A Helicopter, a Snowplow or a Planer...

How Parents Are Robbing Their Children of Adulthood by Claire Cain Miller & Jonah Engel Bromwich  NY Times Parenting Section March 16,2019

How Parents Are Robbing Their Children of Adulthood by Claire Cain Miller & Jonah Engel Bromwich

NY Times Parenting Section March 16,2019

Helicopter parenting is so early 21st century, we’ve moved on to being snowplows: parents who clear their kids’ paths of any potential obstacles, paving a way straight to what we, or the media, or the other parents on the playground, or our in-laws define as “success.”

There are at least two problems with being snowplows. Like helicopter parents who hover, prepared to swoop in and intervene at any sign of danger or failure, we deny our kids the chance to make and learn from their own mistakes and to build competence. Worse than helicopters, snowplow parents don’t let their kids get anywhere close to failure...or even to challenge. Even snow-shovelers, who maybe don’t clear the big paths but take care of the little obstacles, risk depriving their kids’ a chance to grow into confidence and competence.

We often joke that our parenting approach is one of “benign neglect.” Both full time working moms who are also chronically overs-cheduled and running behind (i.e. late), our kids often have to do for themselves. We wrote much of Bless This Mess via Facetime in the early morning bicoastal hours. Our youngests (currently 9 and 12) generally have to make their own breakfasts if they want to eat before the bus or carpool arrives. They are both also temperamentally prone toward anxiety. Sometimes we worry that our approach will add to their worries. And to be fair they do sometimes freak out that we are going to make them late. But, more so it seems, their having to do for themselves gives them a sense of competence and of being in control that actually gives them a better handle on their anxious temperaments.

The second problem with being snowplows is that we assume we know where the right and proper to road to take lies. Our job is to uncover it and set our kids upon it. But whose road are we clearing for them? How do we know what the right road is for them? What if the road we are plowing is one paved by patriarchy, oppression, privilege, selfishness or any other worldly value contrary to our own progressive Christianity?

Progressive Christians follow a guy who never told his “children” what to do or which path to take. If Jesus had children they would likely be always exasperated. “Dad why can’t you just tell us what to do?! Why do you always have to talk in riddles?” But that wasn’t His way. His way was to talk in parables about values and ideals. Ideals that flipped the dominant ideology of the time on its head and encouraged people to forge new roads. Then he left it up to them whether they chose to follow Him or not, and how exactly to do it.

In Bless This Mess we propose that a marriage of progressive Christianity and the science of child development and parenting gives us a framework and tools to parent differently. We want to be wood carvers, figuring out the natural grain of our kids and helping to shape and develop it into something even more beautiful and useful to our world. And, while we’re at it, maybe we can also help to shape the culture of parenting for the rest of the 21st century to be one that’s better for kids and their parents too.

- Ellen and Molly