What Are Lawnmower Parents Mowing Down?

What Are Lawnmower Parents Mowing Down?

We’re all familiar with the overhead drone of the helicopter parent, poised to swoop when their offspring are in a spot of bother, but have you come across the agitating whir of the lawnmower parent?

Parents are hurriedly yanking their mower cords to clear the path ahead for their young — seemingly getting a head start on preventing the onset of obstacles or adversity.

Much has been written about helicopter parenting and its consequences — children lose the opportunity to face difficult situations and learn they can cope, and consequently can become more anxious . They have less practice building the trait that everyone talks about: resilience.

But is a lack of resilience the only repercussion of the overbearing parent? Could lawnmower parents be cutting down our sense of connection and hacking away the goodwill that exists in the community at large?

There is validity in our concern as parents — of course we want to protect our children and keep them safe from real threats: drowning, car accidents, physical and emotional abuse. It’s only natural. But what happens when this parental anxiety morphs into an overbearing willfulness to control the minutiae of interactions that make up a childhood and parents pre-emptively pull out the weeds and fill in the potholes apparent in the classroom, preschool, the netball team and the local park?

If the objective of the lawnmower parent is to clear the path ahead — what, or more to the point— who are the snags in the way? It’s reasonable to assume this involves pushing other children, parents and teachers to the side. Heck, it may entail throwing them under the proverbial school bus.

If one is so focused on protecting their children from hardship, does this distort their ability to view situations involving their children clearly? Perhaps I’m too quick to look at my children’s part in things and believe their culpability, but I find it difficult to relate to the parent who utters a variation of: “Macy NEVER lies” or “Tom would NEVER do that”.

Ahem…what? How can you bank on any human being’s behaviour?  Let alone the behaviour of little people whose brains have only just begun to grow and develop. Sometimes my children have told me stories so elaborately fanciful that it’s hard not to laugh out loud. And yet…I wouldn’t say they’re lying in that moment. They believe their delusion. They’re treading a line somewhere between the imagined and the real.

And there are times they have lied. I mean, really — everybody has told a lie. One is clearly lying to themselves in buying the delusion that they, and their children are not flawed.

My children have been on the receiving end of accusations and the other parents haven’t for a moment doubted their own child’s narrative, perceiving it as gospel. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn Liane Moriarty conducted field research for Big Little Lies in my neighbourhood.

All three of my children have been bitten, punched, pushed and called names by other children. Have I been happy about it? No. Outraged? Well…no. Because kids can behave like little animals. They react primitively and are learning social decorum. And let’s be honest — even as adults we can behave primitively too. Never lost your temper or sulked like a child yourself? Sadly I can’t deny being reduced to toddler like foot-stomping when nobody in my house listens to me.

But it was an incident at the park last year left me feeling entirely disillusioned with the current parenting landscape.

A boy who looked to be the same age as my son kicked his ball, which landed at my three-year-old son’s feet. My son grabbed it and ran off laughing, wanting to be chased and a man began shouting at him aggressively to give it back.

After retrieving the ball from my son who flew like Usain Bolt thinking it was a game, I gave the ball back to the boy and said “Sorry mate…there you go”. The white haired grandfather stared daggers at me.

A few minutes later the man started yelling at my son again, this time much louder. The boys were at the top of the slide and I hadn’t seen what happened, but assumed my son was being physical and perhaps pushing to get down the slide first.

I took my son down, had a word with him and warned if he was going to be rough we’d have to leave. No sooner than the time it took to turn and greet a friend who arrived at the park, I heard the man roaring at my son again. He then turned to me and shouted that I should take my son and leave the park.

I didn’t doubt that my son was in the ‘wrong’ in this instance. He may have pushed or even hit his grandson, I can’t be sure. I was certainly at fault for not observing my son more closely and apologized to the boy’s mother before telling the man I thought he was “out of line”. But I couldn’t help but marvel at the irony: this man was so aggrieved by my son’s unlawful behavior that he behaved in a way far worse. How could he expect my three-year old son to moderate his feelings if as an adult he was incapable of this himself? Oops.

As community psychologist Lyn O’Grady says on Kids Matter: “Children learn (and take cues) from the adults around them, so it’s important for parents to be mindful of how they approach stressful situations and the skills they use to resolve challenges.”

 If lawnmower parents (and let’s not exclude grandparents) are clearing the way for their offspring they are inevitably cutting down other people, and it’s not a stretch to say, in some instances — like the one I encountered — bullying.

The intervention of parents doesn’t occur in a bubble — there is associated fallout as parents push for the ostensible benefit of their child. But everyone loses out when it is a sense of community and goodwill that are being cut down. That’s not for the betterment of any child.





Alicia King

2 Replies to “What Are Lawnmower Parents Mowing Down?”

  1. Alisha what a great piece, so true on so many levels , it’s funny as these things I have heard and seen so many times as a Mum and a educator .
    We try and often fail at protecting our children thank goddess as they like us need to learn

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