“What is lawnmower parenting and am I guilty?”
You may well ask, I did! Our kids started helping with mowing the lawn when they became teenagers but I’m not referring to grass and gardens in this instance.
By now you have probably heard of helicopter parenting – the need to hover around your children all the time and swoop in to resolve conflict – the term has been used for almost twenty years.
Lawnmower parents, a term more recently coined, are more extreme than helicopter parents! Lawnmower parents are those who plow ahead of their children, anticipating problems and attempting to smooth the path for them before they reach whatever obstacles may be in the way.
“Helicopter parenting,” a term that’s been used since 1990, is also an over-involved parenting style. But, “lawnmower parents” are different because their focus is in anticipating a problem their child might have, rather than jumping in when there is a problem. In my mind, this is worse, because it sets the child up with the idea that they can’t handle hard situations. There is an anticipation of failure rather than success.Elizabeth Cohen, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist New York City.
Lawnmower parenting has also been labeled as ‘snowplow’ or ‘bulldozer’ parenting and is a problem as it leaves children unprepared to face struggles or know how to overcome challenges by themselves.
As parents we naturally want our children to be happy and are prepared to take steps to ensure that they are. However, when we cross the line into lawnmower territory we may end up doing them more harm than good.
I have to be honest and hold up my hand here, I have been guilty of slipping into this territory myself and have suffered some of the consequences.
Problems of lawnmower parenting:
If we step in to resolve every conflict or pick up every dirty plate or drop off all the forgotten lunches, we may be sending out messages that our children are either
1. Incapable of sorting out these issues for themselves or
2. Expecting to be mothered for the rest of their lives.
Either way we hinder their independence. We breed children who are filled with a sense of entitlement, they are unable to delay gratification and want their needs to be met immediately. We create a generation of ‘snowflakes‘ who are unable to handle confrontation or to cope with crises.
Signs you may be a lawnmower parent
Sometimes we step in where we shouldn’t – where it would be best to allow our children to do tasks themselves.
If you are guilty of any of the following, you may be falling into the lawnmower parenting trap.
- make your child feel as though they are the most important person in the family (prince or princess syndrome)
- let your child dictate the entire family schedule eg meal times, bed times, and excursions?
- vet their playdates and allow them to play with ‘suitable’ children who will always play ‘nicely’ with your child?
- blow their food to cool it down?
- referee disagreements between your children? (my hand’s up here)
- feel as though your kids are constantly telling tales on one another to you? (here too for the younger ones)
- struggle to recognize our child’s own culpability in conflict with someone else’s child?
- never ask them to apologise to or forgive others?
- check their homework to see whether they have all their answers right before they hand it back?
- complete their assignments?
- ask for special treatment for your non-special needs child beyond the norm?
- give your child whatever they ask for so they won’t feel left out? (tempted at times)
- drop off homework/lunch/water bottles/PE equipment on a regular basis? (definitely done this occassionaly)
- constantly meet with or message teachers or coaches?
Impact on parents who are guilty of ‘lawnmowing’
Parents who practice an overly involved parenting style can end up with a range of mental and physical health issues. Because it’s impossible micromanage our children’s lives, we may end up frustrated and feeling like all our efforts at doing our best are back firing.
Do you often feel:
- that you have lost your own identity?
- without time to do anything apart from meeting the needs of your children’s schedules
- depressed or anxious?
- overly worried about small issues in your children’s lives?
I have felt all of these, almost every week lately! However, I need to also put this into perspective as we’ve been dealing with illness in our home as well as other personal events further afield. These signs may be due to other issues in your life (like health, bereavement or financial struggles) so it’s a good idea to take these in context of everything else that is happening.
Benefits of stepping out of your lawnmowing shoes:
We can’t be with our children all the time and even less so as they grow up and leave home. Allowing them to figure out their own problems improves our children’s following skills:
- a sense of accomplishment
- self confidence
- knowledge of their own abilities and limitations
How do we step back from lawnmowing?
It’s all very well recognising where we are going wrong and acknowledging we need to change the way we parent. The question is, how do we do this?
Some struggles are age appropriate and by allowing our children to deal with and overcome these themselves teaches them independence and self sufficiency.
For example, if we have toddlers or younger children we should teach and then allow them to put on their own clothes or coats, to carry their own bags, to tie their laces and do up their buttons – even if it takes a little longer than if we do it ourselves.
When they are teens we can give them more independence, allow them to arrange their own social events, to buy their own gifts for their friends, to organise their own breakfast and school lunches, to go without a precious item (like a phone), or replace it at their own expense, because they lost it, not nag them to put their clothes in the laundry so that they have to anticipate having a dirty school uniform.
Here are a few suggestions you can start with your children today:
- allow them to make mistakes
- and then don’t criticize or condemn them for genuine mistakes
- demonstrate where they need to apologise
- teach them to forgive others for their mistakes
- give them time to resolve conflict
- give them freedom to become age appropriately independent
- don’t offer to call the school or other parent, allow them the opportunity to address issues first
Now granted, there may be some situations where parental intervention is appropriate and necessary. Discussions or exposure to sensitive topics like sex, suicide, rape and murder are best left until our children are an appropriate age to know how to understand and process them. Likewise we need to step in when our children are being repeatedly bullied and we feel the issue won’t be resolved.
Important – don’t criticise or comdemn them for their mistakes, or remove the consequences!
Making mistakes and falling down is an inevitable part of growing up, it’s the standing back up again which is the difficult part. Facing adversity makes us stronger, we need to allow our children to make their own mistakes and to handle the consequences, without criticism.
We also don’t need to try and remove the consequences, dealing with those is how we learn not to make the same mistakes again.
It’s time to hand that lawnmower over to your child and not to try and take it back from them in order to fix the bits they missed!
“It’s easy to never make a mistake, when you are hiding yourself away from the possibility of making mistakes. It’s those who jump out of the nest who will fall and fly. Never judge the quality of an individual based upon how many mistakes they have made. It’s easier not to make any.”C. JoyBell C.
Here are a couple of links to further articles on the topic if you’d like to read more:
Good Housekeeping – What Is Lawnmower Parenting? Experts Say It Frequently Backfires
Very Well family – What is Lawnmower Parenting?
Healthline – All About Lawnmower Parenting