How to Tell If You’re a Lawnmower Parent (And 5 Ways to Fix it)

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“Are you a helicopter parent?”

Yes…sometimes.

“Okay, are you a snowplow parent too?”

Wait… a snowplow parent? Um, no.

“I’ll put it another way for you, a lawnmower parent?”

A lawnmower? Seriously? What are with all these weird parenting labels?

This interesting, yet educational, conversation came up the other day as my mom friend and I watched our kids fight over a dirty hand puppet that looked like it fell from a dumpster diver’s pick-up truck. 

With every nerve in my body, I desperately tried not to run over and pry the filthy monster from my daughter’s hands and chuck it 75 yards as if I were Aaron Rodgers himself.

Lucky for the dingy tore-up puppet, I couldn’t find my inner Green Bay Packer, so it landed safely in the toy box.

A mom mowing the lawn | lawnmower parenting

My friend sees my struggles. 

She notices how I position the food on Violet’s spoon just right, so it doesn’t miss her mouth or when I adjust her grasp on the spoon.

She knows how I overpack Violet’s snack bag with a bajillion different snacks to accommodate Violet’s ever-changing foodie requirements.

And, she knows the many times I have answered calls and texts from my 14-year-old stepson Chris, while he is at school, asking me to deliver: gym shoes, dress shoes, the homework assignment he left on the kitchen table, money for a bake sale, or lunch from Jimmy John’s because he “can’t stand the lunch they’re having today.”

I may or may not have honored all those requests.

As a helicopter parent with escalating lawnmower tendencies, I need to stop before I set my kids up for failure. 

So, What is Lawnmower Parenting?

While helicopter parents hover over their children like a…you guessed it…helicopter; lawnmower parents take it to the next level.

Just think of what a lawnmower does?

They don’t hover, assessing all potential danger — they aim to ensure their child experiences no danger or obstacles to start with.

They mow it down, mamas!

According to the article on We Are Teachers, who is responsible for developing the term ‘lawnmower parenting: “Lawnmower parents go to whatever lengths necessary to prevent their child from having to face adversity, struggle, or failure.” 

Like most other lawnmower parents, my motives are good. I want the very best for my daughter Violet and my stepson Chris. I want to set them up for success.

There are limits though.

And luckily, it isn’t too late to make a change about how I parent my kiddos moving forward.

I am also far from being a lawnmower parenting extremist.

A prime example of extreme lawnmower parenting is the recently celebrity-college acceptance scandal involving Full House’s Aunt Becky aka Lori Loughlin and Lynette of Desperate Housewives aka Felicity Huffman.

Loughlin and Huffman were accused of engaging in shady illegal tactics to help get their kids admitted into top rated colleges. In a nutshell, they hired a college admissions consultant to “rig their children’s entrance exams” and slide them into ivy league universities as “fake athletic recruits.”

Oh, Aunt Becky, why did you get yourself into this?

mother and two daughters in a circle on the beach

You can call it lawnmower parenting, snowplow parenting, or bulldozer parenting, it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that experts say this over-involved style of parenting is detrimental to your child in the long run.

It sets your child up with the view that they can’t handle difficult situations. They will expect to fail rather than succeed, unless you are there hand-holding every step of the way.

“The parents are doing everything they can to clear a path for their children,” says Carla Naumburg, Ph.D., the author of the book How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t With Your Kids. “These parents don’t want their kids to ever hit a wall, or trip and fall, or lose their way, so they’re constantly putting themselves out ahead, doing their best to make sure their kids have the easiest journey possible.”

Rather than solve all your kid’s problems, we must let them figure things out for themselves.

Lawnmower Parents Do More Harm Than Good

Experts say lawnmower parents make it difficult for their children to function as independent adults.

Offspring of lawnmower parents tend to:

  • Lack good communication skills
  • Lack personal motivation and drive
  • Lack decision making abilities
  • Lack confidence
  • Have increased anxiety

The message these kids get is that they aren’t good enough to do things themselves. In a way, the lawnmower parent implies to the child that she is not capable of doing it on her own.

Furthermore, children who are always served life on a silver platter with no signs of struggle, are more prone to struggle when facing life’s ups, downs, twists, and turns. They are also less likely to appreciate how good they have it.

“The disadvantages for kids can be significant,” Dr. Naumburg states. “Kids who rarely or never have to face significant challenges, experience the sting of failure, or navigate a bumpy journey are likely to become less resilient, less confident, and more anxious. The only way to truly know that you can bounce back, stand strong, or muddle through is by having to do just that in small and big ways, over and over again throughout your life. And if their parents are always one — or five — steps ahead of them, clearing the way, well, they’re never going to have a chance to get themselves up, dust themselves off, and get back in the game.”

Our kiddos must learn how to cope with disappointment. They must learn that they can’t always get what they ask for. They must learn that we are not always going to be there to fight their personal, academic, or professional battles.

A little girl with a basket of flowers in one hand and a little boy holding her hand in a tall grassy field | lawnmower parenting

I know we want the absolute best for our children, but we must remember we need to teach our children how to be resilient.

Well, the only way they can learn that is by experiencing disappointment, picking themselves back up after they fall, and developing solutions on their own.

Related: The 4 Parenting Styles: What Type of Parent Are You?

“In effect, parents are robbing their kids of the problem-solving skills they need to succeed in life. “When these kids get into the real world, where nobody is there to shovel their path, they won’t know where to start, and often they don’t even try,” Dr. Naumburg also mentions.

How Can You Avoid Becoming a Lawnmower Parent?

