There are many names for the different kind of parents. Recently, I read an interesting article that described the “lawnmower” parent. It was coined by a teacher who was describing a parent who was determined to knock down every obstacle their child would have to face. These parents tend to be obsessed over every potential problem or conflict their child may have to overcome in the near future. They do everything in their power to eliminate any obstacles for a “smooth” course through life. The helicopter parent is famous for hovering over every part of their child’s life and actually being intrusive into conflicts that arise.
I believe the obvious outcomes for both types of parenting are the inability of those children to actually know how to fail and to resolve conflict on their own. Helicopter parenting was very prevalent for years and now the lawnmower parent is becoming more prevalent. May I propose to our parents that trying to remove any possible obstacle in your child’s way will literally exhaust you! It is not possible and really may not be the best goal in parenting for your child.
In the book, The Gift of Failure the author shares an experience with a young mother coming to her with worry about her daughter. After listening for a time, she knew that the mother had fallen into a common trap of our current parenting trend: she had sacrificed her daughter’s natural curiosity and love of learning on the altar of achievement (Lahey, 2016). Today, parents and society at large are doing such to our young people. We are teaching through our methods that a young person’s potential is tied to their intellect and that is more important than character. This has led to the lawnmower and helicopter parents who stunt the growth, curiosity, and even failure in children.
Failure is an option. It is the most traveled option on the road to success. A parent’s hovering or removing of obstacles, come from a heart of love and good intentions. The struggle is that the very thing a parent wants for their child is undermined by this action. This robs the child of the true joy of finding an answer, solution, and finished product of their own making.
I am a perfectionist at times. My struggle as a parent was to allow imperfections in my own children as they learned. Even something as small as making their bed was a task for me to let them do it their own little way and still praise their efforts. I remember my son, Garret one year refused to help decorate the Christmas tree. I was so hurt because this was our “thing” as a family. We would listen to holiday music, drink hot chocolate and decorate the tree. Well, my wise 16 year-old son said no on this particular year. When I later went to his room and asked him why, his response was life changing for me. He said, “Why should I help? You always rearrange everyone’s decorations when we go to bed. You want it the same every year.”
What a life lesson that has been for me. The beauty that I see is not shared by everyone. The finished product I want may not be what my children crave, need, or create. I am a parent, not a dictator. My job is to nurture, provide, praise, guide, love, enable choices, and so much more. They will fail. They will cry. They will be so discouraged. That is when true parenting shines. Parents will come alongside their child and listen. They will ask questions and wait for responses. They will craft their “help” in a way that the child is the one who succeeds through their own efforts at resolution.
In Daniel T. Willingham’s book on Why Don’t Students Like School?, he emphasizes that children must connect to their learning. One of the ways they connect is by being intrinsically motivated and interested. Parents and teachers who hover over their children or who remove every obstacle, tend to cause their children to lose interest in the process of learning. The motivation to figure things out is lost. Failure during the learning process is a significant part of the entire process.
Let’s work together to give our children room to learn. For our parents who have chosen to be home with their children during this unprecedented time, remember to take time to care for yourself and leave your children to learn at their own pace and way. If they don’t get it right away—oh well! They will eventually get it. I recall my oldest daughter, Kristin when she was so frustrated with her oldest boy who was six at the time. He did not care about learning to read. Kristin was a school teacher prior to taking on the challenge of homeschooling. She wanted to see her own child making the gains she experienced in the classroom. He did not show ANY interest. She was frustrated and frankly worried. She called me and asked what to do. My answer was equally frustrating to her when I said, “There is nothing you can do.” She wanted to do something to help him progress toward reading. I told her to keep reading rich text, exciting stories and wonderful poetry. He loved to listen to this and wanted more. I am very pleased to report that our now nine year-old grandson is an avid reader. His mom has to pull him away from his books to get him to the dinner table.
As we raise our “little people,” relax and enjoy every moment as a gift. That gift may be experiencing their failures together, cleaning up a cut from a fall, or watching them read their first real words! Whatever the moment, seize it with joy and hope.
Lis Richard, Superintendent
The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey, Harper Collins Publishing, 2016.
Why Don’t Students Like School by Daniel T. Willingham, Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint, 2009.