Reflections of a “Lawn Mower Parent”

The first time I heard the term “Helicopter Parent,” I remember scoffing with pride that I certainly wasn’t one of them, these parents who are all over their children and their children’s teachers. Don’t get me wrong; I have a few propellers whizzing around over my child but I have seen obsessive and aggressive parents, and I know I am not like them.

And then I saw an article on my Twitter feed about the “Lawn Mower Parent” – a parent who attemps to “mow down any obstacle in their children’s path.” (courtesy of Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, “Spare the Spanking, Spoil the Report Card?,” The Wall Street Journal, January 21, 2010). This time the term struck a nerve.

In fact, I remember beginning my parenting journey with this goal (one of many): to spare my son the trauma, the unpleasantness, and the hurts that I had endured as a child. Don’t we all have that as a parenting goal? What parent says, “I want my child to get bullied. I want my child to get his feelings hurt. I hope my child has an uphill battle to fight in school.” ? Our parental instinct is to ensure our children’s happiness.

I’m sometimes amazed at how vastly different Fred’s childhood is from mine. Due to particular circumstances in my family then, I had lived in a lot of fear, and tension was the norm rather than the exception. Everything except academics had felt like an uphill struggle. Very little had felt smooth back then, and my parents were too busy or did not  know enough to help. So I stumbled along myself. I figured out how to get into one of the top high schools in our state. I wrestled with friendships and relationships. I figured out my own career path, found a good man to marry, became a mother. I’ve struggled with a lot of mistakes over my life time, as well as wasted years, depression, and self-doubt. But now, at 40+, I am confident in my ability to rely on myself and to take care of others.

Do I want that for Fred? Would I want him to go through even a third of what I had gone through? No doubt those early struggles on my own helped me develop some of the strengths that I have now. But I see my strengths in a small tub mixed in with a great deal of anxiety and insecurities that would not have been there had an adult played a bigger role helping me get through those obstacles.

I do get the whole argument about the Lawn Mower Parent. Like all these short-cut parenting labels, they’re meant to generalize and stereotype the most extreme parent. The Lawn Mower Parent is the one who doesn’t want his child to ever not get what he wants. She’s the one who doesn’t ever want her child to cry. While I want to protect my child from trauma (if I possibly can), I do know that kids have to experience frustration, struggle, hurt, fear, injustice, and disappointment in order to develop maturity, confidence and coping skills. And believe me, I have more than once wondered, Is Fred’s life too easy? Is he too happy? Has he not had enough bad things happen to him? And then I see the absurdity in this line of thinking, in the kind of self-questioning that these parenting labels induce.

The truth is, try as I might, life has its own way of throwing potholes in my son’s life path, and I am guessing that much of the time there will be little that I can do to shield him from suffering from them. I want so much for Fred to live a happy and pain free life, but already he knows what it’s like to be falsely accused by a teacher and principal, to be cheated by friends, to lose, to doubt his abilities to perform, to fear the anger of people he loves. To think that I have the ability to smooth or clear all of this for him is to overestimate my power as a human being.

Screw all the parenting labels. I’m going to love my son the only way I know how, and be confident that he is going to turn out a responsible, good, and happy human being.


 the lovely view from our cabin over spring break

I’m back, after a longish but unintended hiatus.

I’ve missed writing and connecting with all of you. Unfortunately, I just had nothing to write about. Or I thought I had nothing worthy to write about, nothing that would make your trek over here worthwhile.

My last two posts were about the Japan earthquake. I wrote them because I felt I needed to. But I wasn’t happy with the posts because I couldn’t translate my emotions to words. How is it that I could write about something so clearly devastating to me (I was nauseated for several days) without feeling? I had put up a wall, a dam, between my writing and my feelings. It was at that point that I decided to stay quiet behind my writer’s block.

But many of you commented on my last post and I even heard from some new visitors. Your words and support meant so much to me, enough to keep me from quitting my blog altogether.

Looking back, I realized that in my absence I was trying to find ways to cope. Reading, hearing and thinking about the earthquake were literally making me sick. Somehow my body responded by one day choosing to live more externally. In other words, I began spending less and less time inside my head. I turned off the t.v. I tried staying away from my computer as much as possible. I began avoiding words. I stopped writing and reading.

Instead, I began doing, something that is sort of out of character for me.

For Fred’s spring break we made a 3-day getaway to a hot springs town. We rented a beautiful cabin near the Appalachian Mountains and enjoyed our own private tub of hot mineral water. Cabin fever and a crazy marital spat aside, I had a wonderful time and returned home with softer muscles and radiant skin (you have to try a hot springs dip!).

I’ve also been spending alot of time outdoors, exercising. 3 miles of walking a day. Push ups, lunges, etc. The intoxication of the sun and the endorphins released from moving my body feed my desire to do more.

I’ve scheduled three fun dates with a good girlfriend of mine (she doesn’t have children and is still enjoying the carefree life) that I don’t see nearly enough of. WHEN was the last time I really went out with a girlfriend, doing girlfriend stuff??

Max, Fred and I have also channeled our anxious energies into doing something creative and productive for Japan. We’ve been folding origami and making origami cards as both symbolic and practical gestures (for fundraising). The idea of doing something so intricate used to give me headaches, but now that I’ve tried it, I realize how soothing and meditative origami can be.

And I’ve felt so good! I am at peace. I am happy. My body has softened. Yes, this small island on the other side of the world – my second home country – is reeling. But I needed to move on. In searching for ways to cope I’ve stumbled upon and incorporated ways to add more peace and joy into my life.

And a week or so ago I really began to feel that I miss…words. Stories and updates from friends, my own reaching out to others.

I admire the many bloggers who can continue to write consistently no matter what enters their daily lives. I am hoping that I can better combine the internal and the external, and am looking forward to filling this space more regularly from now on.

How do you cope when your inner world feels overwhelming? Do you also go through periods of hibernation? If you’re a blogger, how do you maintain your motivation to write and stay public?