Follow these signs for your way out of the snowstorm that is being a parent.

By Estelle Erasmus
December 05, 2019
Credit: iStock/Getty Images

Last month, my ten-year-old daughter came home sick from school, feverish, with a slight rash on her neck. I was concerned she had picked up a mosquito-borne illness on an overnight school hiking trip. "It's a virus, nothing to worry about, there are bugs going around, just keep her hydrated, the after-hours pediatrician said."

The next day her fever rose, and the rash moved to her chest. The doctor's office was booked till 7:30 p.m., and it was only 3 p.m. No way would I make my sick child wait that long.

"We were there yesterday, and the doctor didn't mention her rash, so I'm driving back," I told the receptionist. I refused to stop saying "unacceptable" until a senior doctor saw her, confirmed the diagnosis and wrote a note stating the rash wasn't contagious.

Although we are taught not to label our children, I believe I would be considered a "snowplow parent", one who constantly forces obstacles out of their kids' paths so they don't have pain or difficulty. I believe I am my child's best advocate. But was it OK for me to break the rules in the instance of the rash?

"Yes. I would consider that a health and safety issue, because at your daughter's age, those are decisions she cannot navigate herself," says Michelle Cilia, a family therapist. But there's a caveat if you're feeling like you would have handled the situation similarly:

"Your daughter knows when she is not feeling well her mother will take care of her," says therapist, Juli Fraga. "The downside is when she goes off to college, will she be able to handle getting sick on her own? The key is to talk with her about what happened, so she understands what you are doing."

Here are signs you, too, could be a snowplow parent and expert advice on keeping the balance.

Sign #1: Doctors have to account to you.

I have taught my daughter that just because someone has an authoritative title, doesn't mean that you have to do what they ask without question. For example, based on the stories in the news, at her age I wouldn't leave her alone with a doctor. I also want her to feel comfortable asking doctors questions, and I often initiate those conversations.

What experts say: "Body autonomy is important for young girls, and so is teaching them to follow their gut feelings, which you are doing," says Cilia. "When asking questions, instead of leading the conversation, try to talk less, listen more. That shows your child you acknowledge she is separate from you."

Sign #2: You are on top of her teacher. Always.

Last year, I felt that a teacher was slow to apprise me of my daughter's progress in math. After I confronted her, the teacher stepped up to give my daughter the support she needed. I'd advocated for my daughter, but did I come on too strong?

What experts say: "It would be helpful to encourage your daughter to first attempt to resolve issues, before you jump in," says Cilia. "You need to let your kids make mistakes, face obstacles, perhaps even fail. Remember, you are not the first line of defense, you are your child's backup."

Sign #3: You're known as "that mom" with her camp.

I admit I emailed the director of my daughter's sleep-away camp the first day when my daughter's first name was misspelled on her bus seat. I also complained when a week passed without seeing photos of my child. I think that making sure they knew I was "that mom" from day one (and then backing off once I knew my daughter was happy) ensured they'd have extra eyes on my child.

What experts say: "There is nothing wrong with checking in, but you need to contain your anxiety and respect others boundaries," says Fraga. "It's important to have some degree of an ability to "let go" and show that your emotions won't overtake you, and model that for your child," says Cilia.

Sign #4: You don't social engineerthat's her job. 

I've seen parents trying to manufacture children's friendships, and it just seems exhausting. So, I periodically ask her who she wants play dates with, and then after she asks the child, I follow up with the parent. This way she is still in charge, but I'm helping to make it happen. When she was younger, when she disagreed with friends , I would broach the subject with their parents, cause many of them are my friends, but she has made it clear that she doesn't want me involved.

What experts say: "If you mediate social conflict for your child, it sends a message you are anxious about her making mistakes, which can make her less self-sufficient," says Fraga.

Sign #5: Babysitters know the score.

New babysitters get my rules (Nobody in or out of the house and that includes on social media). I started this rule, when a babysitter was Facetiming with a male friend who also "spoke" with my daughter while she was in pajamas. My sitters don't make the rules, I do for my family. So I tell the sitters they are never to discipline my child, that must come only from me.

What experts say: "Your kids need to listen to other adults, not just you," says Cilia. Otherwise that sets up a dynamic for your child to tell any authority figure, "you aren't my parent, and I don't have to listen to you."

My adage in life is "the squeaky wheel gets the grease," and that applies to advocating for my child. But I am most definitely not involved in every aspect of her life. I refuse to be the "fixer". This year, my daughter wanted to change her schedule, and I encouraged her to speak to the teacher first. I don't help her with her homework (my pat answer is I already went through fifth grade, now it's your turn). We recently got a puppy who I take care of during the day, but that responsibility transfers to her when she's home, no matter how many times I hear "mom, can you help?"

I want to make life easier for my child (doesn't every parent?) So I'll still bring out the snowplow when the climate is icy, so my daughter doesn't slip, but then she will have to put on her gloves and take care of the mess herself.

Estelle Erasmus is an award-winning journalist, writing coach, and former magazine editor in chief. She teaches Writing Parenthood at NYU and personal essay writing and pitching for Writers Digest and hosts the podcast ASJA Direct: Inside Intel on Getting Published and Paid Well. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Comments (1)

August 3, 2020
As a retired 5th grade teacher and administrator I have to disagree. 5th grade is a huge transition and the curriculum is tough. This is no time to back off and not help a child with homework. They are starting to learn how to self manage, time manage, and navigate class changes across various subjects. Content takes a big leap in difficulty as well. Class changing and different teachers for each subject can be a big adjustment. Hopefully your child is not attending a high stakes school where too much emphasis is placed on testing. This can cause another big dose of anxiety. Kiddos this age need you perhaps even more in new and different ways. So many parents feel 5th is the time to back off but it’s really not at all. Also, why confront a teacher? Why not discuss and work together for the best interest of the child. Being an advocate doesn’t have to be a snowplow. How about being an orange cone instead? Stay close to the road and alert passengers to oncoming traffic and bumpy terrain. Beware of letting go of the steering wheel abruptly especially in regards to education. Doing so may mean more obstacles to overcome in the future.