Have you heard? There’s a new “parent” in town! Introducing, the Lawnmower Parent. In contrast to the emotionally supportive Elephant Parent or the overbearing Tiger Parent, the Lawnmower Parent will go to any lengths to smooth the path in front of their children so that the children never have to experience anxiety, struggles, challenges, or adversity.
If you’re a Lawnmower Parent, you most likely have done the following:
- You “help” with homework, or in other words, do most of it for your child. You may have done entire assignments for your child.
- You are the school’s top volunteer, but not out of the kindness of your heart. You want to have an “in” with teachers and administration.
- You have been known to “negotiate” your child’s grades and friend groups by selectively choosing who they play with outside of school.
Elisa H., a local mother whose name has been changed, shares that while at school, her daughter’s friend texted her because her daughter had forgotten her cell phone in the car. Elisa responded to the text by immediately leaving work, driving to the school, and delivering the phone to her daughter.
Lawnmower Parents don’t come from a bad place, some simply want to shelter their children from situations that were difficult for them when they were children. Self-described Lawnmower dad, Robert M., shares that he “mows” down his daughter’s obstacles because he had a tough childhood. His mother was emotionally cold and his dad was not in his life. “I had no one to take any burden off of me. It was all on me and I was too little for that. I stumbled so much and I don’t want that for her. There will be plenty of opportunities for that in the future,” he shares.
However, there is a downside to consistently running to your child’s rescue. Patti Dowling, a therapist at Baton Rouge Counseling Associates, explains, “In the short term, kids may feel relief when a parent clears obstacles that would otherwise produce negative consequences, but long-term growth suffers by taking away opportunities for that growth. Discomfort from consequences is often the catalyst for change in behavior. If a child gets a bad grade on a test and the parent goes to bat for them with the teacher, the child loses the opportunity to learn how to negotiate and communicate with the teacher. Additionally, the parent inadvertently sends the message that the child can’t take care of his own situations, thus fostering dependence and stunting the development of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy involves what we think about our own ability to perform and is related to our experiences. When there is a pattern of parenting this way, kids may end up down the road in college, for example, ill-equipped to handle their own business which could lead to anxiety, low distress tolerance, and depression.”
Long-term consequences of Lawnmower Parenting can include unhealthy coping skills such as shutting down in the face of emotional strain, internalizing, addiction, blaming others for their own shortcomings, and children who are reluctant to take risks due to the overwhelming fear of failure.
Teachers, as well as therapists, are seeing the ramifications of Lawnmower Parenting. “Struggle is necessary for learning to take place,” shares teacher and mother, Layla D. “When we learn new things, it’s uncomfortable, it’s challenging, it’s frustrating, and sometimes just not fun. Parents never want to see their children struggle; however, by eliminating moments of struggle for their children, parents are handicapping them. By the time their children reach adulthood, they are often unable to function without the support they’ve received their entire lives. They’re unable to own their mistakes and struggle with being productive. A former principal once said to ‘Never give a child a crutch he or she doesn’t need.’ Yes, there are times when students need support, but simply providing support before the student has even experienced some struggle is in no way beneficial to that child.”
And now, parents have even more access to their children than they did before. Because of technology, parents are able to keep up with their children academically and personally. Dowling adds, “It is easier than ever to stay connected and on top of our kid’s business. Whether it occurs via email to the school or staying abreast to social media issues, parents have access to more information. Some of this increased information causes parental anxiety and therefore parents choose this type of parenting approach to prevent that, without asking themselves if the experience, although potentially painful, could produce growth and maturity in their child.”
There are negative effects of Lawnmower Parenting, but if you are a Lawnmower Parent, don't be hard on yourself. Focus on giving your child room to grow, allowing him to complete his homework assignments on his own, talk with his teacher about his grades, and take responsibility for his actions. In the end, you both win. ■