What’s Driving Our Lawnmower Parenting?

Everything in me wants to email the teacher in charge of National Honor Society (NHS) at my son’s high school.

Each student in NHS is required to perform twenty hours of school-specified volunteer work to stay eligible as a member. However, with my son’s athletic schedule and his recent shoulder surgery that kept him out of school for two weeks, getting volunteer hours has been challenging. I keep thinking that if only the teacher knew his story maybe she would exempt him from the few hours he lacks. Otherwise, he needs to quickly complete them before the deadline, or he will get kicked out.

That is why every afternoon when my son gets home, I ask him if he talked to the teacher and/or signed up for one of the last volunteer opportunities. And every afternoon he tells me he forgot (more likely it just isn’t a priority for him). I sound like a broken record even to myself.

Surely if you are a parent you understand. But I’m convinced giving gentle reminders without coming across as a nag is a fine art and I have yet to master it. Therefore, I rationalize it would be easier for me to just call the teacher and then I won’t have to keep nagging him. And, we can scratch it off our list.

At the same time, I know this shouldn’t even by on my list! If it is his responsibility, why am I so invested? It could be argued I am only trying to help, and my intentions are well-meaning. While certainly I feel this, I know there is more to it.

If we’re honest, so often our desire as parents to rush in to take care of it or just plain mow over all adversity before it ever hits our child is rooted in control. As evident in this situation with my son, I falsely think if I’m in control I can keep him from getting kicked out, which will keep NHS on his resume another year. This of course looks good for college admissions. But is stepping in really what our children need from us?

Deluded by our idol of control and obsessed with protecting our kids from struggles (especially failure), parents are blind to how we are actually failing them. At the extreme we see this with the recent “Operation Varsity Blues” college admission scandal. Through bribery parents secured their children’s admission into certain colleges, preventing those kids from experiencing rejection or disappointment. But we operate out of the same desire when we demand teachers make special accommodations for our kids by allowing them to turn in late work or re-do work.

It’s not just with school though. I find myself picking up my kids’ slack when they fail to do their chores instead of leaving them undone and imposing consequences. Parents also jump in if our child is mistreated instead of coaching him/her on how to navigate through it. We speak for them at doctor’s appointments and fill out applications, and I’ve even read about parents accompanying kids on job interviews.

In seeking to prevent hardship, discomfort, negative consequences and adversity, we worship another pervasive idol: comfort. Comfort (both theirs and ours) seems to supersede all else. I understand not wanting to rock the boat at home. Believe me I know when a teenager experiences hard stuff, or is mad at us, it is not fun! But quite frankly, our discomfort with things not being okay leads us to fix and appease rather than suffer alongside. Our children need to learn how to endure when things aren’t okay because that is real life in this broken world.

By hedging them from falling or failure, we impede their path to independence. Studies show college students and young adults are ill-prepared for “adulting.” Their inability to handle adversity and navigate life in general only serves to fuel the widespread epidemic of anxiety among young people. Colleges can’t even keep up with the growing demand for mental health counselors. More young adults than ever before are moving back home after college.

I believe the problem starts with parents. We need to deal honestly with our own motives and false gods. We need see how fear, desire for control, and comfort drive our attempts to be our kids’ savior and we need to repent of our own self-sufficiency. Yes, our kids need to be independent from us, but not independent from their need for Jesus. The best way I know to help instill dependency on Him in our kids is to realize and admit that we as parents are weak and needy. We need Jesus to be strong for us, for in our weakness His power is made perfect (2 Corinthians 12:9). He is the One we want to point our kids to as our Rescuer and theirs, but Jesus is our Rescuer from sin, death and the devil, not all hardship. It is in the hardship that we and they learn more about what it looks like to live dependent on a Savior.

By God’s grace I haven’t called the NHS teacher. And by God’s grace I’m in process of figuring out how to encourage and empower my son to take care of his responsibilities. I am also learning for myself what it looks like to live dependently on Jesus, to trust Him with my kids. If my son doesn’t complete his NHS hours and doesn’t get to list it on his resume next school year, life will go on. He may even come out ahead by learning from the consequences.

If not, there is always more opportunity, as long as I don’t mow over it first.


Kristen Hatton holds a master’s in counseling and works primarily with teen girls, parents and families. She is the author of Parenting AheadThe Gospel-Centered Life in Exodus for StudentsFace Time: Your Identity in a Selfie World, and Get Your Story Straight. Kristen and her pastor husband reside in Dallas, Texas and are the parents of three young adults and a son-in-law. Learn more by visiting her website at www.kristenhatton.com.

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