The term “snowplow parenting” may be a new one for you, but it’s likely you have seen this style of parenting in action. You may even fall into the “snowplow” category yourself.
When you understand what it means to be a snowplow parent and the harm it can bring to your children, you can recognize and avoid these tendencies.
What Is Snowplow Parenting?
Snowplow parents try to clear the way for their children’s success by knocking out any obstacle in their path. Snowplow parenting can have many harmful effects. To avoid being a snowplow parent, you have to allow your child to face difficulties and even fail so they can learn to be independent and successful.
What Is Snowplow Parenting?
Snowplow parenting is the term used for parents who strive to clear the way for their child to achieve success without facing difficulty, pain, or discomfort.
Initially, this may not sound like a terrible thing. However, when children are not allowed to fail, they don’t learn to persevere (1). When you take away a child’s ability to persevere, you lower their chances of success.
This is not to say that if you aim to protect your child from failure or pain, you’re a snowplow parent. However, snowplow parents tend to take things a little too far, removing any sense of responsibility from their children.
Signs That You’re a Snowplow Parent
Very few snowplow parents actually know how to operate a snowplow (they likely hire someone else’s kid for that job). So, how do you recognize a snowplow parent? What’s the difference between snow plowing and protecting your children from real harm?
We’ve compiled some examples of snowplow parenting in action.
- You’re still up at 4 a.m. hanging planets for a science fair project while your child is in their bed dreaming of space galaxies.
- You find yourself squealing out of your office parking lot to rush your child’s forgotten lunch/homework/band instrument to them at school.
- You’ve been involved in a fistfight (or verbal altercation) with your child’s coach or musical director because you believed your child deserved a better position.
- You feel the need to call your child’s teacher every time they get a grade below an A–.
- You do your kids’ chores — or don’t assign them any in the first place.
- You encourage your child to quit lessons, teams, or classes when they find them difficult.
- You filled out your child’s college applications for them (bonus points if you wrote entrance essays yourself).
- You regularly give your adult child money to pay their bills or expenses so they can haphazardly continue their quest for the perfect job.
- You’ve called your adult child’s boss (11% of parents have admitted to doing this) (2).
- You’ve bribed, hacked, bullied, or paid your child’s way into a club, program, or school.
Effects of Snowplow Parenting
While our description of snowplow parents is a little humorous, you may have recognized a bit of yourself behind some of those points. (I know I did!)
Snowplow parents love their children and truly want what’s best for them. None of us wish to see our children suffer or fail. But when we understand the negative effects of bulldozing every hurdle out of our child’s path, we will find ourselves more willing to step away from the snowplow.
Snowplow parents are afraid of the world their child is entering or afraid their child won’t be able to handle what life throws them. But rather than making their child feel safe and secure, the parent’s anxiety tends to rub off on the child instead (3).
Lack of Problem-Solving Skills
If parents prevent their children from dealing with difficulties, they don’t learn the skills necessary for solving problems when they arise.
Lack of Resilience
If an elastic band is never stretched, it can grow brittle and lose its resilience. The same thing happens if children are denied the opportunities to grow and expand by dealing with their own challenges. They can lose their ability to bounce back after hardship.
When parents force every obstacle out of their child’s path, they give the child the message that they are not capable of handling things on their own. Facing challenges builds confidence.
Snowplow parenting also has negative effects on parents.
It’s Time Consuming
Trying to foresee potential roadblocks to your child’s future and come up with creative strategies to remove them demands time.
It’s Emotionally Draining
Snowplow parenting is birthed out of fear — mainly fear about the future of your children. Living in a constant state of anxiety is exhausting and can lead to further anxiety and fatigue (4).
It Leads to a Breakdown of the Natural Parent-Child Relationship
As they discover that their child doesn’t know how to live in the real world, snowplow parents keep forging ahead, trying to make life easier for them. They never get the opportunity to enjoy the natural progression from parent to friend.
How to Avoid Being a Snowplow Parent
Now that you understand what a snowplow parent is and why this parenting style is harmful to both the parent and child, let’s discuss some ways to avoid it.
- Allow your child to make their own choices: This is not to say that you can’t provide input. But, eventually, you need to take a step back and cheer them on from the sidelines.
- Allow your child to fail: Be available to help them up after a hard fall, but don’t force their success. It will only result in failure in the long run.
- Teach your child responsibility: As your child grows, provide more opportunities for them to be responsible. This may be as simple as increasing household jobs, having them contact their teachers if they have any problems, or making them call to schedule their medical appointments.
- Teach your child to accept responsibility: When your child makes a mistake or fails, encourage them to look inward instead of blaming others for their problems. Help them look for the lesson in the failure and discuss how they might do things differently the next time.
- Don’t allow your child to quit when things get tough: It can be hard to see your child struggle, but if you constantly allow them to quit, they will never learn to persevere. Quitting robs children of the chance to overcome adversity and grow stronger.
- Trust your child: Ultimately, snowplow parenting shows a lack of trust in our children’s ability to succeed. Trust that you’ve taught them enough to avoid certain devastation, and show them you trust them by loosening your hold on their world.
When Should You Step In?
It’s not our job to force the success of our children. But likewise, it’s not our job to sit back and watch from our armchair while they continue to fail. Take the time to discuss the results of your child’s decisions with them and encourage them toward better choices in the future.
If your child’s choices are going to cause certain harm, you’ll need to step in. You don’t want to be a casual observer while your child falls into the fire. However, by allowing them the opportunity to see and experience fire in a safe manner, they will learn how to navigate it appropriately.
From Failure to Success
Snowplow parents feel the need to pave the way for their child’s success by knocking out anything that might cause pain or failure. This leads to many harmful outcomes for both the parent and child.
If you want your child to succeed in life, you’ll have to allow them to face difficulties and sometimes fail. But they don’t have to do it alone.
Be your child’s best cheerleader — from the sidelines. Let them know you’re always available should they need advice or support, but it’s up to them to get past those obstacles. And they’re strong enough to do it.