Helicopter Moms, Snow Plow Parents, and a New Vernacular to Ponder…

March 27, 2021

The term Helicopter Mom has become cliche. This once, behind-the-doors descriptive, whispered amongst teachers in the hallways and in that mysterious Teachers Room, has found its way into the mainstream vernacular.

For the past several years, one of my favorite slides to present at Back-to-School Night contains absolutely no words. I simply click and watch, as my “Welcome to 4T” presentation advances to the next slide, and the enlarged graphic of a helicopter slowly appears on screen. Then I pause for effect, turning back to my audience before admitting without shame, “My name is Mary, and I’m a reformed Helicopter Mom.”

The parents who laugh out loud at this point are the ones who’ve been able to own their own, hovering tendencies. Thankfully, these faces make up the vast majority of the crowd. The ones who chuckle uncomfortably when this image appears, however, are the ones who are still coming to terms with it.

By the beginning of each school year, I have a pretty good idea of which parents helicopter and which ones snow plow, a more recent and lesser-known parental descriptive, more well-known in areas that experience harsh, cold, winter weather with high levels of snow accumulation. Snow plow parents take the aerodynamics out of the equation and bring it back to earth. Envision a large, metal plow, churning through the neighborhood, spreading salt and scraping its heavy blade across the asphalt. It’s goal is to remove any snow-related obstacle standing in the way.

Snow Plow parents jump behind the wheel to aptly remove any academic, social, or emotional obstacle their child may be facing. Forget about the liturgy of the playground and real-life problem-solving. At the first sign of struggle, these parents put the plow in gear and get to work.

Many children of Snow Plow parents are not given the opportunity to develop self-esteem through the acquisition of academic independence, to open themselves up to trial and error, or to build an inherent confidence gained only through hard work and dedication, or after solving an age-appropriate, peer-related dilemma. Snow plow parents do not allow their children to fail. Failure, one of life’s greatest teachers, is considered unacceptable in their homes. Mom or Dad is there to quickly remove any accumulation of real life that may be blocking the path, be it a bully on the playground or a little trouble remembering that math algorithm for long division. And the streets they are clearing remove valuable life-lessons and opportunities for growth.

Parents often wonder if teachers talk about them at school. The answer is, “Of course we do!” Don’t you talk about us? Who’s too tough. Who’s not tough enough. Who gives too much homework. Who gives too little. Who’s a nut-job. Who truly inspires your child. You bet we talk about you!

Knowing a family has a reputation for being supportive of their child’s education, receptive to professional feedback, and has a seemingly-solid grasp of what life is really like (inside and outside of the classroom), helps a lot. It opens the door for an honest, open, home-school connection.

But there is always that handful of parents, the ones who drive us nuts, the ones who have no idea that a world exists outside their cocoon of unrealistic expectations. The stories I’ve heard from educators across the country give us the chance to combine mutual experiences into a few, generalized categories of outlandish behaviors at home.

Let’s extend our thinking beyond the helicopter or the plow…and poke a little fun at some of the real-life caricatures that come into our classrooms every few years:

  • WARNING: If you read any of these and are offended, perhaps you need to take a closer look at how you help (or hinder) your child’s life at school. Teachers aren’t superhuman. We’re just regular people, doing the best we can, dedicated to our craft…and to our kids.

The Armchair Academic ~ This is the parent who has no degree in education, yet on screen or off, they just know better than you do how to be a teacher. This parent sends frequent emails, short notes to suggest a better way to do your job. They critique your performance to anyone on the playground who will listen, before or after school, or worse, to their child. Do they question their accountant about what tax code is being used? Do they offer an alternative prognosis to their physician after the test results are in? Do they look up from the dental chair and suggest a different tool be used for their bi-annual teeth cleaning?…or do they assume the trained professionals know what they’re doing? The teachers I know and respect are quite adept at their craft.

The Virtual Voyeur ~ This is a new breed of Covid parenting. You know they’re there. Every few moments, their child’s eyes flicker to a spot just slightly above the computer screen. They give an almost imperceptible nod to whomever is lurking out of sight. It’s the Virtual Voyeur. Given the opportunity, would this perpetually peeping prompter be sitting at the desk next to their child in a physical classroom?…taking notes, whispering directives?

The Homework Hypocrite ~ This parent continuously apologizes for being uninvolved in their child’s life. By the upper elementary grades, parents needn’t hover over their child as homework is being completed. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, working at home without supervision is considered a healthy stage of academic, social, and emotional development. Ironically, The Homework Hypocrite’s child is often the learner who needs a little more back-up at home, the student who struggles with organization, often losing assignments or forgetting to complete them. These children need help to develop a system that works for them at home. Apologies from the Homework Hypocrite don’t help…but they certainly do teach their little ones the art of making excuses!

The Digital Demander ~ These academic aggravators are either incredibly tech-savvy, or they haven’t a clue about what it actually takes to manage a digital-hybrid-in-person-sometimes-cohort-quarantine classroom. Nor do they express any observable consideration for the hours that have already been spent watching tutorials in an effort to become more fluent with the ever-changing-world-is-in-crisis-so-jump-in methods of teaching currently being implemented in classrooms across the world.

The Email Eficianado ~ Related to the Armchair Academic and the Digital Demander, this parent is relentless. They must email you every time their child farts…or doesn’t like an assignment…or needs work to take with them on a last-minute family vacation (even though there are only 15 minutes left in the school day and you are in the middle of teaching a whole-class lesson). Upon return, the Email Eficianado often reaches out to ask when you will be able to find time to help their child catch up on what was missed.

The Doctor Appointapologist ~ It’s a pain in the neck to schedule doctor appointments these days, but the Appointapologist has been around for decades. As a mother of two, there have been innumerable trips to the pediatrician, the dentist, and the oral surgeon, as well as various and sundry other specialist appointments. In addition, there have been a slew of medical professionals to meet with as my rapidly aging mother became less and less able to live independently. I can only think of a handful of times that I was actually forced to schedule an appointment during school hours. Appointapologist don’t show their children that school matters, that other people’s time and efforts matter. They pull them out of class when they really don’t need to…because it’s easier for them.

The Could-You-Just-ifier ~ “Could you just…?”

NO! Plate is full.

I can see pieces of myself in each of these descriptives. Maybe the circumstances are different, but the behaviors and grasp for control are familiar. And when I recognize my own version of crazy in someone else’s, I know I am heading in the right direction.

My name is Mary, and I’m a recovering judgmental cow.

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