As she approached me, I could tell she was upset. My usually spunky 11-year-old daughter walked slowly toward me after getting off the bus, and her eyes were filled with tears. It was the beginning of the school year, and as usual, it was off to a rocky start because her shyness always rears its ugly head in the first days of a new school situation. This year, it was the lunchroom that was causing her angst. Unfamiliar with most of the kids in her new class, lunch had become a stressful and upsetting situation for her. Not because she’s a kid who doesn’t have friends, but because she’s a kid who has trouble initiating conversations with other kids. Once someone breaks the ice, though, her radiant personality shines through.
This year was particularly difficult because prepubescent girls are a tough crowd. If you don’t fit the typical bubbly, girly mold, it can be difficult to break into a clique of fifth-grade girls. I know this all too well as I was the shy, bookish girl of my fifth-grade class and, on top of it, often the new kid in school. I could feel myself reverting right back to that awkward, painfully shy kid in the lunchroom as she detailed the trials of her own lonely lunch that day.
My first instinct was to make it better somehow. Who could I call? Who did I know at the school that could help her navigate the choppy waters of the fifth-grade lunchroom? What could I do in this moment to immediately alleviate her obvious angst so that she wouldn’t have to suffer the indignity of having to eat quietly alone like I did so many times in fifth grade?
As these thoughts ran through my head, I knew it was wrong to manipulate what was happening in the lunchroom. I tried to stop myself from interfering and micromanaging her school experience. But I just couldn’t let it go, and I found myself calling a friend who worked in the lunchroom to discuss the situation and to come up with a plan so that my daughter didn’t have such a hard time at school.
And I hated myself for what I now know is called “lawn mower parenting.”
Different from the more well-known term “helicopter parents,” where parents hover over their kids and are overly involved in their day-to-day activities, lawn mower parents are an entirely different breed. Helicopter parents on speed, if you will. These parents obsess over the obstacles that may befall their child at all stages of development and try to devise ways to clear a path for their kid to have smooth sailing and zero conflicts. Basically, they “lawn mow” a perfect little path so their precious ones don’t have a single bit of angst, thus hopefully creating a perfect childhood existence.
And if I’m guilty of firing up the old lawn mower, you most likely are too, and we need to knock it the hell off, parents.
Because we aren’t doing our kids any favors by making life easy for them.
Life is just hard sometimes, especially during early adolescence. We all cringe when we look at our middle school pictures and see the glasses, acne, and headgear (shut up, you had it, too, I know it). We all shudder when we think about those awkward moments with first kisses and devastating broken hearts. We remember the loneliness that accompanies a fight with a good friend. And we scratch our heads and wonder just what the hell we were thinking when we look at the clothes that we insisted were cool.
We all survived though.
And our kids will too.
Yes, there will be tears along the way, and you will want to march over and rip the boy that broke your little girl’s heart a new one. You will watch your kid struggle in algebra and fail a French test you know he could have passed with flying colors if he’d actually studied. You will hold your child as they cry about not making the basketball team, and you will wonder how you ever survived the high-school gossip mill. And you will never understand Snapchat harassment. Ever. With every bump along the way, you will instantly be brought back to the time you wish you could do over, the time in middle school where you wish you could wander the halls with the knowledge you now have as an adult.
It’s about them.
Our kids have to have the same experiences we did in order to gain the needed perspective for adulthood. They need to feel embarrassment and shame so that they can be reminded that they want to do better for themselves. They need to feel the awkwardness of social situations so that they are forced to look beyond their comfort zone, to reach for something they really want. Yes, we have to help them but not by paving the entire freaking way. Not by making it so eas that they are forced to put in zero effort to improve their situations or learn from their mistakes. Rather, we have to give them the tools to figure it all out. And let them fall occasionally.
Because falling down isn’t the hard part. It’s the standing back up, the fighting for what’s right, and the becoming stronger in the face of adversity that is crucial for our kids to master. And clearing a path for our kids to skip through life will only make them entitled assholes down the line. And we have too many of those as it is, people.
So, put the lawn mowers away, parents, and let your kids do the hard work of growing up. As hard as it is, we can’t micromanage their childhood. We have to save our involvement for when they truly need us, and let them know we will be there when it counts. Because, frankly, pushing a lawn mower is hard work and sitting on the patio with a glass of wine as your kid mows the lawn (life lessons, people) is so much more enjoyable.
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