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WOSTER: Snowplow parenting isn't the same as a helicopter mom

The other day I realized a helicopter mother and a free-range father raised me. I reached that conclusion as I read about "snowplow parents.'' I'd never heard that term until I began following the case of the parents allegedly paying some guy to ...

Terry Woster
Terry Woster

The other day I realized a helicopter mother and a free-range father raised me.

I reached that conclusion as I read about "snowplow parents.'' I'd never heard that term until I began following the case of the parents allegedly paying some guy to guarantee that their kids would be accepted at places like Yale and Stanford and other big-name universities. Apparently the scheme involved not only wheeling and dealing with college officials but also bringing in a phony to take entrance exams and falsely claiming some students were proficient in competitive sports.

The scheme intrigues me, partly because it seems incredible that a substitute test-taker could escape notice and partly because it never occurred to me that getting into a specific, hot-shot university would be worth cheating over. When I was in high school, kids took an ACT exam, filled out an application to a college - or applications to several colleges - and went about their lives until they received a letter in the mail with acceptance or rejection. As far as I know, none of my classmates knew their ACT score. I sure didn't. I never thought to ask. If my parents knew, they never mentioned it.

But let's get back to snowplow parenting, which is where our tale began. I had to do an online search for a definition. (I try to keep up with trendy language, but it isn't easy, what with being out of the loop in retirement.) The definition of snowplow parent I found online said it's a term for "a person who constantly forces obstacles out of their kids' paths. They have their eye on the future success of their child, and anyone or anything that stands in their way has to be removed.''

My goodness, that sounds a lot like "The Godfather,'' when Michael Corleone goes around making people offers they can't refuse.

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I should have stopped searching at that point, but I went on to read that snowplow parenting "sounds similar to helicopter parenting, but there are differences.''

Now, I had heard the term helicopter parent. I never bothered to look it up. I figured it defined itself, in the sense of a helicopter hovering. I was correct, but my online source had more. "Helicopter parents hover and micro-manage out of fear. They observe every morsel that enters their child's body, they monitor every move, they keep a close eye on every scrap of homework.''

The difference, then, between snowplow parents and helicopter parents is this: The snowplow parent micro-manages with an eye on the future, intent on removing every obstacle from their child's path to success. The helicopter parent micro-manages out of fear, because, well, it's a big, dangerous world out there.

When I read that part, I understood we were talking about my mom. She hovered - a lot. Sometimes she hid behind a cottonwood tree or by the corner of the machine shed so we wouldn't notice her hovering. She viewed everything in the universe as potentially dangerous for her kids. If, for a split second, no immediate danger popped into sight, she'd imagine one - a long-dormant volcano erupting on Medicine Butte, say, or an alien landing in the alfalfa field over west. My sisters and brothers would back me up on this. In spite of it, we loved her to death.

As I read further online, I discovered the term "free-range parenting.'' Such parents encourage their kids "to function independently, with limited parental supervision'' and with "reasonable acceptance of realistic personal risks.'' That was my dad all the way.

He'd say things like, "when you're cutting that stand of brome grass, try to steer clear of the mud in that low spot and keep an eye out for rattlesnakes. See you at noon.'' He grew up functioning that way. No reason his kids couldn't. We loved him to death, too.

Neither of my folks went to college. Both were proud that their kids did. I can't imagine them entertaining the notion of paying to guarantee our admittance. My mom hovered and worried while I was in college. My dad figured if I wasn't doing OK, I'd mention it. That wasn't a bad way to be parented.

Related Topics: TERRY WOSTER
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