Snowplow Parenting: The Concept and Its Impact Explained

Published May 6, 2021
Surprised man sitting with son talking to teacher at classroom

All parents want their kids to grow up to be something amazing. When kids evolve into successful adults, you know only part of the credit goes to the child. The rest goes right to those hard-working, eye-on-the-prize parents of theirs. There are tons of parents out there who will do whatever it takes to get their kids to the top of the pack. There are Tiger moms, (terrifying,) Helicopter parents (stoooop- the kids are fine) and free-range parents, (er.... not for everyone.) There are also snowplow parents.

What Is Snowplow Parenting?

In a nutshell, snowplow parenting means that you are going to raise high-achieving little success monsters, and nothing, and no one, is going to get in your way. Throughout life, your child will have every possible opportunity left on their doorstep, will receive all honors, accolades, and esteem, whether they actually deserve it or not, and should anyone deviate from this carefully crafted plan of yours, they are going to be getting an earful from one heated, snowplowing parent.

Snowplow parents have a goal in mind for their kids, and they believe the only path to this goal is a path void of all goals and obstacles. They firmly believe that it is their duty to remove all of life's obstructions so that their offspring can trot along, happily and unconflicted.

You Might Be a Snowplow Parent IF...

Snowplow parenting can look much like other types of parents, and none of these "types" have set rules or boundaries, with everything being a bit grey and fuzzy around the edges. That said, you MIGHT be a snowplow parent if...

  • You have the school principal on speed dial, just in case you need to chirp at them over something.
  • Local sports coaches and camp counselors have your picture hanging in a back office with a giant red "x" over it.
  • You stay up late at night researching advanced opportunities in education and sports for your kids and grow increasingly upset that no one has approached you over them.
  • You have a plan of attack in the event that your kid doesn't win first place at the school talent show.
  • You have been researching the 4th-grade science fair project since your kid was in kindergarten.
  • You call your grown child's boss at work asking why they have been overlooked for a promotion.
  • You handle your grown child's bills and paperwork.
  • Your grown child drops his/her laundry off at your house each Friday night and picks it back up on Sunday AFTER they eat your home cooked meal.
Families Cheering Teen Softball Players

Snowplow Parenting vs. Helicopter Parenting

Snowplow parenting and helicopter parenting are two common terms to describe two similar parenting styles. While both styles have common similarities, they have some differences.

Helicopter parents are also known for removing all possible obstacles from their kids' lives. They micro-manage every aspect of their kids' existence because they are terrified. Anything and everything seems to pose a threat to their children, and thus, anything that gets to their kid needs to go through mom or dad's careful consideration and inspection. These parents are taking no chances with anything!

Snowplow parents also function under fear, but it isn't fear of additives in food or fear of the playground looking low on shredded rubber ground covering. They hold a fear of little of no success for their children. These parents give their kids certain freedoms that helicopter parents don't because they don't have time to focus on the little woes, they have their eyes on the finish line, always. They are watching and waiting for anything but a first-place finish or a placement in an advanced course, and that is where their snowplowing shines on through. In their minds, their purpose is to make sure their kid is the best at all and that any possible opportunity gets gently handed over to him/her. If opportunities don't exist for something, you better believe that a snowplow parent is going to make those ideas of advancement or acceleration a reality.

Snowplow parents carry a sense of entitlement. They think that they deserve the top spot over all others, and when something doesn't swing their way, you best believe that someone else is at fault for that!

The Effects of Snowplow Parenting on Kids

By being a snowplow parent, you are depriving your children of a very important life skill, self-sufficiency. Kids need to learn resilience. As adults, their entire lives will be packed with stressful situations and scenarios, and they will have come up with positive outcomes for those instances. They must possess the ability to generate ideas that might work for whatever plight they find themselves facing. Kids learn these essential life skills in their youth, and when parents get their plow out, they are not able to learn and practice this particular skill.

Self-sufficient children are probably not going to magically become self-sufficient adults, and while seeing your kids fail or be sad is scary, seeing them become non-functioning adults in general society is far scarier a notion.

How to Put the Plow Down

If you are reading this and thinking to yourself, "Um yes. My picture is probably in the dictionary under ;Snowplow Parent'," remember not all is lost. The hardest part of altering behaviors really is identifying and acknowledging them. Once you know what you are working with, you can turn to tactics that might soften the less appealing qualities of your parenting.

When Kids Are Little

Ideally, noticing the snowplow tendencies when kids are young is best. You have ample time to change your ways and give them an upbringing that supports, protects, and encourages them, but also allows them to face adversity, accept that risk and defeat are a part of life, and know learn how to manage and navigate the many setbacks that dot people's every day.

Instead of rushing in and saving little kids from negative feelings and woe, learn the art of empathy. Lean into their feelings, emphasis on their, not yours. Ask them about their emotions and try not to overly advise them on what they are feeling. They need to grow in the ability to identify their emotions.

Snowplow parents will want to lead the charge in solving any problems that their child is facing. Instead of swooping in and saving the day, give kids a seed. With just a hint of the direction that they should move in, you feel as if you did your job as a parent in getting them to the correct solution. They, in turn, learn to feel confident in their abilities to solve their own conundrums.

Learn to lead with questions, not answers. If kids seek your approval for everything, put the assessment back on their tiny shoulders. When they ask you if they did a good job cleaning their room, say, "Do you think you did a good job with this?" or "Well, it is your room, how does it look to you?" They might surprise you as they gaze around, reassessing their original work. They don't need you to sign off on everything, but they do need you to remind them to reflect and consider their own thoughts and actions. You are their guide in life, not their savior.

When Kids are Older

Okay, you missed the boat back when they were little, and the snowplowing got a bit out of control. Even though your kids are older, you can still put the breaks on the snowplow parenting and adopt a parenting approach that will better benefit your growing or grown child. The first step to putting the plow down in kids' older years is to stop doing everything for them. It is high time that they learn to do some serious adulting and live life without your perpetual safety net looming.

Stop paying for everything. Stop enabling your children and make them pay their own bills. There comes a point where allowances stop. In the event that your older child doesn't have enough money to purchase something, fight the urge to hand over the bills. Sit on your hands if you must. This is a perfect example of a natural consequence. They don't have the funds, hence they can't buy what they want. They will figure out a way to make it work if it's that important to them.

Remove yourself from their personal affairs. This includes their work and careers. You might have been front and center during their school days, leading the charge to success, but when they get their own life and their own job, you have to step aside. Don't call their work, don't fill out their applications, and let them fall or fly on their own accord. It is way past time.

Teach older kids to schedule and keep their own appointments. Today's tech-savvy kids can work a Google calendar just fine. Once kids reach adulthood or get close to it, they should be taught when to schedule appointments and how to go about doing so. If they are going to maintain their own family someday, then it is imperative that they learn this skill in full.

Worried mother and daughter calculating financial reports together

Finding a Balanced Parenting Approach

You can be whatever kind of parent you want to be. Just remember, whatever style you gravitate to, create some balance. Like anything in life, parenting is a tedious balancing act. You can be free-range leaning, but don't be so free that it teeters on irresponsible. You can cling to helicoptering, but try to give the kid a few inches to breathe. Spend some time really thinking about what kind of parent you are and then see where you can make adjustments so that your kids receive a well-rounded upbringing. Nobody is going to get this parenting this 100% right, but looking into your parenting technique and approach and recognizing when it borders on unhealthy means that you are trying, and all you can really do in parenting is try.

Snowplow Parenting: The Concept and Its Impact Explained