t experience them in the first place.”

It turns out the term isn’t a brand-new one, the anonymous teacher links to a 2016 “Pittsburgh Moms” blog post by Karen Fancher, a professor at a “well-known local university” who discusses the term. Both writers lament the type of parenting they see in their respective schools, parents who show up to school with forgotten water bottles or take the lead when there is a scheduling mix-up freshman year of college. The anonymous teacher says, “in raising children who have experienced minimal struggle, we are not creating a happier generation of kids. 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.” Fancher says these kinds of parents have other terms applied to them: “Snowplow Parents,” “Bulldozer Parents” and her personal favorite, “Curling Parents.” The latter refers to “the similarity between these parents and the Olympic athletes who scurry ahead of the gently thrown stone, frantically brushing a smooth path and guiding the stone towards an exact pre-determined location.”

The older my kids get and the more parenting blocks I’ve been around, I do (occasionally) feel more equipped to look at the information and try to be honest about whether I need to apply it to myself. Letting your kids fail has been an issue that’s been talked about for most of the time I’ve been a parent of school-agers. With talk of a “Growth Mindset” at one or both of my kids’ schools, I have been around enough blocks to forget these details now — I try to be conscious of how I talk to them about trying and failure.

Growth vs. Fixed Mindset comes from Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. “In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits…. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence.” You may have heard the whole “don’t tell your kid ‘good job’” theory, but here’s what she means by that: “Children given praise such as “good job, you’re very smart” are much more likely to develop a fixed mindset, whereas if given compliments like ‘good job, you worked very hard’ they are likely to develop a growth mindset. In other words, it is possible to encourage students, for example, to persist despite failure by encouraging them to think about learning in a certain way.”

A Psychology Today article talking about “The Gift of Failure: How The Best Parents Learn How To Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed” has author Jessica Lahey giving some “key advice and suggestions” from her book that would keep your parenting from being Lawnmower-y — though I think we can all agree “best parents” is a bit much. Lahey says that “failure helps children learn about themselves…and they will recover,” to “remember that when we say ‘Let me do that for you,’ we are telling our kids we don’t think they are capable,” and that “intelligence is malleable. The harder kids work to overcome challenges, the smarter they become.”

It is clearly important that kids learn about failure and rejection; it is also not completely surprising that there has been a pendulum swing in this direction. Homework for 6- to 8- year-olds has tripled, according to a study and a survey I found — in 1981 it was about 10 minutes a night and a few years ago, teachers on average were giving those same age kids more like 30 minutes a night. It’s not always as simple as “don’t hover” when a first grader needs to park it for a half an hour to do a math sheet and it’s doubly not as simple when you factor privilege, resources and access to those where some “hover” time is luxury. With social media and wall-to-wall news, any given day can mean links to false information, seeing a scary story about a child multiple times a day or finding out the oatmeal you felt good about buying for you family has weed killer in it.

I guess all of this is to basically acknowledge that parenthood is hard and much more than the goofy labeling of the newest information on parenting, to sort of reach out my virtual hand and put it on your virtual shoulder — turns out even in virtual reality, I’m still not a hugger.

— By Jennifer Marx

Jen Marx

Jen Marx, an Edmonds mom of two boys, is always looking for a fun place to take the kids that makes them tired enough to go to bed on time.

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