Many parents just want the best for their children. But when parents go out of their way to protect their child from adversity, they can end up harming their social and personal development.
Similar to the more well-known "helicopter parents," lawnmower parents are overly involved in their child’s life to protect them from disappointment or discomfort. While they might feel like they’re supporting their child, lawnmower parents can negatively impact a child’s problem-solving skills, leaving them insecure and unable to handle failure.
What Are Lawnmower Parents?
Named after the machine used for cutting grass, a lawnmower parent will “mow down” any obstacle their child might experience. According to a professor who coined the term in a blog post, lawnmower parents “rush ahead to intervene, saving the child from any potential inconvenience, problem, or discomfort".
This may seem similar to another trend known as helicopter parenting. While helicopter parenting involves “hovering,” or keeping a close eye on a child’s every move, lawnmower parenting typically involves more intervention. A lawnmower parent might:
- Complete homework or projects for their child
- Email teachers to argue about grades
- Remove their child from difficult activities
- Blame others for their child's mistakes
- Intervene in conflicts with friends, teachers, coaches, and others
- Request unreasonable accommodations for their child
- Contact professors about grades or extensions
- Reach out to potential employers about interviews
Lawnmower parents may try to manage their child's life because they don't want to see their child suffer or struggle. But by removing obstacles and setbacks for their children, they may be affecting their child’s development of life skills. Children of lawnmower parents may be insecure about their abilities or have difficulty tolerating failure. They may panic or shut down when faced with problems.
In the long-term, a child of lawnmower parents may start to interpret challenges as personal failures, blaming themselves for setbacks. This can lead to increased anxiety, low tolerance for distress, and feelings of helplessness.
Lawnmower parenting can affect parents as well. When parents devote themselves to interfering, arranging, and negotiating on behalf of their child, they may become overwhelmed and stressed. In an attempt to make their child’s life easier, they may spend so much time on their child that they have little free time left. This can have a physical and mental effect on the parent, including health issues like depression, anxiety, tension headaches, ulcers, and high blood pressure.
Recovering from Lawnmower Parenting
If you think you might be a lawnmower parent, making changes in your parenting style can help both you and your child become more independent.
Here are a few ways to shift away from lawnmower parenting.
Be honest with your kids. While it’s important to support your child, it’s just as important to recognize when your child might be in the wrong. If you back up your child in every situation — even when they’ve made a mistake — you could be sending the wrong message or missing valuable chances to guide your child toward making the situation right.
Don’t resolve conflicts. When problems arise with your kids, don’t get involved right away. Whether it's a major conflict at school or a minor argument with friends, it’s important to give children a chance to work things out on their own before stepping in.
Offer strategies for problem solving. Moving away from lawnmower parenting doesn’t mean you can’t give your child support. When your child encounters a problem, take the opportunity to give them wisdom and guidance. Ask them what they think they can do to solve the issue and offer them suggestions. This allows them to lean on you for parental support while also teaching them to take ownership of their actions and resolve their own problems.
Focus on independence. It isn’t easy to switch parenting styles overnight, especially if you’re used to getting involved in your child’s day-to-day life. Remind yourself that the end goal is independence. Your child should be able to take care of themselves instead of always depending on you.
Setting boundaries can help you focus on what's best for your children in the long-run. According to a nationwide survey, 60% of young adults transitioning from high school to college wish that their parents had emotionally prepared them for adulthood. Another 50% said that they needed to improve their independent living skills. While this may take focused effort and consistency, making these changes can help your child thrive as they grow into adulthood.
When Getting Involved Can Help
In an effort to avoid helicopter or lawnmower parenting, some parents may opt for a more hands-off approach. But there are moments when it is appropriate and beneficial to get involved in your child’s problems.
If your child is being bullied, it may be appropriate to intervene. This might include having a conversation with school officials, demanding safety precautions, or removing your child from the situation if needed.
Helping your child when things go wrong — bringing them the homework they forgot or giving them a ride when they miss the bus — isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Every child will make mistakes, and it’s important to show your child they can come to you. It only becomes an issue if you are always rescuing your child from their mistakes.