Parenting the next generation has become a competitive sport. Teams assemble with their parental philosophies—doing what they think they need to do to ensure their offspring get a win, whatever that win may be. Our current culture encourages parents to be the one responsible for making sure that their little one has all he or she needs to become a pro athlete, a Rhodes scholar, or a star of stage and screen. This thinking has become tantamount to achieving the goals, and expectations parents have set for their children.
I know that parenting is a challenge. We want our children to succeed in life, to be afforded life’s opportunities, and to grow up to be productive individuals. There is nothing wrong with this desire. There also is nothing wrong with looking for good fits for the temperament and talents of our little one. The creative you may enroll in art class, the athletic—sports camp, the academic may go to space camp or join math clubs; these are all good things to do when a parent is trying to help their child discover who they are and what they are capable of achieving.
We want our children to succeed in life, to be afforded life’s opportunities, and to grow up to be productive individuals. There is nothing wrong with this desire.
Where it goes off the rails is when we do it for them, manipulate their circumstances, or create opportunities they haven’t earned. The news has recently brought forth stories of wealthy parents who are willing to go to extremes—half a million dollars paid to falsify information so that their kids get into the right university. Seems absurd, doesn’t it? But, this striking revelation has unveiled the reality that today’s parent may be willing to deceive or manipulate as a means of creating a break for a child who hasn’t earned it.
Since it seems that everything in our culture needs to have a name attached to it, parenting styles apparently have labels as well. The names in themselves are rather revealing. It’s worth taking a look at the current trends to see where we’ve come as a culture, but I want to also consider a few original alternatives that may help our kids genuinely succeed.
Cultural Parenting Styles (We Don’t Necessarily Agree With!)
The Helicopter Parent
A helicopter parent is defined in this way—a parent who takes an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child or children. This is the original handle given to parents when it became apparent that they were just too involved. They step into education, often contacting teachers or even professors about grades. They interject themselves in their child’s experiences or problems. Aptly named because they are always “hovering.” I would imagine that the first thing these kids do when they become teens is disable the life GPS their parents have on them so that their every move is no longer tracked.
The Lawnmower Parent
The next step in the progression of over-parenting is that of the lawnmower parent. These moms and dads go to whatever lengths necessary to prevent their children from having to face adversity, struggle, or failure. When obstacles appear, they are busy mowing them down, so their children never have to deal with them. This intervention is a truly bad idea. Children will face obstacles in life, so learning how to deal with them on their own is critical for life’s success.
The Snowplow Parent
The most recent trend that the news media has brought to our attention has just received its title, the Snowplow Parent. Apparently, mowing things over is not enough. We have to bring in the diesel-driven big machine that will move mountains of snow. These parents don’t even let the obstacles within striking distance. They plow obstacles aside before ever entering the life of their child. Not only does this style limit a child’s ability to fight for themselves, but it also teaches them that lying and deception are perfectly acceptable ways to achieve life goals.
I think where all of these techniques fail is that in doing them, we are telling our children they are incapable of achievement on their own. Our actions say we don’t believe they are strong enough, bright enough, or talented enough to accomplish what they set out to do. We are telling them that without our help, it’s an impossible task for them.
That’s the exact opposite of what we want our children to learn. We want them to be confident in themselves; we want them to be capable of tackling life’s challenges because a challenge is what life is. The day will come when you won’t be there to fix it for them. Believing they can handle problems because they already have is what they will need to succeed. If your parenting style allows you to stand at the sidelines applauding what they do, they will believe it even more.
We want our children to be confident in themselves; we want them to be capable of tackling life’s challenges because a challenge is what life is.
What Should You Do Instead? Alternative Parenting Styles to Consider
Instead of adopting the parenting styles that are ever present in the discussion, I have discovered a few alternatives I think are worthy of adding to our parenting. Ones from other parents whose styles I believe pave the road to success.
The transparent parent allows their child to make his or her own decisions. This mom or dad teaches their children decision-making tools and is always available to offer time-tested insights and wisdom when asked. They are transparent in their conversations and open in their approach.
The Tow Truck Parent
Like all tow trucks, this parent is there for the emergencies. It is your job to pick up the phone, pull the truck out of the garage, and head out to get them off the side of the street. You are there to help when they hit life’s bumpy patches. Your job is to take them to a place where repairs can be made and then let them get back on the road.
The Cowboy Parent
Just like the resilient horse riders of old, the cowboy parent teaches their kids when life throws them off, they get back in the saddle and try again. The goal is this: they will never give up, and because they don’t, they will learn to ride. You might have to briefly become the tow truck parent if they break an arm, but they might just become rodeo champions.
The Snow Shovel Parent
Unlike the snowplow parent, this parent is willing to shovel the driveway until their child gets taller than the snow shovel. When that day comes, they pass the wand (or shovel), privileging their children with the task of shoveling the driveway. Allowing said parent to go back inside. Taking off their winter clothes, they sit by the fire drinking a cup of coffee while the work is being done by the little one, all the while teaching endurance.
As parents, we do want to help on a smaller scale. We can enroll them in activities, help them with their homework, and cheer them on when they compete. What we shouldn’t do is: do it for them. The science project needs to be their creation, they should earn the grades they receive, and the consequences of their actions should be theirs to feel.
Instead of intervening, the most effective way we can prepare our kids for opportunity is this: allow them to succeed or fail on their own. Let them learn that what they put in is what they will get out. Help them believe in themselves because you believe in them enough to not do it for them. Our children need to know that they have within them all it takes to succeed. They do need us, but as their cheerleader, encourager, and helper, not their life guarantor!