From the moment our parenthood journeys begin, we hope for only the best of everything for our children: good friends, good grades, good jobs, happy memories. Naturally, we want to do what we can to help make that happen. But sometimes our best intentions go a little too far when it comes to helping our kids succeed. Could you be a snowplow parent? You might be, without even realizing it.
As explained by a much-buzzed-about article in The New York Times, snowplow parenting is the newest trend in childrearing styles. It describes parents who push aside roadblocks to their child's success in school, work, and life in general.
The most publicized (and extreme) case of snowplowing happened this past spring, when a group of wealthy parents were arrested on charges of using their money and influence to get their children into top colleges. Some of them bribed their way in, while others paid pros to take the entrance exams in their teens' place.
Most of us wouldn't go that far, even if we had that kind of cash and clout. But we've certainly all had our moments when we tried to keep our children from disappointment or setbacks. "We hate to see our children fail," says Dr. Michele Borba, parenting expert and author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions.
"Snowplow parenting is all about intentionality; we may have the best of intentions, but it can backfire, because when we step in too often, our children can become too dependent on us and less resilient and self-sufficient."
Supporting and helping our children is part of our job as parents. But if any of the following rings true for you, especially if you do these on the regular, you might want to take a step back (hard as it is) and let your kids figure things out on their own.
1. You're a natural "fixer."
You love the satisfaction that comes with helping: giving directions to a tourist, volunteering at the school bake sale, showing a coworker how to navigate a website. So when your child wails, "Moooommm!" you rush to the rescue, no matter what the situation. Next time you hear that cry for (non-emergency) help, ask yourself whether this is something that really requires your assistance, or if your child can figure it out on their own.
2. You help with your child's homework more than you should.
A little guidance is fine when it comes to assignments, but if you're micromanaging your kids' work, that's stepping over the line. That goes double for actually doing the work yourself. (Those professional-looking dioramas and science projects are usually the work of snowplow parents.) Even if you cringe at the sight of your child's misspellings or flawed math problems, try to avoid the temptation to correct their mistakes. That's the teacher's job.
3. You've redone (or taken over) their chores.
You know children should handle responsibilities around the house, but snowplow parents find it hard to let their children go through the trial-and-error process of doing chores well. You might be a snowplower if you regularly re-wash the dishes they just did, or take over the job yourself when they sigh, "This is too hard!" A better approach: Show your kids how to break tasks down into smaller parts ("Put your clothes away first, then pick up the toys"). Accept that they won't do a perfect job the first few times. Praise them for being persistent and for being a good helper.
4. You've intervened with an authority figure on behalf of your child.
It's tough for any parent to see their child struggling in school or with extracurriculars. But snowplow parents are the ones who try to keep the struggles from happening in the first place. If you've ever asked a teacher to give your child an extension or extra credit, argued with a coach because they didn't give your child enough playing time, or sent your child to a cheerleading tryout with a box of cookies for the adults in charge, you're veering into snowplow territory.
"Sometimes we step in too quickly in these cases. We have to have an unbiased opinion," says Dr. Borba. "Ask yourself: Is the coach really not giving my kid fair play? Is this a one-time deal, or a clear unfairness?" She adds that for parents of older children, the best approach is often to have the child talk to the teacher or coach themselves.
5. You have trouble teaching accountability.
You tell your child not to take their new toy to the playground, but they insist, and the toy breaks. If your first reaction is to buy another one right away, you might be a snowplow parent. Ditto if your child fails a test they didn't study for, and your reaction is to say, "Don't feel bad — those new math standards are impossible anyway." Hard as it is, it's important to let your child experience the consequences of their actions, and to help them figure out how to avoid repeating them: "How do you think you could prepare better for next week's test?"
6. You plan to help your child even after they leave the nest.
Another distinguishing characteristic of snowplow parenting is that it goes on for years. A staggering 76 percent of parents of kids 18 to 28 said they remind their children of schoolwork and other deadlines, according to a poll conducted by The New York Times and Morning Consult. Another 22 percent said they'd helped their child study for a college test, and 15 percent had called or texted their child to make sure they didn't oversleep for class. Sounds like something you'd do? Think a few years ahead: Do you really want to be that parent who does their 25-year-old child's laundry, or calls their boss to demand why they didn't get a promotion? By making your child responsible for their own wake-up times and deadlines, you'll help them become more confident and self-reliant.