By now I imagine you’ve heard about the mythical helicopter parent who hovers over their child to ensure nothing bad happens, but I bumped into a new expression a few days ago that suggests some parents are getting even more aggressive about coddling their little angels: snow plow parents.
The concept is that the parent is always clearing away all the potential obstacles from their child’s path, whether it’s making friends with the teachers to help improve their experience in the classroom, baking cookies for the coach or becoming pals with the acting teacher to ensure their child gets a plum part in the school play.
Thing is, just as with helicopter parents, I always wonder about the alternative. What’s the other end of that continuum? Out To Lunch Parents where they have no idea what their kids are up to and not only don’t clear a path, but don’t even realize their children are on a path in the first place? Yeah, I know parents like that, and you know them too, the ones that never have time to show up for teacher/parent meetings or school events, who attend sporting events only to coach from the bleachers, but skip the play because there’s a good movie on that evening or it’s yoga night.
As with any approach to parenting, these represent a range of interaction levels that vary by child and by family, and while the extremes of these so-called snowplow parents are alarming — because I believe that parents should act as a safety net while still letting the kids be out in front, succeeding or failing based on their own savvy, skills and courage — some level of clearing the way isn’t such a bad thing that it should fall victim to a critical moniker.
And then there’s the tiger mom concept. I’ve been thinking about that too, because I wonder if there isn’t an inherent sexism in it. We don’t hear about “tiger dads”, for example, we hear about a far more negative “coach dad” who incessantly drills their child in a particular sport and cranks up the pressure so high that kids can end up hating themselves, feeling miserable about every accomplishment they have because it’s not The Big One that makes dad accept them. Total negative.
Tiger mom seems more ambiguous by comparison because it’s always contrasted with the “average mom who does great supporting their child” which doesn’t seem to be a portrayed alternative for fathers. There’s almost zero portrayal in the media of dads — and, of course, especially single dads — who attend games and cheer their son or daughter, but don’t yell directions from the sidelines or bleachers and don’t berate them for missing a critical shot or goal. But we’re out there, by the millions…
When I was growing up there was a lot less angst about parental roles. Parents just did their thing and everyone was less introspective and stressed about their children’s success in life. I don’t know that was better, but now it seems we’re at this unhealthy extreme where every parental act we take is assessed and the success of our children is directly related to how well we parent them, not to their own chutzpah, their own ability to make something out of the opportunities they have and their own drive to succeed.
And that’s surely a dangerous place for us to all end up, owning the success or failure of our children to become happy, productive, self-fulfilled and independent adults.