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Opting for Lazy Parenting

The “snow plow” parents: they clear their children’s paths to success, pouring resources into their children’s happiness, exhausting themselves for their children’s sake:

Illustration by Jay Holladay via Metro Parent

I get it. The post-Millennial generation (born 1997-2012) is on track to be the most educated generation in U.S. history, with parents who are wealthier than previous generations of parents (and less likely to be foriegn born). There is tremendous competition for spots at top colleges, prestigious internships, and the like. The pressure, the worry of “falling behind,” can easily lead parents to offer constant intervention and guidance. I’ve been the mom in the cartoon with the umbrella, rushing to shield my kids from reality.

In principle, though, I agree with the critics: kids need the freedom to experience failure and disappointment, real consequences, and real, earned successes. Otherwise, they won’t become capable adults who can take care of themselves and others. Most of my well-worn parenting books make this point:

Adam and I lean “free-range” partly out of conviction and partly, I admit, out of laziness. In mindfully stepping back to give our kids space to struggle and succeed or fail on their own, we gain space for ourselves, and that’s a win-win:

The summer when David was 7 and Elizabeth was 5, we let them fly as unaccompanied minors from Boston to Milwaukee, to visit my mom. That fall, when he was in 2nd grade and she was in Kindergarten, we let them walk home from school together: half a mile, with 2 streets to cross. Today, at 9 and 11 years old, they’re allowed to bike to the center of town to buy snacks at the drugstore, or to roam the neighborhood with their friends for hours, sans cell phones. They choose their own extracurricular activities and their own reading material. We don’t remind them to do their homework, and we rarely check it.

David and Elizabeth, beginning 2nd and K (2016)

Some people find Adam and me shockingly cavalier. We’re not: each responsibility and privilege is carefully calculated to push our kids into their zones of proximal development without overwhelming them. I have to work hard not to let my anxiety over their well being turn me into a snow plow mom. Because in the end, it’s all up to them —

Categories: Parenting Philosophy

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