Snowplough parents, dog poo and the benefit of idle parenting

Thursday last at about 2.00pm, I found myself in the drive-through section of McDonalds with four designer dogs and my mate Kayte.  I should never be surprised, as it is a strict requirement of hers that we do so whenever we head to my farm as she is somewhat addicted to cheeseburgers.   On the other hand, I always bewilder her, as my preferred McDonalds meal (if there is such a thing) is a Filet O Fish and a small soda water with extra ice.

The upside of travelling with Kayte is that it gives us plenty of time to ponder some fairly big questions along with a healthy dose of idiotic ones.

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Let me look at you while I do this doo doo

We don’t understand why dogs and young children always look at their owner/parent when they are doing a poo.  What is that about?  I can’t imagine staring hard at Kipper when I’m on the toilet (he insists on accompanying me) and I’d rather be anywhere else than in the bathroom when my children are doing a jobby.

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Kale boy

We questioned how anyone can enjoy kale be it Tuscan or Curly and if they say they do they are fibbing or belong to the Pete Evans fan club.  This was a very short conversation because I didn’t want to admit to Kayte that I do consume it fairly regularly.

I confessed that I would readily learn to discharge a gun if it meant that I could get rid of the wombat which is intent on destroying our garden at the farm.  Kayte was so shocked by this admission that she snorted a bit of cheeseburger up her nose.  I now suspect she’ll give me a plush wombat toy for my birthday, which in turn I will give to Kipper as a chew toy.

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Such a destructive b**tard

We turned to the perplexing issue of how to parent/live with a male teen.  We had no answers here other than agreeing industrial quantities of Gin helped the mother and constant physical exercise distracted the teen from being a total shit or indulging in risky behaviour. It can be an exceedingly wild ride for both parent and child. You can read more of what I’ve written on this here.

Get out of my child's way

Get out of my child’s way

I asked Kayte if she had ever heard of the term Snowplough Parent.  In what might be the greatest example of this unfortunate style of parent, actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman are currently facing criminal charges for paying to inflate or falsify their children’s school results in an attempt to ensure entrance to Ivy League universities.  I feel so sorry for their children who will have to live with the ramifications of their parents actions for the rest of their lives.

Apparently the term was coined by teacher David McCullough back in 2015 and has been much reported on.  In short, it essentially describes parents who feel they must do everything they can to clear all obstacles from their child’s life to ensure that they ‘succeed’ in all they do.  They will go out of their way to erase any risk of failure or challenge.  In extreme cases this has meant regularly changing schools if their child doesn’t top the class and bullying teachers with the aim of forcing them to favour said child.

It is particularly prevalent on sporting fields.  You have probably experienced this type of parent first-hand on Saturday mornings.  They are the ones who bring cupcakes when all that is asked for are some oranges chopped into quarters.  Their child will have the newest uniform or sparkliest tutu.  They will yell at the umpires, parents and sometimes other children if they feel their child is getting short shrift. They are the ones that insists every child gets a participation ribbon or certificate except for their child who totally deserves the blue one even if they came last in the race.  Snowploughing also very often extends to everyday life.  These are the parents that carry around at all times, a photo album crammed with snaps of their children’s triumphs. They will insist that you look at it and REFUSE to believe that their child is anything other than gifted. They are bewildered and agitated when others do not see this and will shamelessly attempt to coerce those around them to take the snowplough’s controls every now and then to support the ambitions they have for their child.

The problem with this style of parenting is that it very probably has the opposite effect (on the child) intended by the parents.  They do not breed engaged, polite or compassionate children.  Rather, more often than not, the snowplough parent fosters an unhealthy sense of self-entitlement and fails to teach them creativity, independence, resilience or responsible risk-taking.

Kayte and I agreed that:

  • Micromanaging your child’s life diminishes their ability to cope with failure as they get older. When they fail (and they most certainly will) they often blame those around them, as they’ve never before had to take responsibility for, or manage their mistakes and subsequent disappointment.  I’d argue that in extreme cases this can lead to depression and anxiety.
  • It fails to teach them the value of resilience and responsible risk taking.
  • It can make them lazy academically, intellectually, spiritually and professionally.
  • Instilling in them an “achieve and win at all costs” can lead to a narcissistic personality or a professional bully.
  • Teaching them that ‘doing, doing, doing’ is the only path, without encouraging time to chill out and do nothing can lead to a lack of connection to nature and an inability to find wonder in the small things.
  • There is much value in practicing the art of idle parenting.

Jonathan Haidt* (an American social psychologist) was recently interviewed by the fab Osher Gundsberg and touches on this subject.  If you do nothing else this week, listen to the interview (broadcast 6 May) and think about subscribing to Osher’s podcast which you can find here.  Osher practices kindness and generosity of spirit which is something not often found in the media nowadays.

Can I also encourage you to read this long but really thoughtful piece by The School of Life entitled What is Wrong with Modern Times and how to Regain Wisdom.  Make yourself a cup of tea or pour another gin and sit down and read.

And then our time at the farm and travelling together came to an end. I am wickedly delighted that I had the opportunity to witness Kayte retching whilst being forced to wash her dog Isobel Barbara after she returned from the paddocks covered in something that no person should ever have to smell.  I suspect Kayte still has cow shit (or better still dead wombat) under her fingernails. I loved that my super smart mate Amanda joined us and as usual, continued to fuel my interest in the world of politics and taught me new ways of doing things in the kitchen.  Her food is next level.

It’s going to snow at the farm this coming Thursday.  I wish we were all going back down again because I really want to discuss who’s going to win this year’s season of Masterchef, if Ken Wyatt can achieve what no one else before him has been capable of and whether coffee-infused gin should be outlawed.

Do you have any snowplough parents in your life?  I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Until next time…

* Jonathan’s latest book The Coddling of the American Mind is also an informed read.

 

Comments

  1. Suz says

    Oh I do know a snowplough parent, just didn’t know what to call them, your description matches perfectly. Thanks Caro!

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