Louise Stanger is a speaker, educator, licensed clinician, social worker, certified daring way facilitator and interventionist who uses an invitational intervention approach to work with complicated mental health, substance abuse, chronic pain and process addiction clients.
In the wake of the recent college admissions scandal, much has been written about the new term given to parents who are all but living their child’s life for them: Snow Plow Parents. In case you missed it, The New York Times painted a vivid picture of it last week in a March 16th article titled How Parents Are Robbing Their Children of Adulthood.
“Some affluent mothers and fathers now are more like snow plows: machines chugging ahead, clearing any obstacles in their child’s path to success, so they don’t have to encounter failure, frustration or lost opportunities.” This adjective comes on the heels of other lively descriptive and oft written about terms used to describe overly involved parents of Gen Z, including helicopters (hover above taking all the air), submarines (attacking from below) and saran wrap (smothering).
The growing concern is wondering how widespread this style of parenting has become. A recent poll by the New York Times and Morning Consult “found that three-quarters of parents of children between the ages of 18 and 28 had made their children appointments for doctor visits or haircuts, and 11% said they would call their kid’s boss if their child was having an issue at work.”
Still, being a concerned parent does not just start with college admissions. In Southern California, I listen to young mom’s lament over their child’s prospects for elite preschools and how important it is to get into the “right one.” Then if you take a drive through Los Angeles, you’ll see billboards of Kardashians undulating before your eyes, reinforcing messages that looking good and being in the right place with the right people is the holy grail of what parents want for their children.
This culminates in throwing personal ethics out the window to ensure their child’s success. Though the college admissions scandal is an extreme case, if you look closely one can see the shadow of snow plow parents operating behind the scenes. Less toxic examples and with murkier ethical boundaries are the ways parents help write their children’s papers, let them rule their homes, where everything is a yes and compassionate directness (i.e. boundaries) are nonexistent.
Moreover, there is not a school in this country that does not rely on fundraising and friendraising to supplement goods and services, programs and research. Nearly every school in the country – college and university – has a large army of fund and friendraisers. It is prestigious for parents and good for their businesses also to be invited to the Dean’s house or President’s box, to have one’s name associated with a university or college.
Nonetheless, the effect of snow plow, helicopter, saran wrap or submarine parents on their children can be crippling. “Here are parents who have spent 18 years grooming their kids with what they perceive as advantages, but they’re not,” says Madeline Levine, a psychologist and the author of “Teach Your Children Well: Why Values and Coping Skills Matter More Than Grades, Trophies or ‘Fat Envelopes.’” Children come hard-wired for struggle and must wrestle with life’s challenges so they can be successful in the long-term.
As a clinician, I have the privilege of working with high wealth families and discussing and unpacking the issues unique to this group of people. As such, I have identified 6 common fears that would motivate parents to morph into snow plows for their children:
The college admissions scandal is a yet one more tragic example of the dangers of all-consuming parenting. As a society, we must reevaluate our ethics, strengthen our communities, and ease into the unknown of how our children will turn out. We must allow them to grow and experience the consequences of their behaviors, knowing to fall, even fail, are good learning experiences. When you learn to ride a bike you often fall and yet getting back up and mastering that bicycle is affirming. Being successful on your own is liberating and freeing and allows one to own their own skills
Though these fears are common to any parent, the underlying truth is parents want what is best for their kids. And if parents stop to reflect the how and why to that goal, they may take 5, stop and allow their loved ones to experience their own joy of mastery.
To learn more about Louise Stanger and her interventions and other resources, visit her website.