a snowplow plowing through snow
(Photo/Flickr-Oregon Department of Transportation)

Helicopter parenting, snowplow parenting — we’re doing our best

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“Helicopter parenting, the practice of hovering anxiously near one’s children, monitoring their every activity, is so 20th century. … [M]others and fathers now are more like snowplows: machines chugging ahead, clearing any obstacles in their child’s path to success, so they don’t have to encounter failure, frustration or lost opportunities.”
— “How Parents Are Robbing Their Children of Adulthood,” Claire Cain Miller and Jonah Engel Bromwich, New York Times

In second grade, my hubby drives the kids to school, and my son forgets his shoes. Frantic, I race to school to bring him his sneakers. Later at pickup, his teacher tells me I should have left my son shoeless all day because it would teach him a lesson. I felt bad — had I coddled my son? Would he grow up and not know how to do things on his own because of what I did? Yet, despite this incident (he’s in high school now), to this day he has never forgotten his footwear.

The kids sometimes leave their dishes in the sink, and my hubby and I wash them because it’s easier than nagging them to put their dishes in the dishwasher, even though every parenting “expert” seems to think this is the worst thing we can do because our kids will grow up to be spoiled.

A couple of times this year, I gave one of our kids some money to go out because he asked me, though not nicely. But I did it anyway, because as much as I love this particular child, I knew he’d be happier out of the house and so would I. And then I was riddled with guilt because I thought I had done something horribly wrong.

Every time I ask about an important homework project too many times, give our kids unsolicited advice or do some small thing that makes their lives a little easier, I worry that I’m headed into helicopter or snowplow territory.

Have I prepared our kids to be self-sufficient adults, to navigate the ups and downs of life? Have they experienced enough failure to know how to get themselves back up again when things get hard?

In fourth grade, our daughter didn’t get the lead in the school play and cried for what felt like an entire afternoon. She told me through tears that the girl who did get the lead was always given the good parts in the school plays. She was right, but I thought she should learn the lesson that day — that life is unfair sometimes — so I did nothing. We shared some ice cream, and she eventually felt better.

She wanted to quit piano lessons in fifth grade, but I insisted she finish the year and she did. My son begged me to stop soccer in third grade, but we made him finish out the year as well.

My hubby and I have never helped with homework because we wanted the kids to actually learn. Plus, we couldn’t anyway; we don’t understand a lot of what they bring home. We’ve never called our kids’ school because of an unfair grade, a teacher they thought had it out for them or an adviser they didn’t like.

I’ve certainly had my helicopter moments and my snowplow moments, but we’ve also let the kids stumble and figure things out for themselves. There have been times when, as hard as it was, we backed off and backed up and let our kids wrestle with some not-so-easy stuff.

I stopped reading parenting books when the kids were younger because they just made me feel insecure and seemed to point out everything I was doing wrong. And when the media hails some new parenting style every few years that puts mothers in such a harsh and negative light, it’s just another way for me to feel judged. In reality, most moms I know are like me. We don’t parent in extremes, we’re kind of just making our way, doing the best we can.

Julie Levine

Julie Levine is a writer who lives in San Francisco.