July 10, 2012 at 4:37 PM ET
Fly away helicopter parents, you've been pushed over by "snowplow parents." If you haven't heard of this latest stereotype, these are the Moms and Dads who try to clear every obstacle from their kids' paths in an effort to set them up for success, according to a recent article in The New Yorker, "Spoiled Rotten: Why do kids rule the roost?" What's more, snowplow parents do so much for their kids—making everything so easy—that they inadvertently deprive their children of developing skills like problem-solving and conflict management.
While I hadn't heard of the term until I read the piece, I'm all too familiar with the concept. You know the type: They're heavy-handed in their kids' school projects, they call the teacher to complain about the less-than-stellar grade the child received, they continue to dress their kindergartner because the child simply doesn't want to put on his own shirt.
The thing is: Failure is more than good. It's essential. Dominic Randolph, the headmaster of a New York City private school told The New York Times last year: "There [used to be] this idea in America that if you worked hard and you showed real grit, that you could be successful. Strangely, we've now forgotten that. People who have an easy time of things, who get 800s on their SAT's, I worry that those people get feedback that everything they're doing is great. And I think as a result, we are actually setting them up for long-term failure. When that person suddenly has to face up to a difficult moment, then I think they're screwed, to be honest. I don't think they've grown the capacities to be able to handle that."
This winter, I was very close to becoming a snowplow parent myself. I signed my 5-year-old son up for a multi-sports class at the local Y. He's not the most athletic kid, but I thought it was important for him to get some exercise in the ice-cold winter and to build some skills—of a social and athletic nature. He struggled with some of the sports but it was basketball that was the worst. Boy, he stunk. And the drills before the "games?" Well. Nary a (literal) hurdle was cleared. He'd look at me with those wide brown eyes as if to say "Help! Get me out of here!" I'd smile at him and say "Good try!" The things is none of the 5-year-olds were any good. And week after week, fewer kids showed up. Once soccer replaced basketball, however, the kids streamed back in. Fellow parents confessed that they simply couldn't bear seeing their child suffer and struggle with basketball. "It was too hard to convince him to come to class!" they'd say. "He'll do better with soccer."
I get it. I understand the urge to make your child's life easier! But I'm happy I resisted. I know I'll have to run interference for my kids sometimes in the years to come, but I will try my very best to sweep, not plow, my way to help. Because, in the end, I want my kids to not need me for everything, but just really want me to cheer them on.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.