If you have ever read any kind of parenting blog, book or resource, you are probably familiar with the term “helicopter parent.” It’s the parenting style that thrives on hovering over the children, paying attention to any sense of discomfort, unhappiness, emotional distress and then taking care of it. In recent years, a new kind of parenting emerged (even more intrusive than helicopter parenting, if you can imagine). They call it “lawnmower parenting.”
Essentially, it’s parenting by preparing the path for the child instead of the child for the path.
A lawnmower parent doesn’t wait until something difficult happens to their child and then sweeps in to fix it, like the helicopter parent. The lawnmower parent makes sure something difficult never happens. (Think college admissions cheating scandal.) Lawnmower parenting removes all obstacles. It serves as a buffer, a barricade between the real world and the child. It comes from a place of love and concern. But it is largely motivated by fear. And as most parents realize, at some point or another, parenting doesn’t work the way they realize.
Because ultimately, this desire to protect and keep safe and to shield? It backfires when we understand that no amount of parenting can keep our kids safe from the world.
And that’s what COVID-19 has made increasingly clear. As a result, our default parenting strategies and styles are being challenged in a way they never have before. In a strange sort of way, this age of COVID-19 is saving our children from our detrimental parenting strategies.
Because the truth is, this pandemic crisis has brought to light what has always been true, but we, as parents have been reluctant to admit. The world isn’t always a safe place. It isn’t fair. It isn’t easy. It raises questions we don’t know how to answer. The truth is, there’s not a whole lot we can do to protect our kids from the reality of life. No amount of helicopter parenting or lawnmower parenting will do it.
The good news? What our kids can learn as a result. Resilience. Resilience is the skill we develop when things are challenging, difficult and overwhelming, when it feels like we can’t go on, but then learn, remarkably, that we can. That even though things don’t go the way we want, we discover we are far more capable than we think we are.
That’s what these strange times have the potential to teach our kids. That the world is scary. But we can handle it. That things don’t look familiar. But that we can face it. That uncertainty is hard. But we can survive it. That nothing feels secure. But that we will always have each other.
That’s resilience. A lesson we never would have chosen for our kids, but a lesson our kids need nonetheless.
Our families and our kids have lost a lot of things in the past couple of months. We lost normalcy. We lost structure. We lost sports. We lost birthday parties. We lost playdates. We lost graduations. We lost church gatherings. We lost the intangible millions of little and big things that made our life, ours.
And there have been more days and nights than maybe we care to admit where we felt overwhelmed and emotionally beat up. Moments where another day doing the same thing in the same space with the same needy children makes us want to bang our heads against the wall. We feel defeated. We feel like we are failing. We feel like if there was a “best practices” for parenting in a pandemic (which there aren’t), we’d be screwing it up in every way possible.
We’re still here. We are still getting up every day and doing it. Maybe not perfectly. Maybe not even adequately. (Although really, who’s to judge?) We are showing up. And so are our kids. They’re learning as they go, just as we are. And it may not be great or even good. But it’s enough.
See, the secret in this time isn’t just that our kids are learning the lesson of resilience—the lesson we never wanted to teach them for fear of what the challenges might do to them. The secret is that we are learning resilience, too.
As parents. As families. As neighborhoods. As churches. As schools. As cities. As states. As countries. As a global community. We are growing and stretching and it is uncomfortable and painful. But because we have no other option. We are doing it.
We are working from home while homeschooling and sheltering in place. We are pivoting our lives. We are physically distanced from family and physically vulnerable loved ones.
We are finding that the things we outsourced to others—whether that’s cooking or our kids’ spiritual development—we are doing ourselves, and we aren’t terrible at it. Not that it’s been easy.
But we are discovering, thanks to resilience, we are far more capable than we thought we were. What a surprise. And what a gift.
There’s a lot that COVID-19 has taken from us. A lot that isn’t fair. A lot we didn’t expect or plan for. But it has given us something too. The blessing of resilience. And that is no small thing. For us or for our kids. We will be better for it. We will.