Hand your kids a shovel and let them clear their own way


Dear Adele,

I was recently called a ‘Snowplow’ parent. I don’t know whether to be complimented or feel offended. Can you tell me what ‘Snowplow’ parenting is all about?

Snow Shoveler


Dear Snow Shoveler,

The characteristics of ‘Snowplow’ parents are shared by those called ‘Lawnmowing’ parents or ‘Bulldozing’ parents. The terms are used as metaphors to describe parents who clear the obstacles in front of their children for them, just as a snowplow clears the road of unwanted snow, the lawnmower clears a path through the long grass and a bulldozer removes rocks and dirt perhaps to allow the construction of a house or a road.

‘Snowplow’ parenting is a controversial child rearing style in which parents will do almost anything to guarantee their child’s success. They are focused on goals for the future and believe that anything that stands in the way of their child’s ultimate goal achievement has to be moved out of the way. These kinds of parents micromanage food and schooling for the child. They seek to banish pain and challenges in a child’s life. They are more laissez-faire than ‘Helicopter’ parents but less aggressive than the ‘Tiger’ moms.

Let me give you a few simple examples of behaviour by snowplow parents:

  1.  The parents complete their child’s homework so it will be ready to hand in the next day as if completed by the student himself/ herself.
  2. The parents contact the school principal to discuss changing a failing grade on their child’s report card.
  3. The parents blame coaches when their child’s team loses a game.
  4. The parents drive to the school, which is walking distance from home, because of inclement weather.
  5. The parents write notes to excuse their child from meeting the academic requirements of his/her teacher.

Children raised with this style of parenting rarely experience frustration, failure or overlooked opportunities. The absence of their having to struggle to clear the obstacles in their own way can be very disabling to these youngsters in the long run. Often, they cannot cope as teenagers and adults. Frequently, they expect the world to accommodate them. Regularly they are in crisis, lacking problem-solving skills and feeling high anxiety.

Julie Lythcott-Haims, former dean of freshman at Stanford University, said ‘Snowplow’ parents have it backward. The point is to prepare the kid for the road, instead of preparing the road for the kid.’

Cheryl Maguire, author of ‘How the snowplow parenting trend affects kids,’ believes we are seeing more of this style of parenting, characterized by overprotective moms and dads who fight the battles for the children. She feels that modern technology is partly responsible because it makes it easier for parents to intervene. She believes we are living in an age of anxiety, supported by media which leads parents to believe that their children are in danger from every direction. Cheryl says that struggle is a part of growing up and greater awareness of this fact is needed.

Cheryl states that there are several effects of ‘Snowplow’ parenting which are negative. Children are less able to handle frustration. They are less able to learn. They give up at the first roadblock. They have poor problem-solving skills because they have not learned this as a child. She calls this learned helplessness. Finally, increased anxiety becomes common, because the parents are transmitting their own anxiety, worries and fears to the children.

Best to avoid ‘Snowplow’ parenting if you can, Snow Shoveler. Gain control over any anxiety. Focus on the process of learning, not the immediate acquisition of goals. Allow your child plenty of opportunity for independence. Help your progeny to become a problem solver him/herself.

Miller and Bromwich in ‘How parents are robbing their children of adulthood’ state that “Learning to solve problems, take risks and overcome frustration are crucial life skills… and if parents don’t let their children encounter failure, the children don’t acquire them”. So prevalent has this problem become that the authors report that preschools and colleges are offering classes in ‘How to Fail’.

Life is full of many unknowns. Your job is to help your child be ready to deal with whatever challenges come in his/her way, both successful and unsuccessful. You might want to tell your child more often to ‘pick himself up, dust himself off and start all over again’.

So why not not hand that shovel over to your child if you think you practice this parenting style? That will look good on you Snow Shoveler! And it will clear the way for an emergent confident, capable, coping kid!

Sincerely, Adele

Photo: Dzmitrock87, iStock