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‘Snowplow Parenting’ – Too Much of a Good Thing?

Parents wish the best for their children at every stage of life. We want them to have a lot of success and happiness and minimal pain and frustration. For many parents, it feels right to do whatever it takes to support our children and protect them from harm. We see it as our job as parents to use our adult wisdom and life experience to teach our children and prepare them for the future.

I have two questions.

  • Is there such a thing as going too far with doing ‘whatever it takes’ to support and protect our children?
  • If we’ve used our wisdom and experience as parents for over two decades – why do some of our young adult children seem to be ill-equipped to manage the basic tasks of adult life? 

A recent New York Times poll reports that parents of 18-28- year-olds today are involved in their child’s life on a regular basis. They make their appointments and remind their child of deadlines; they contact their child’s employer or professor if there’s an issue at work or school; they text or call their child to wake them.  Over 50% give monthly financial assistance.  Eight in ten are “always” or “often” in text message communication with their adult children.

Are those behaviors out of the question for you or would you consider them doing right by your young adult child?  

When our millennial children were toddlers the term ‘helicopter parents’ described parents who were anxiously hovering over children, fearful of dangers and keeping close to monitor their safety.  In 2019, a new phrase has been coined – ‘snowplow parents’ –  who see it as their role to clear any obstacles in their child’s path to success,  removing the possibility that they will encounter failure or defeat or lost opportunities.

What’s the problem?  Why not ‘snowplow’ for the sake of our children?

Young adults who never faced a complication or a tough choice without their parents’ intervention, will not have the skills of managing stress, navigating relationships, failing and facing challenges that will help them to cope in the adult world.

In a sort of humorous story, a student came home from university because she didn’t like the food with sauce served in the dining hall.  Her parents always made sure to avoid sauce at home and called ahead when she visited friends, to be sure there would be no sauce for dinner.

Can you think of something that you did in your child’s ‘best interest’ that might not have helped in the long term?

Now that your children are young adults, are you wondering if you encouraged or allowed space for them to make decisions, make mistakes and face challenges?  With the best intentions – did you adopt a ‘snowplow’ manner of always being there to handle obstacles or even remove them altogether? 

“The point is to prepare the kid for the road, instead of preparing the road for the kid,” writes Julie Lythcott-Haims author of How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.

What if you’ve been hovering or ‘snowplowing’ for years – is it possible to stop the pattern?

I believe that it is possible – at any stage.  Here are a few of my guidelines for parents of millennials.

  • It is appropriate to support and not rescue young adults or solve their problems.
  • It is appropriate to check in with young adults when they are struggling.
  • Try to set boundaries around intervening.  For example, ask if your child wants your help or advice before just giving it.
  • Beware of intervening in matters of personal values and lifestyle decisions.
  • Beware of assuming your way is correct, forcing your ideas, dominating.
  • We can guide our young adult children by laying out expectations of their responsibilities and holding them accountable.
  • We can help our young adult children by allowing them to experience the highs and lows of their own decisions and actions.

Your support and unconditional love can be profound and truly a gift to your young adult child.  Offer them the tools to clear their own path, or to feel brave enough to face each obstacle as it arises.

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