  • Consistently encourage your child and let her know that you have faith in her to make great choices now and in the future. Allow her to make mistakes, even huge ones, and learn from them as a team. Sharing your wisdom and guiding your kids is important, you still want to be supportive. Just don’t step in to and try to do all the work for them.
  • Allow your child to do the talking. Whether it is ordering their meal at the local Mexican spot, asking a store associate where something is, or talking to the teacher to make up a missed assignment. Let your child use their voice.
  • Only after your child attempts communication on her own should you get involved, if necessary. For example, if your son loses a friend’s school book, have him discuss the matters with the friend and librarian, then have him make the decision and deal with the potential consequences.
  • Remember that letting your child “fall” is a crucial part of their development. As difficult as it is to watch, when our child “falls” this is when they learn the most. This is when they get the wheels churning in their head trying to figure out how to get back up or how to right their wrong.
  • Keep your eyes on the prize: independence! We want our children to thrive on their own and not always have to rely on mom or dad. Our job as parents is to raise our children into compassionate, hard-working, capable adults, then set them free. It is super sad to think about, but yes that little one running around the house in diapers shouting, “poop!” and the young man asking you for girl advice will eventually fly the coop.

The more you can remind yourself of this the better you’ll be about making sure they can survive out in this big, loud, crazy world on their own.

mom laying on the grass holding her toddler girl on her tummy

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Author: Brandi Wiatrak

Hey, Mama! I'm Violet's mom and Chris' step-mama, Brandi. This space is a peek into my cold-brew fueled life navigating motherhood and the world. With brutal honesty, humor, and sarcasm, I talk about the joys (and sucks) of parenting, ways to live a simple & sane life, and awesome adventures to embark on with your family. Come aboard my crazy train! Wine and Gerber Puffs included.

17 thoughts

  1. If I had read this before I had my daughter I would have thought that avoiding being a lawnmower parent would be easy but it’s definitely something you have to work at and be conscious of. It’s hard to see your child struggle and not intervene but you are so right, we have to resist that urge. Great post, thanks for sharing!

    1. Brandi Wiatrak says:

      Girl, I am right there with you! I definitely had different ideas of who I was going to be as a parent. It’s so hard to not be overprotective. Everyone was right when they said having a child is like wearing your heart on your sleeve. 💖

  2. emilyhunsaker says:

    I have never heard of lawnmower parenting, but I recognize the symptoms you described! I think I was on the verge of becoming one but realized that all that over parenting wasn’t doing either of us any good. So, now my son is responsible for remembering the things he needs (homework, lunch box, glasses, etc) and if he forgets them, he goes without for the day. It’s made him much more responsible for his things now!

    1. Brandi Wiatrak says:

      Yes, sometimes our kids have to learn things the hard way. My stepson has gotten a little better about getting his stuff together. He’s learned that if he forgets something or is running late in the morning, he will have to face the consequences, such as a detention at school or whatever the case may be. Definitely helps them to become more responsible and realize mom and dad can’t do it all. Cheers to you, mama for recognizing where you needed to change and making the switch. It’s not easy. 💓

  3. thehabibihouse says:

    Wow! This was so informative. I’ve never heard of lawnmower parenting, but I think I have done it several times throughout the years. I’ve seen the results in certain area as some of my kids are adults now.

  4. Great article! I had never heard of lawnmower parenting before. I like to think I’m not one of those moms, but I probably am in some way. I will have to keep those tendencies in check!

  5. My husband and I are big on reality discipline too. Too, many people do everything for their kids. All that does is create a child who doesn’t know how to do anything for himself!

  6. I think my own mom might try to “lawnmower parent” me sometimes, and I am 34! Haha! Thank you for these great insights and ideas for how not to be a lawnmower parent. It’s so hard to balance wanting your kid to experience life and become an independent, brave, confident person… and also keep them from getting sick from the nasty hand puppet. I feel your pain!

    1. Brandi Wiatrak says:

      Yes! Thank you! Glad you understand my pain. Mommin’ ain’t easy, I tell ya. 💓

  7. Michelle Huddleston says:

    This article and topic couldn’t come at a better time. I often find myself being a lawnmower parent and can already see the side effects… I call it my intuition when in reality I’m just trying to prevent a lot of possible bad things from happening – from a fall that could result in a boo boo or playing with a little bug. Thanks so much for writing this. I needed it.

    1. Brandi Wiatrak says:

      I’m right there with you. It comes from a good place but now that we know we are hindering our kids, we can make that change. Rooting for you! 💓

  8. 21flavorsofsplendor says:

    I did not know this was a thing, but I can totally see it now. Giving our kids the room and opportunities for mistakes and disappointments will definitely help them in the long run,

    1. Brandi Wiatrak says:

      I totally just learned this too, but I can see how it hinders our children. Glad I learned about it before it was too late. Although, I’ll never be like Aunt Becky from the Full House. Haha!

  9. I love this. I’ve always detested helicopter parenting, but I have some lawnmower tendencies. I think it comes from being anxious about how I’ll be judged as a parent by my children’s new school (which is highly over reactive and quick to blame parents over EVERYTHING). I recently went through a divorce so I’m worried about the judgement I’ll receive when my kids aren’t acting perfectly, which is often. I am absolutely going to get the book you mentioned as well haha. I need help not losing my sh*t on a daily basis!

    1. Brandi Wiatrak says:

      I completely understand where you’re coming from. My stepson’s school is the same and everyone talks a lot. That book is so good and easy to read! Lots of laughs! I’m rooting for you!

  10. My son is all grown up now (17) and nicely independent and confident. I could easily have been a lawnmower parent but I had to consciously force myself not to do this.

    1. Brandi Wiatrak says:

      Yes, it’s such a conscious effort. Definitely doesn’t come naturally for me. Haha!

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