Are You A Snowplough Parent? Here’s How Not To Be One

Have you heard of the term “snowplough parenting?” After the recent US college admissions scandal — which also involved a Singaporean billionaire — the US media ran numerous articles about “snowplough” parents, referring in particular to affluent parents, who will stop at nothing to remove obstacles in their children’s way.

Unlike “helicopter parents,” who anxiously hover over their children with the primary aim of keeping them safe, snowplough parents are dedicated to ensuring that their children have a clear path to success.

“There’s a constant monitoring of where their kid is and what they are doing, all with the intent of preventing something happening and becoming a barrier to the child’s success,” says US sociologist Laura Hamilton.

Are you a snowplough parent? Find out if you are behaving in over-protective ways that could hinder your child’s ability to grow into a resilient and independent adult, and what you can do about it.

Are You Helping Or Hovering?snowplough parents

It’s natural to want to be a loving parent, which involves helping our children out once in a while, or doing little things to make them comfortable and happy. But how can we tell if we’re crossing the line into helicopter or snowplough parenting?

One way to check is to ask ourselves three questions, says US psychologist Lisa Damour. These are:

  • Is there a recent crisis or minor challenge that you haven’t rescued your child from?
  • Does your child have opportunities to deal with difficult emotions, such as recovering from a mistake or handling disappointment?
  • Does your child have opportunities to learn to be independent?

If you answered “no” to the above questions, take time to reflect on your helping behaviours. What fears are preventing you from letting your children resolve their own problems? Be honest with yourself, and see which are the areas where you can practise letting go, little by little.

Are You Afraid Of Failure?

“We are very, very scared of failure here in Singapore,” says local entrepreneur Ridjal Noor. This implies being afraid to fail in school, being afraid to make mistakes, and being afraid to walk a different path or try something new. As parents, we may attribute some of these fears to the way that we were raised or educated, but we have a chance to make a difference for our children.

First, reflect on how you respond to mistakes made by the adults that you encounter. Are you less than patient, assuming that others “should have known better?” Or do you show kindness and empathy even when you have been inconvenienced?

Next, think about how you approach mistake-making with your children. Do you correct your children over minor matters, such as wearing mismatched socks or clothing, or for crafts and drawings that look nothing like what they’re intended to portray? Do you let them make any decisions on their own?

Here are more examples of parents being overly involved in their children’s lives, instead of letting them deal with their own choices and consequences:

  • Frequently reminding children about school deadlines.
  • Helping children to complete their school assignments, or taking over and doing the assignments on their behalf.
  • Contacting children’s teachers to advocate for them, when children are old enough to speak up for themselves.
  • Helping older children (such as tertiary students) to study for tests and exams.
  • Tapping into one’s professional network to help children get internships and jobs, and even showing up to the interviews with the children.
  • Giving adult children money for daily living expenses.

If you find yourself constantly steering your children towards your own ideals, you may need to rethink your strategy. The mistakes that matter most are ones pertaining to safety, as well as your family’s values. It’s also important to alert your child to mistakes where the consequences may not be immediately felt. For everything else, you can afford to loosen the reins.

As for responding to mistakes, you should let your children know that mistakes are part and parcel of life. Show them how you and your spouse are not infallible either. Share stories about the mistakes you’ve made in life, even today, and how you’ve picked yourself up and moved on. Most important, remind your children that your love for them is not contingent upon their successes in life.

Do Your Children Have Responsibilities?

snowplough parents

“We all want to raise responsible children,” says US psychologist and parenting expert Laura Markham. “The bottom line is that kids will be responsible to the degree that we support them to be.”

Some parents try to give their kids responsibilities at home, and this includes:

  • Putting them in charge of cleaning duties, such as washing the bathroom or doing their own laundry.
  • Teaching them how to prepare simple meals.
  • Asking them to run errands, such as buying provisions from a nearby store.
  • Making a packing list for vacations, and handling their own packing.
  • Setting their own goals, such as thinking up personal projects to complete during school holidays.

“These days, many Singapore students attend after-school activities like enrichment programmes, tuition, or sports classes; activities that parents hope will help with academic achievements or furnish their child’s portfolio,” observes Jenny Yeo, a retired school principal in Singapore. “Few are expected to help out with everyday responsibilities; some parents even react adversely when children are asked to help out with these responsibilities at school.”

Her advice is to let children assume some age-appropriate responsibilities at home, while resisting the urge to micromanage them as they carry out their tasks. This will help children to perceive themselves more positively, knowing that they are contributing to the family. For instance, preschoolers can put their toys away, primary schoolers can help with light cleaning duties, and teens can care for their younger siblings or help prepare meals.

“To nurture responsible, independent, and caring adults of tomorrow, we as the adults of today have to let our children experience the important part they can play in helping and caring for the family and [being] socially responsible for their surroundings and environment,” says Yeo.