The New York Times (apologies, paywall) did an article on “snowplow parenting,” a new term that describes a parenting style beyond helicopter parenting:
It starts early, when parents get on wait lists for elite preschools before their babies are born and try to make sure their toddlers are never compelled to do anything that may frustrate them. It gets more intense when school starts: running a forgotten assignment to school or calling a coach to request that their child make the team.
Later, it’s writing them an excuse if they procrastinate on schoolwork, paying a college counselor thousands of dollars to perfect their applications or calling their professors to argue about a grade.
Jen and I have struggled with the appropriate amount of parenting oversight since Finn was born. On one hand we are free-range adherents, and believe she should fall down and get up on her own. On the other hand, we are terrified of anything that might happen to her and not being able to shelter her from the evils of the world, because she is our only daughter. I understand the instinctive urge to seal her in a bubble until whatever magical time we decide she’s fit to face the modern world, but I know this will cripple her emotionally, physically, and psychologically.
A few weeks ago a friend of hers rode her bike over to our house after school, and the two of them played at the house for a while. Then they asked if they could ride bikes to the playground across the street, which Jen and I both agreed to. After they were down the road and out of sight, Jen and I admitted we were both freaking out a little bit; this was the first time we’d let Finn ride her bike out of sight, without us, across the road. But as we talked about it, we both had to remind ourselves that we had been riding farther than this on our own a at a younger age, and she’s not going to learn or grow independent without us trusting her.
That trust can be hard to come by. We are currently struggling with where the line is between being involved and letting her fall down on her own. There are certain things that require us to step in (do your homework, remember to bring home your report card, etc.) where failure will set her up on a bad path for the future. But there are other places where we’ve backed off to let her fail on her own and suffer the consequences in the hopes that it will WAKE HER THE FUCK UP. As I look back to my own struggles with responsibility at her age, I know that it’s something she needs to step up and accept on her own, but I hope to god it doesn’t come as late in life as it did for me. And the lectures are getting tiring.
Sixteen percent of those with children in college had texted or called them to wake them up so they didn’t sleep through a class or test. Eight percent had contacted a college professor or administrator about their child’s grades or a problem they were having.
I recently ran into a similar issue while teaching. I’m not sharing details but suffice it to say someone revved up the plow.
When I found out I was accepted at college, found out how much it would cost, and understood what was at stake, I took the entire experience seriously. My parents, god love them, had no idea what I was doing from month to month unless I called them from the pay phone in the hall outside our dorm room. I knew it was my responsibility to get to class on time, turn my work in on time, talk to my professors about issues I was having, and get the best grades possible, because this was my one shot to stay out of a waiter’s uniform or a manual labor job. I didn’t bug them with issues about grades or money or relationships, even though I had issues with all three, but I was damn proud to show them my grades at the end of each semester.
I cannot imagine calling a professor or a dean to complain on behalf of my daughter. If she was being abused or exploited I’d certainly be doing more than picking up a phone, but her grades are her grades. It’s up to us to teach her to value her education and to have agency in her own life; the teachers are there to build on that.