If you’ve been seeing the term “Lawnmower Parenting” floating around the Interwebs lately, you’re not alone. The fairly new buzzword picked up extra steam recently, thanks to a viral post by an anonymous teacher on the website We Are Teachers. “Lawnmower Parents Are the New Helicopter Parents & We Are Not Here for It,” the title reads; and boy, does the author not hold back.
Lawnmower parents are said to be the newest breed of overbearing moms and dads, and the author — a middle school teacher who says she deals with these kind of parents on the daily — is pretty frustrated with the whole thing. Her article has since sparked quite a debate in the parenting world, with plenty of parents nodding their heads in agreement.
Others, like me, aren’t so quick to jump on board.
Instead of just hovering, as helicopter parents are known to do, lawnmower parents basically do anything in their power to protect their kids from struggle or adversity. But as the author argues, “if we eliminate all struggle in children’s younger years, they will not arrive at adulthood magically equipped to deal with failure.”
The teacher goes on to tell the story of a dad who rushed to school one day to drop off a water bottle his daughter had forgotten. She “kept texting [him] that she needed it,” and so he got in his car and raced right over. Unconvinced that coming to school to give your kid their favorite water bottle was an absolute necessity, the teacher (understandably) raised an eyebrow.
In fact, he or she felt it was the ultimate example of how overbearing lawnmower parents “mow obstacles down so kids won’t experience them in the first place.”
As the parent of a newly-minted middle schooler myself, I’ve been thinking about these sorts of issues all week. On the first day of school, for example, my son wasn’t able to find his bus home and missed it.
Some of this had to do with the entire school getting let out at the exact same time, which left my son feeling utterly lost in a crowd of 600 kids. This was compounded by the fact that the school administration didn’t really give the kids much guidance as to how to find their buses. It also didn’t help that my 11-year-old son — bless his heart — is a little scatterbrained sometimes, and isn’t quite as savvy as he will likely be a few years down the road.
When he texted me to say he was stranded at school and asked if I could please pick him up, I had two choices. I could insist that he walk home himself (one mile in the sweltering heat), or I could pick him up (which meant that I had to walk one mile in the sweltering heat to get him, since the family car was not available).
I decided to pick him up. Not because I’m a lawnmower parent, or a helicopter parent, or any kind of parenting label you might want to stick to me. Nope; it was because it was the first day of middle school for my son, he’d had a rough morning, and I wanted to sweeten things by meeting up with him and taking him out for an ice cream cone.
I was doing what felt right to me in the moment, based on many different factors, including the ever-evolving and fluid relationship between me and my son. Because there’s a myriad of ways that I decide — or don’t decide — to challenge him or push his limits.
Looking at the situation from the outside, I’m sure everyone has an opinion about what I should or shouldn’t have done in the situation. I’m sure some would label me a lawnmower parent or say that I’m smothering.
The same could be said for the dad who chose to bring his daughter’s water bottle to school. Sure, you could assume that maybe he’s a bit of a push-over, who just bends to his daughter’s every whim. But maybe his daughter was having a really hard week and just needed a little bit of extra TLC that particular day.
Honestly, I don’t know, nor do I care. Because as far as I’m concerned, labeling a particular parenting situation — one you are viewing wholly from the outside, even if you think you know a parent and child — is something we all need to put an end to. It assumes a whole lot that can’t be assumed, and doesn’t really take into account that parent and child’s particular relationship.
Much as we’ve come to lean on these parenting labels, they just further divide us, placing us into black and white boxes. When the truth is, each and every child is so different. Each and every day is so different. And each instance of parenting should be looked at with a fresh set of eyes.
Sometimes it is appropriate to come to our kids’ rescue; other times, it isn’t. But these labels only serve to make us second-guess our instincts, which are multi-layered and complex.
Of course, I understand the importance of teaching our kids independence. But really, when you think about it, there are a million different opportunities for kids to learn independence. It’s kind of just built into life.
When my kids were babies, I was told that if I held them too much, they would never want to crawl, walk, or explore the world. But guess what? My kids managed to do all of those things just fine. There came a day that they literally leapt out of my arms, wanting to figure out how to grab whatever shiny object was in their path, and that was it. The human spirit is bent toward growth and independence.
In many ways, our job as parents is to provide scaffolding for our kids — to help them learn these things little by little, and at their own pace. So in many ways, I might “baby” my middle schooler, because it’s a big, scary world out there as it is. I like to think I go at his pace, with the knowledge that he is only going to feel confident if he is ready to do each new thing, not if it’s thrown in his face by some arbitrary deadline.
And in so many other ways, I step back. I let him make mistakes, learn from them, and own them. Just as I’m sure most of us “lawnmower parents” do when we feel it’s right; regardless of whether or not the world is looking.