Snowplow parenting: The latest controversial technique

Get out of the way, Tiger Moms and helicopter and free-range parents! There's a new parenting label making headlines.
Photo: iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

Forget Tiger Moms and wave goodbye to helicopter parents because there’s a new type of parent pushing her way through the schoolyard—and she will stop at nothing to ensure her child’s success.

The “snowplow parent” is defined as a person who constantly forces obstacles out of their kids’ paths. They have their eye on the future success of their child, and anyone or anything that stands in their way has to be removed.

It sounds similar to helicopter parenting, I know, but there are some differences. Helicopter parents hover and micro-manage out of fear. They observe every morsel that enters their child’s body, they monitor their every move, they keep a close eye on every scrap of homework. They hold their kids close to them because they’re anxious about the big, wide world. Also, no one admits to being a helicopter parent—even if they clearly are one.

Snowplow parents may also micro-manage when it comes to diet and education, but they do so with an eye on the future. They want to remove any pain or difficulties from their children’s paths so that their kids can succeed. They are the parents sitting in the principal’s office asking about extra courses or for special allowances for their child. According to educators, there is a sense of entitlement to snowplowers: They blame the school when things go wrong and never accept anything less than first place for their child.

How do I know all this? Because I may just fall into the snowplow category myself. For years I’ve been searching for a label for my parenting style. I’m too laissez-faire for helicopter parenting and the Tiger Mom thing is just way too aggressive. And I can’t quite let myself try free-range parenting—I still save my children way too frequently to be a Lenore Skenazy disciple.

But snowplow parenting may be the one for me. I can let my kids walk to school on their own because the research tells me it will contribute to their independence and self-esteem. But if the school doesn’t recognize my special snowflake’s abilities, then they will hear from me. (I’m pretty sure last year’s science teacher hides from me now, after my deserving child didn’t win the science award.) I will write notes to excuse them from their homework if I don’t agree with the approach. And yes, I do drive them to school on really cold days. But I’m not all in. I’m OK with them experiencing some failures at school or not being on the school sports teams. I do make their lives a little easier—often in ways that they don’t notice—but I won’t be writing their university applications for them.

Research shows that helicopter parenting can have a negative effect on kids. They are less resilient, and less likely to take risks. They never develop proper coping skills or the maturity to make decisions on their own. Experts fear that children of snowplow parents will have similar issues—they won’t be able to handle failure or solve problems independently. Kids of snowplow parents may quit something instead of settling for second best.

We’re all trying our best, and no label fits any of us 100 percent. I realize that I can’t remove every obstacle from my children’s paths. On especially snowy days, I’m still be inclined to pull out the snowplow and move everything that blocks their way, but I’m working on it. Maybe I will get the kids to shovel the walk this week.

Emma Waverman is a writer, blogger and mom to three kids. She has many opinions, some of them are fit to print. Read more of her articles here and follow her on Twitter @emmawaverman.

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Do labels help or hurt parents?>
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