In Praise of Snowplow Parenting

Someone emailed me this tweet, which encapsulates important truth.

Boomers and Gen X types like myself like to brag about how we left home and were on our own after age 18. Whereas those pathetic Millennials are still living at home with mom and dad, are having their apartment in the big city subsidized, etc.

While there are a lot of downsides to the helicopter parenting or “snowplow parenting.”  It produced a generation with less resilience and an inability to resolve problems without appeal to the intervention of authority. It’s not good when parents over-function for their children.

But the idea that, like birds, children should be out of the nest and old their own as completely self-sufficient and autonomous adults is also one that needs to be rethought.

We should think about families and households as an intergenerational project or compact. Adults raise children to be able to thrive in the world. Those children then often care for aging parents, and then receive an inheritance.

But what about the period between reaching adulthood and elder care for parents?

The truth is, in today’s complex and competitive world, our work in helping our children to succeed in adulthood isn’t done at age 18 or after college. It’s an ongoing project.

The people at the top have long understood this. They continue to leverage their networks, resources, etc. to open doors for their kids and ensure that constraints don’t limit the ability of their kids to take advantage of opportunities.

Maybe it is a good idea to pay for your child’s apartment in New York so he can take that unpaid or poorly paid internship at a top firm. Maybe there would be huge value for him in being able to live in a top global city to build networks and a résumé early in his career.

Rather than thinking about total autonomy and self-sufficiency as a goal for our children, it’s better to think about how we can equip and empower them to maximally thrive. Yes, that does mean making sure we don’t over-function so that they develop the skills and such that they need. But it could also mean being a strategic source of leverage for them at key points their lives, clearing away barriers that would limit them, etc.


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