Working with Children of Lawnmower Parents

Karen Fancher’s “The Rise of the Lawnmower Parent” called me out as a parent, yet as a college counselor had me nodding in familiar agreement. This has been an annoying fall with a few parents doing everything for their students from filling out applications to writing essays, presenting as “we are all in this together.” Yet the child does not even know her log in or her essay topics. A discussion happens. We then start again with nervous parents allowing the student to gain ownership of the process. 

As a parent, I get what families of college applicants are going through. I REALLY wanted to walk my son into his first day of fourth grade this week. I knew better, but my mama bear heart had ordered me to put my marching shoes on.

The night before, my rational mom voice had asserted: “You can walk in by yourself.”

J: “But I don’t know where my classroom is. If I walk in the wrong room people will make fun of me.”

In my mind: OMG I don’t know either! Where is the 4th grade hallway? Who exactly is his teacher? OMG what if somebody is mean to him like Mr. Peacock was to me in the 4th grade. I have to walk him in!

Out loud: “There will be teachers in the hallways to ask. Nobody knows where to go on the first day. You know the school, you can do this.”

On the way to school, I kept up the charade. “I will drop you in the circle.”


Starting up the Lawnmower Voice: “I will drop you in the circle, unless the line is too long, then we will just park and I will walk you in.”

J: “I want to be dropped off.”

In my mind (lawnmower loudly in gear): What?! I want to see your classroom and lock eyes with your teacher. What if you get lost? What if someone is mean?

Out loud: “I am so proud of you buddy. This is going to be your best year yet, I can already tell.”

Rushed good byes as he slammed the car door shut without looking back. I wanted to walk in for me, but that was not what was best for him of course. Yet I was still not sure that it was the right choice as I drove off and saw other parents walking out of school, and watched their posts of smiling pictures from inside the school stream on my feed that morning.

No time for a picture before he leaped into the start of fourth grade.

It is the questioning of parental choice that turns us into autopilot lawnmowers.

Indeed what are the “right” choices for parents to make sure one’s children find the best path to college? It is so scary to just let the college process happen without managing the representation to the college. The press, colleges, other parents, the schools, college counselors all give advice–but what is the best choice?

A parent must allow the student to create the path, or it is meaningless. A parent is a student’s guide, offering support, suggestions, opinions, but should not take on the role of manager because honestly, without going through the process, it is all harder. Drop off at college is harder. Class registration is harder…roomie stuff, professor stuff, life stuff, all tougher to navigate without being rooted in creating and owning one’s own application path.

A student said to me last summer, “If I get into college my dad should just go since he wrote the essay.”  Translation: he did not think his parents thought he was good enough to make his own decisions or to represent himself. I gently shared that conversation with his parents, and they readily agreed that their son should write his own applications.  

We mean well as parents, but sometimes our best intentions get in the way of what is ideal for our children’s growth. It is no wonder in this complicated admissions landscape that parents want to protect students from the process. Yet, learning to manage life’s crossroads is a student requirement we must allow our students to learn through experience.

Here’s to the parents who let their children stumble and then find success in the process. Here’s to the students who struggle and roll their eyes at me. I respect your efforts and your sharing these moments because, as time consuming as it is for all of us, you are already more equipped for college and life. I am proud of you for pushing through, just like I am proud of a certain student who walked away from his mom and took his own independent path into fourth grade yesterday.

©Eva McGregor Dodds

Published by instacollegecounselor

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