No one-size-fits-all approach works in parenting

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Me and my two kiddos.

In an article in The Boston Globe, different parenting styles are discussed, from helicopter parents to the new buzz about snowplows—plus those lawbreakers who crossed the line with cheating on college admissions. According to Rebecca Pacheco in “Forget the buzzwords about parenting styles, let’s just be present.” she makes good points about how important is to be there and be present in the moment, regardless of your “style.”

Every generation has a fresh take on parenting, its own personal stamp on how children should be raised. Lately, though, it seems we hear of a new style every few weeks. First there were attachment parents and helicopter parents, and now come the snowplow parents.

This last group is particularly infuriating because it means just what one might expect: to remove all obstacles in the path of a child. In other words, instead of preparing the child for the road ahead, the parent prepares the road itself. They plow it and pave it and block traffic. Sometimes, as in the case of the parents in the college admissions scandal, they even commit fraud.

As far as parenting styles named for heavy machinery are concerned, it seems that snowplows deserve more ire than helicopter parents — characterized as those who hover too close — because snowplows do more than hover. They do the work, sometimes even the dirty work, for the child.

Of course there’s a big difference between over-parenting and engaging in criminal activity. Either way, I’m curious if there’s anything positive to glean from the revelation of how far some parents go to shelter their children from the travails of growing up. How did we get here, by the way? And what can parents of more modest means (and probably stronger ethics) do instead to better prepare their children to succeed in the world?

She goes on to say, let kids experience failure. Failure is good for our kids and especially when the stakes aren’t too high. For example, if they fail at a test in high school, it’s not as important as in college when classes cost a ton of money. Failure needs to be looked at as an opportunity to learn. If we swoop in each time to save the day, our children won’t learn the lessons they need to move onto the next phase of their lives. Their days “adulting” will be filled with anxiety and stress, because we robbed them of necessary experiences. Just saying, from my own experiences.

Here’s what the writer from the Globe said about it:

First, let’s remember: Failure is good. Not all the time, not as a way of being or way of life. But failure teaches kids resilience, creativity, and prioritization. Through failure, we learn what matters enough that we are willing to work relentlessly toward it no matter how many times we fail; or we learn to adapt and recognize new opportunities when something doesn’t work out.

Jessica Lahey, New York Times best-selling author of the book, “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed” and a longtime educator, puts it this way: “Kids need to have a positive, adaptive response to failures in order to learn from them, so every time we swoop in and save kids from a consequence, that’s a learning opportunity lost.”

The best thing she said, in my opinion, was “Be present.”

When it comes to parenting, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Each kid is different. The strengths and resources of parents vary greatly. And yet, one technique stands out for me, which can be summed up in two words: Be present.

Practically speaking, babies and toddlers do not exist anywhere other than the present moment. When they are hungry, hunger is all that exists. When they are in pain, pain is all-encompassing. Older children understand the concept of time, but their needs are only slightly less immediate. You can reason that you’ll go to the playground not today but tomorrow or request that no one wake you before 7 a.m. on Saturdays, but a child of any age still often needs a response in the moment.

When it comes to parenting, the most important question might not be which style we choose, but how we show up for our children in a given moment. One moment after the other. Every day. Year layered upon year, like tiers of birthday cake or bricks. Granted, no one is perfect, never distracted, or immune to a bad mood or short fuse, but before we can be “good” parents, we must first be present ones. We can borrow wisdom from all kinds of parenting styles: from Montessori or Tiger Mamas, attachment or anything goes, but it all seems secondary to the question of whether our faces light up when they enter a room. Do we take the time to be attentive in their presence?

We teach kids to stop and look both ways before crossing the street. It’s a crucial safety precaution, but it can also serve as mindfulness inspiration as parents. How often do we take pause, stopping to consider what is happening as it’s happening, rather than merely reacting? As parents, do we have a stop-and-look equivalent as the moment is unfolding?

Being in the present is important when you have adult kids, too. It’s also something to remember when you’re with your spouse. Are you preoccupied on your phone while they are talking to you? Are you nodding your head in agreement without listening? Most people are distracted because of our phones. When our adult children call, get off the computer or whatever else we’re doing and pay attention. If we’re distracted all the time and not really “there” we may find ourselves in a day and time when nobody is calling anymore.

Stop. Breathe. Be here, in this moment, with yourself, with your kid whom you love. That’s the job. Leave the plowing of snow and hovering at 460 rotations per minute to the heavy machinery.

What are your thoughts about being in the moment with the people you love?

meandrbeach

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Are Snow Plow Parents to Blame for the Cheating Scandal?

robertHere’s a different take on the college admissions scandal where wealthy parents have been bribing coaches, athletic directors and SAT proctors to get their kids into the schools of their dreams—maybe it’s not the fault of being a snowplow parent after all.

In an article from Psychology Today, written by Daniel R. Stalder Ph.D. called “Are We Overreacting to Snowplow Parenting?” he makes the point, “We may not want to shame all snowplow parents over the admissions scandal.”

In the recent college admissions scandal, some wealthy parents allegedly bribed and lied to get their kids into certain colleges. Although we’ve known for a long time that kids from wealthy families have advantages in higher education, the criminal element of this story is new. Parents are getting arrested.

Many of us have criticized these parents for such behavior. But along the way, some of us have gone further by criticizing their general parenting style.

As a professor, I’ve had to deal with cases of student cheating, such as smuggling cell phones into tests or copying a classmate’s answers. Such behaviors are wrong, but I don’t extend this judgment to other aspects of the students’ lives, such as how they study or take lecture notes. Is it different for judging parents who break the law?

Maybe. I’m definitely not trying to defend the alleged behavior. But several recent authors in The New York Times and elsewhere have gone further by using the scandal as a jumping-off point to criticize “snowplow” parents in general. In my view, everyday parents who seem to snowplow or hover get criticized enough without unfairly grouping them into a high-profile scandal.

Snowplow parents are usually described as parents who clear their child’s way of every obstacle, or shield their child from any stress or failure. Helicopter parents are similarly described as wanting to “ensure their children’s success” (Darlow, 2017). A common criticism of all these parents includes the adage that we learn and grow from our mistakes and failures.

I like the fact that this writer makes the distinction that the parents who broke the law aren’t just snow plow parents — they are doing something beyond annoying — they are acting immorally and illegally. While we helicopter and snow plowers may cross the line on what is helpful to our kids, we stop way before the illegal line.

In my profession, if I get a call from a parent demanding I change their child’s grade, does that mean this parent is a snowplow parent? If a student makes a similarly unreasonable demand, does that mean they were raised by a snowplow parent? I don’t know.

My first point is that there is an inability to see the whole at-home story based on a single behavior. This is partly to say that a particular parent might seem to fit a parenting label in one context but not another (Stalder, 2018). But even if the label fits a parent in general, I’ve observed other biases in criticizing snowplow (and helicopter) parenting. These biases include the strawman fallacy, dichotomous thinking, the converse error, and just not considering individual differences in children.

I enjoy that the article discusses the fact that it’s not a one or the other situation. It’s not black or white. I think that’s true for me. I may hover in one area, and not in another. We are after all trying to do our best to raise healthy, happy and successful kids. Maybe we need a break on the labels and blame? kat

Anyone else agree? What are your thoughts about the snow plow and helicopter labels on parents?