By Executive Director, John Reilly, MSW, LCSW, PsyA.
The newest parenting style label is the lawnmower parent. These parents are described as doing anything to prevent their child’s failure and mowing down any obstacles to their child’s success. People describing the lawnmower parent might do so in a condescending tone – As if they would never ever engage in such behavior. Who isn’t guilty, to some extent, of wanting to make things easier for their child? Some parents are just mildly concerned with protecting their child from failure or hurt, while others are preoccupied with it and expect everyone else to be equally as engaged in the process.
Before we pillory these parents too quickly, let’s step back a bit and try to think of why the mower types mow. While too much of the protective behavior can be damaging to the growth and development of their child, they don’t do it to hurt them. These parents have the belief that what they are doing is right and that giving their child every advantage is in the child’s best interest. The problem comes when they meet people with a different perspective, who don’t share the same view that their child’s protection from failure should be the primary concern of everyone.
Over the past 25 years I have been on the other side of this many times and I have had varying success in helping parents to see the benefit of letting their children experience failures. Now is the time, while our kids are in school, to let them take chances and learn from their failures. When children grow up and settle into a career, failures will have bigger consequences and having the experience of failing and then developing the resilience to overcome those failures makes those inevitable challenges more manageable.
I am always impressed by the students who participate in the Thrive program. They have faced significant challenges that have caused them to struggle in school and in their emotional lives. We tell students that the past doesn’t have to define the present or future and with commitment and work they can leave stronger and more resilient than they came. It is the job of the Sage Certified Clinician™ to prepare students for the world, since we can’t prepare the world for them.
Preparing our students for the world is the shift that a lawnmower parent needs to consider. If one looks at things through this preparatory lens then the guiding question can always be asked, “Is what I’m doing going to help my child be better prepared for the world?”
We all have a little lawnmower parent in us and can all be anxious about our children and their success. However, it is when that strong desire to protect causes us to try to provide them too cushy of a life, we are preparing them for a world that really doesn’t exist.