Lawnmower Parents and Snowflake Spirituality

lawnmower parents

There’s a new parenting category. You’ve heard of helicopter parents, free-range parents, tiger parents…now there’s “lawnmower parents.” What does a lawnmower parent do? They “mow down all of a child’s challenges, discomforts and struggles.”

The idea has taken hold due to a viral post from an online community for teachers that said, among other things: “In raising children who have experienced minimal struggle, we are not creating a happier generation of kids. We are creating a generation that has no idea what to do when they actually encounter struggle.”

The teacher author shared a story of “being called to the office, expecting to retrieve a student’s forgotten meal money or inhaler. Instead, a sheepish parent in a suit was dropping off an expensive water bottle after repeated texts from a child. Water fountains exist all over the school.”

This was actually tame.

Here are some of the “lawnmower” stories that came in as a result of the post:

  • The parent of a high school student who asked a teacher to walk their student to class to assure that the student would not be late.
  • A parent who requested someone from the cafeteria blow on their child’s too-hot lunch to cool it down.
  • A parent who called to schedule a make-up test when the student was clearly old enough to request a time.

To be clear, this is not about a parent’s willingness to help a child succeed. “The problem,” notes Hannah Hudson, Editorial Director for WeAreTeachers.com, “comes from a parent’s repeated efforts to eliminate any and all struggle so that children are ill-equipped when they grow up and life inevitably goes sideways.”

I’ve noticed that, whether as a result of lawnmower parenting or not, there’s also a growing trend among younger Christ followers in regard to handling adversity. In short, many are spiritual snowflakes.

For example, I recently read of a Christian couple who actually considered becoming atheists because they had difficulty conceiving a child. They did conceive, mind you, but because they had difficulty, they began to doubt the existence of a loving God. I’m not diminishing the emotional heartache of not being able to conceive. I am suggesting that elevating such things to the level of spiritual crisis, leading to the rejection of faith altogether, reveals a very weak and shallow faith. A faith that had never been exposed to real challenge or, at the very least, never been discipled for a life of challenge.

This is deeper than the “health and wealth gospel” that is no gospel at all, being proclaimed in four out of every 10 evangelical churches. This is broader and more insidious. It’s the belief that we are entitled to a life free of difficulty and challenge, and when difficulty and challenge come our way we shake our fist at God in either doubt or condemnation. Or we simply collapse emotionally and spiritually and wallow in self-pity, elevating our issue to the level of Jeremiah’s lament or Christ’s passion. There’s no spiritual toughness, no spiritual backbone.

In his most recent book, Malcolm Gladwell explores several ideas, but his central exploration is how it is weakness that often makes us strong. Or, more to the point, strength comes from overcoming weakness. I was particularly drawn to the second part of the book, “The Theory of Desirable Difficulty.” There he tells the story of David Boies, who credits his dyslexia for forcing him to compensate by developing skills of observation and memory. Gladwell asks: “You wouldn’t wish dyslexia on your child. Or would you?”

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James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book is What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary (Baker). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

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