Lawnmower Parents

Updated: Jan 9, 2020

During a two year stint in grief therapy, I learned many things about myself as a parent. One being that it is OK to have scary thoughts about what may happen to your child (what if she falls off her bike and gets hit by a all mothers have these crazy thoughts or just me?), but these thoughts need to just stay in your mind. Once you start to alter your child’s behavior because of your fears (not letting your child learn to ride a bike in this example), then there is a problem. If I didn’t let my daughter learn to ride a bike because of my fears of what could happen to her, she would have been in big trouble when trying to pass the Swiss 5th grade bike riding standard (Yes, there is such a thing...swimming too).

Photo by Daniel Watson on Unsplash

There is a label that is floating around the internet called the Lawnmower Parent. It may have first been used on Sept 5, 2006 in an article titled How to Deal, which was published in The Arizona Republic. Up to this point, we only had Helicopter Parents to use which was coined by Foster Cline and Jim Fay in 1990. As a recap, let’s define these terms: A helicopter parent is an overprotective parent who discourages independence, hence hovering like a helicopter. A lawnmower parent is one that does whatever they can to clear all challenges from their child’s path, hence the lawnmower which mows down everything.

Another way of helping your child rather than mowing down the difficulties for them is to offer two ways of helping: Idea Generator or Intervention Assistance. The question I always ask is this: “Would you like ideas on how to solve the issue or would you like my help intervening with the issue?” Most of the time, students will prefer that suggestions of solutions are given rather than the adult intervening.

What I learned about myself as a parent was put to the test this week when our teenage daughter had to break up with her first real boyfriend. Somehow, after three weeks of ‘dating’ this boy decided to start a group Whatsapp chat to talk negatively about her. One of those included in the group chat thought it a good idea to send our daughter a screenshot of the trash talking. Ugh. She knew what she wanted/needed to do, but it was difficult. After many tears, tissues, and distraction by movie, she was ready to talk. I asked her the question, “Would you like ideas of how I would handle the situation?” With her red-rimmed eyes, she nodded and looked expectantly at me. Of course, my mama bear reaction was to go find this boy and wring his little neck! But I knew it was her job to do the wringing. And wring she did. I was very proud of how she handled the situation and you know what? She didn’t use any of my suggestions, but came up with her own through our brainstorming.

I’ve always been dreading the teenage years as a parent because I suffered greatly during the middle school years. There was always someone kicked out of the group (me!) or accused of farting in choir (me!) or sitting alone in the cafeteria (me!). I wanted our daughter to have a more positive experience than I did. However, after much reflection, I realized that while most girls struggle through their middle school years, my job as a parent is not to protect her, but to help her learn the skills she needs to survive and thrive in middle school. I couldn’t protect her from mean girls or she wouldn’t learn how to deal with mean girls. I couldn’t shelter her from stupid boyfriends because then she wouldn’t learn how to stand up for herself and break up with stupid boyfriends.

By giving your children the power to mow down their own conflicts, you are setting them up for life success. Of course our mama/papa bear instincts are to run and fix the problems so our children don’t have to suffer, but remember to keep those thoughts in your head. What was once fears about falling off a bike will turn into new fears. It is inevitable that we will worry for our children and want everything good for them. They will get there, if we provide behind the scenes support and encouragement. Leave that lawnmower in the garage!

April Remfrey is an American special needs consultant living and loving life in Switzerland. Please feel free to share this blog post by giving credit to the author and the website link:

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