What Is Lawnmower Parenting?

lawnmower parenting

Verywell / Catherine Song

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Emailing teachers to argue about grades. Making unreasonable demands of school personnel. Texting coaches about playing time. Bribing colleges in order to get their children admitted. Calling professors to ask for extensions on papers. Contacting potential employers about job interviews. These are the types of things that lawnmower parents do.

They can make helicopter parents look mild in comparison because they do more than just hover over their kids. They mow down obstacles and create clear paths. And, heaven help anyone that gets in their kids' way.

These parents cannot bear the thought of their children experiencing any type of discomfort, pain, or disappointment. As a result, they do everything in their power to protect their kids from struggle or adversity.

And while they feel like they are being loving parents, what they are doing can actually be quite harmful. They are negatively impacting their children's problem-solving and decision-making skills, and creating insecure and sometimes even helpless kids that have no idea how to handle obstacles that come their way. Consequently, when something doesn't go as planned, these kids crumble because they have never experienced disappointment or been allowed to fail.

What Is a Lawnmower Parent?

Lawnmower parents are the newest breed of overbearing parents who are excessively involved in their children's lives. They plow ahead—micromanaging, interfering, and arranging. Their goal is to protect them from failure, disappointment, discomfort, and adversity. But all this fixing and helping is not creating happy or healthy children. Instead, this parenting style is spawning a generation of kids who have no idea what to do when they encounter struggles.

It's easy to see how parents fall into the trap of lawnmower parenting. They are so focused on safeguarding their kids and making life easier, that they lose sight of the fact that dealing with disappointment and failure is not a bad thing. In fact, it is an essential part of growing up. In order for kids to become well-rounded adults someday, they need to experience setbacks. And when lawnmower parents remove those potential setbacks, they are robbing their kids of developing important life skills.

Consequences of Lawnmower Parenting

Despite the fact that the hearts of most lawnmower parents are in the right place, all their "help" is communicating a different message to their kids. Their efforts say to them, "You can't be trusted to do things on your own. I will make these decisions for you." And, when that happens their kids feel helpless and insecure, doubting their abilities to manage life.

Impact on Kids

Even though the underlying goal of lawnmower parenting is to provide kids with an easier path through life, it actually creates more difficulties in the end. In fact, research has shown that children of lawnmower parents are poorly equipped to deal with routine growing and learning experiences. They also tend to lack grit, resiliency, and other healthy coping mechanisms.

They struggle with even the simplest tasks such as asking for directions or clarification on an assignment or reaching out to an advisor in college for help. They have never had to handle any of that on their own. So, they have no idea how to do it when they are older and expected to.

Often, these children lack personal motivation or drive because they have never had to work for anything. They also will struggle with knowing how to negotiate and how to make simple life decisions without input and guidance from others. They panic, and sometimes even shut down, at the mere idea of failure. In worst-case scenarios, these kids eventually struggle with taking responsibility and may blame others for their shortcomings.

Impact on Parents

When parents are consistently arranging schedules, regularly asking for accommodations, and constantly negotiating on their kids' behalf, they become stressed, tired, and overwhelmed. Suddenly, their attempts to make life easier for their kids have made their lives more difficult in return.

They feel overworked, overscheduled, and frustrated. And, sometimes they even wonder who they are. Their identity becomes muddled by their overly-involved parenting style. Suddenly, their world is so focused on their kids that they have very little room left in their lives for their hobbies, passions, interests, and even friends. At some point, something has to give.

If parents who engage in lawnmower parenting don't change their ways, they may eventually be faced with physical and mental health issues including everything from depression and anxiety, to ulcers and high blood pressure.

When Being a Lawnmower Might Be Useful

Anytime parents go to extremes when raising their kids, there are bound to be issues. Consequently, in an effort not to be labeled a lawnmower parent, parents sometimes take too much of a hands-off approach and allow their child to flounder. But, there are times when it is absolutely appropriate to come to your children's rescue.

For instance, when kids experience bullying, it might be appropriate to make demands of the school regarding safety precautions. It also might be appropriate to remove them from the situation by switching schools or researching online school options if the bullying is never addressed.

Likewise, if your children are new to a school and miss the bus home on the first day because of the congestion and confusion in the bus lot, it is absolutely appropriate to pick them up rather than making them walk home in order to teach a lesson. You already know the pressure they are feeling transitioning to a new school and helping them out by picking them is the kind and compassionate thing to do. It only becomes an issue if you are always rescuing them.

Signs You Might Be a Lawnmower Parent

Every lawnmower parent wants the best for their kids. But sometimes, the efforts behind that goal can be a little extreme. Check out this list to determine if you are showing signs of lawnmower parenting in your life.

You Are Picky About Playdates

You won't let your kids play with just anyone. These kids have to be model children that would never argue or fight with your kids. In fact, you often refuse to allow your kids to play with kids where disagreements happen or kids aren't always playing fair. It helps, too, if these kids are smaller or less athletic because your kids are less likely to get injured that way.

You Referee Disagreements

When problems do arise with your kids and their friends, or even with their siblings, you get in the middle right away. In fact, you do not even give them a chance to work it out on their own. You want to put an end to the fighting before someone's feelings get hurt (specifically your child's).

You Wear Blinders

While it is a good thing to support your kids and to have their back, it is equally as important to be able to identify when your kids are in the wrong. If you truly believe your child never does anything wrong, then you are missing valuable teaching moments when it comes to your kids' relational abilities.

What's more, if you always side with your child and never ask them to forgive others, apologize for their mistakes, or make amends, then you are creating a child who will struggle relationally as they get older.

You "Help" With Homework

In other words, instead of being there to guide your child and answer questions, you check every answer to be sure it is correct. You may even just complete the assignments for them, especially when it comes to big projects or research papers.

You Request Special Accommodations

These requests go beyond what is physically- or medically-required for kids with special needs or medical issues. These requests include things like asking the teacher to make hot tea for your child every afternoon. Or, requiring the cafeteria personnel to blow on your child's food when it's hot. Basically, any request that is outside of the normal expectations of a school day is being a lawnmower parent. Additionally, making a request for an exception to the rules also is an example of lawnmower parenting.

You "Red Shirt" Your Kid

If your kids are anywhere near the "cut off" that would make them the youngest on the team, you hold them back a year. And, if you can't hold them back a year, you negotiate with the league to see if your kids can play in the younger age group because they are so close to the cutoff. You may even hold them back a year in school to give them an advantage.

You Drop Off Homework, Books and More

Once in a while, it is normal for a parent to drop off something at school for their kids. After all, everyone walks out the door without something they need. But, if you are making daily trips to the school, you are enabling your kids to be irresponsible. At some point, you need to say no and allow them to suffer the consequences. Chances are next time, they will be sure they have everything before they walk out the door.

A Word From Verywell

When it comes to parenting there is no one-size-fits-all approach. In fact, the most successful parents often combine several different parenting styles in order to meet the needs of their children and their family. After all, no one knows kids better than their own parents.

So, while extreme parenting styles like lawnmower parenting are useful in showing parents potential pitfalls, they should not be used to label and shame other parents. They should only be used to guide you as you parent your own kids.

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.