There is a new buzzword in parenting circles today…the ‘snow plow parent.’ These well intentioned moms and dads are closely related to their twins, the helicopters. Just like a snowplow, they go ahead of their kids and move any obstacles out the way so that the kids have a smooth path in which to move forward. The problem, as you can guess, is that it robs kids of the sense of accomplishment and value they receive from solving problems, learning to handle loss and forging their own paths.
As a parent who ‘snowplows’ at times, I can tell you that the tricky part is when your child battles with depression, anxiety, a learning disability, a physical limitation or handles stress by turning to substances. As a parent of a struggling teen, I naturally want to minimize obstacles out of fear that if our child struggles, he might turn even more towards his dangerous coping behavior and his problems will only deepen. This cycle of rescuing in order to protect our children from themselves can feel like a death spiral. And I know I am not alone because many parents call each day, sharing a similar story of feeling out of control and seeing that their teen is “spiraling out of control.” It is so enticing for us as parents to get overly involved in the situation when we feel like our child is behaving out of control. Most parents have a hard time sitting back and watching their kids work through adversity on their own, but it’s often the only way for children to learn to trust themselves and gain the confidence needed to navigate through adolescence and adulthood. If we remove the obstacles for them, they feel paralyzed to handle any hardships that will inevitably come once they leave home.
Could it be that our attempts to help our kids have perhaps caused some of those issues in the first place because we have unwittingly given them the message that they are not capable people and must have our help with everything? There is no guilt here…our children know that we have good intentions. They do. But I have come to recognize my own need to show my kids that I trust them to be capable, strong, and creative in their problem solving. Even when I see them struggling and using dangerous coping mechanisms such as cutting, drugs, sex, etc., I am called to let go. My role as a parent is not to drive the snowplow but to simply pick up a shovel and work alongside my teen.
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