Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you. Fulghum
I seem to have trouble keeping up with my own culture and social milieu. Just when I’d become comfortable and conversant with what “helicopter parents” are, I bumped up against the newest term “snowplow parents.” For my compatriots in the socially illiterate category, a “snowplow parent” is one who bulldozes life’s problems and challenges out of their offsprings’ path. Such parents fear that any form of discomfort or failure visited upon their progeny as their children lollygag their way through life will damage them permanently. “Get out of my kid’s way, world!” is the battle cry of these misguided parents.
Which leads me to this week’s message and the title of this piece. The “Payton” in our title is our California-based granddaughter. We are currently in NoCal for the event, and it has been a treat to spend a few days with her. Her name has great relevance to the theme of this newsletter. She is named after the former NFL star, Walter Payton. Her parents met and lived in Chicago until their marriage and, aside from their liking the name, paid homage to their former residence and Chicago’s favorite athletic son.
Back to granddaughter, Payton, and her name. Like all well -cared for two-year olds, she is bright, inquisitive, and full of life. The notion of self-esteem is a foreign concept to her, thankfully. There is no filter of emotions for her, either positive or negative. She laughs gleefully and without a hint of self-consciousness and reflects unhappiness or frustration with the same unmanaged emotion. At the tender age of two, no snowplowing is needed nor sought.
So where does the aforementioned concept of snowplowing come from? How did it get started? It is, sadly, a remnant of the “self-esteem movement that dominated the second half of the 20th Century and continues its domain into the first 20 years of the current millennia. So every kid gets a trophy, school grades continue to inflate, and the children of Hollywood royalty earn tennis team admissions without ever stroking a backhand.
The psychologist and developmental theoretician, Dr. Martin Seligman, suggests an antidote to this epidemic of parental enmeshment. His solution is a simple one: allow children to experience the pain of failure and, by extension, the joy of accomplishment. Insulating kids from both of these experiences makes them vulnerable to life’s pitfalls when those painful, but instructive, experiences inevitably present themselves.
So, while we enjoy our time with little Payton, I dread the day when, as she grows, the world will chip away at her natural feeling of spontaneous joy and happiness. I know that it is coming, and I can’t stop it. But I can, along with her wise parents and other members of her loving gene pool, heed Martin Seligman’s prudent counsel.
Payton’s namesake, Walter Payton, was revered in part because he never ran out of bounds as a ball carrier. He took the hit from the defender in order to gain the extra yard. Walter was the definition of a strong work ethic. He, if you will, plowed his own snow and he was better for it.
Those who love and cherish our little Payton will wisely leave snowplowing to the Department of Public Works, and our helicopter will be positioned very high in the sky and largely out of sight. We will all be watching with satisfaction as she plows her own way through the coming years.
Behind every child who believes in her/himself is a parent who believed in her/him first.