Like many moms these days, I could probably be a lot less involved in my kids’ friendships. Have you heard of lawnmower parenting (aka snowplow parenting)? They’re like helicopter parents, except instead of hovering and micromanaging, they get out in front of their kids and attempt to clear any obstacles from their path that could cause them pain or difficulty.
Of course, this eliminates opportunities for kids to grow and figure things out on their own, but it's a fairly regular occurrence these days. And I have to admit this was me not too long ago.
But I only wanted to help.
Last year, my fourth grade daughter, Sadie, was coming home every day from school sad. She said she felt like she didn’t have any friends. Yes, she had people to talk to and people she could sit with at lunch, but no one who looked for her. She said she was no one’s favorite. Oof, that hit me in the feels.
So, I revved up my lawnmower parenting and got to work. I asked Sadie to give me the name of someone in her class who seemed like a potential friend. She chose a girl named Bella, so I got Bella's mom’s digits from the class roster and sent her a text. No response.
I texted again. And again. And just when I'd lost hope, a message came back. She said okay—woo!—and suggested we all go to a pumpkin patch after school. Wait. Why did we all have to go? I let go of the thought. Oh well, pumpkin patch it is!
While browsing pumpkins, Bella's mom let me know that she's very protective and rarely lets her daughter have a playdate unless she knows the other parents. She told me Bella mostly spends time with family and goes to church. I knew right away that this was the start of a test.
I was on my best lawnmower parent behavior to help get my daughter a new friend.
During my probationary period, we watched the girls play on the school playground, we met at Baskin-Robbins, and we knocked around Target. I paid my dues. And then finally after a few weeks, Bella was allowed to come to our house after school for an entire afternoon. I practically high-fived myself!
I imagined the possibilities. They could make butter slime or glitter slime. Whatever. They were practically BFFs! I’m not sure who was more excited!
The mom texted a lot of instructions as the day approached. She wrote: Please have her call me to check in and not too many snacks, no matter how much she begs. And please don’t let them watch videos the whole time. I texted back, Don’t worry!
In the car on the way home, I felt myself go into try-hard mode, channeling the mom from Mean Girls. “Soooo what’s the 411? Gimme all the hot gossip!” And despite seeing Sadie rolling her eyes at me in the rearview mirror, I continued when we got home: “Girls, let me know if you need anything. Don't be shy, OK? There are NO rules in the house. I'm not like a *regular* mom. I'm a *cool* mom.”
I needed to reel it in, so I busied myself on Facebook while the girls went into Sadie’s room to be bored together or whatever else fourth grade girls do.
It was all going fine—until it wasn't.
I was pretty good with my lawnmower parenting, popping in only once early on so Bella could give her mom a call. Then about 45 minutes later, I stuck my head in one more time, and holy hell, stuff had gone sideways.
They were lying on the floor, watching YouTube videos, surrounded by a sea of Fruit by the Foot wrappers and a giant, nearly-empty bag of Takis. I don't know if you know Takis, but they are crimson-colored atomic spicy chips that were probably developed at the Pentagon. They are weirdly addictive, dye your fingers as you eat them, and loved by kids for some reason.
This was not good. Sadie doesn't even really like Takis, so I knew Bella had likely consumed more than a pound all on her own. I needed to be responsible and cut them off. So in my most serious mom voice I said, “Hey, who needs some Crystal Light to wash all that down?”
I mean, what’s a cool mom to do?
When Bella’s mom came to pick her up, I sent her on her way, not mentioning her belly full of snacks. I prayed she wouldn’t rat me out to her mom. But late that night I got a text.
Did Bella eat something red at your house? I texted back, Oh, yeah, Takis. Then I added a cry-laughing emoji, as if to say, Hey, what are you gonna do? Kids, am I right? They love snacks!
She texted back: Bella’s been throwing up for hours, and it’s red. We need to take her to urgent care. There was no emoji.
I texted back: Oh my God. I’m so sorry.
And then the friendship was over—and so was my lawnmower parenting.
Bella didn’t come to school the next day, and I texted to check on her but again got no response.
The following day she was back, and when I saw her mom at pickup, I apologized again and asked how Bella was feeling. “She’s fine now, but the doctor told us Takis are very bad for kids. Bella’s dad says no more playdates at your house.”
After that, we tried to get the girls together a little here and there, in public spaces where Bella's mom could keep an eye on me, but the momentum was gone. Then at the end of the year, they moved anyway. I really hope it wasn’t snack related.
Sadie is still on the market for a BFF, though I have a sneaking suspicious that after reading this, no one's going to send their kids home with my anytime soon.
On the upside, I feel like I learned a valuable lesson, and my lawnmower and snowplow have been put away. I prefer to think of myself as more of a Zamboni parent now: I know they’re going to slip and fall; I’m just trying to make it a slightly smoother ride.