What kind of parent are you? No, really — have you thought about your parenting style and which of the current categories you may fall into?
If you thought the term snowplow parent referred to the Central Oregon parents who plow or snow blow their driveway and sidewalks so their kids can get to school, think again.
Snowplow parenting (also known as lawnmower parenting if you prefer warmer analogies) is actually an amped-up version of the much-maligned helicopter parenting. It’s best described as hyper-involved moms and dads going to almost any length to clear all obstacles in their child’s path to success. In extreme cases, this extends to parents calling the employer of their adult child to discuss problems at work, or paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to bribe college admissions officers.
You might be thinking: That’s crazy, I would never! And maybe you don’t have a bank account large enough to endow a university and ensure your precious angel’s admission. But ask any teacher and he or she can reel off a litany of cringe-worthy stories about irrational, demanding parents who blame everyone and everything else for their child’s poor grades or bad behavior.
If you think this kind of thing is completely nuts, you can still harbor a niggling concern that if other parents are forcefully advocating for their kids with teachers, coaches, admissions officers and employers, maybe your child will be disadvantaged if you aren’t doing the same. Am I hurting my child by not insisting he be moved from Ms. X’s classroom into Mr. Y’s because “everyone” says he’s the best teacher in second grade? That umpire deserves to get an earful from me about the “terrible” calls that robbed my precious angel of her home run.
While intellectually you know that having to overcome challenges and deal with some adversity better prepares your child for the future, it’s instinctive for most parents to want to help and protect them. Man, this parenting gig is tough!
At the other end of the current spectrum are the free-range or 70s-style parents. Perhaps this arises out of some sense of sepia-toned nostalgia for their own childhoods, or just as a reaction to all the snowplows and tigers roaming about. They recall riding bikes with their friends around the neighborhood all day long. The only parental directive was to come home before dark — it was nirvana. But they’re conveniently forgetting corporal punishment, a lack of seat belts and all the second-hand cigarette smoke that were probably also part of children’s lives.
Today’s free-range parents take a hands-off approach to their kids’ free time. They envision them building self-confidence and problem solving without constant adult intervention, which is something many children rarely have a chance to experience. This might involve allowing a second grader to ride his bike alone to school or letting young children play unsupervised at the park several blocks from their house.
But sadly, there is more risk for children today than there was back in our heyday. Even in smaller towns in the U.S. there’s typically no longer a village mentality. We pull our cars into our garages and walk straight inside to our televisions or computers. We may barely know our neighbors or their children, and are no longer keeping a passive eye on each other’s kids like people used to. When seeing young children out without an adult, some concerned bystanders have called 911, prompting accusations of child neglect and endangerment.
While descriptive, all these parenting labels above tend to represent extremes. The majority of parents probably embody some combination of those styles at various times, but are generally more reasonable and rational than any of the above categories would imply.
But it can’t hurt to step back once in a while and take a look at the way we’re parenting. We don’t have to slap a label on it, but ask ourselves whether what we’re doing now is going to result in a confident, resourceful and responsible adult. Hopefully, the answer is yes.
— Kim Himstreet is the 40-something mother of two teenage boys whom she and her husband have raised while living in three different countries and three U.S. states.