Belfast Telegraph

If you're going to be a snowplough parent, don't be surprised if your children turn out to be snowflakes

Felicity Huffman is at the extreme end of the latest parenting trend but, in truth, we are all at it, says Sarah Caden

Charged: Felicity Huffman
Charged: Felicity Huffman

When actress Felicity Huffman - still most widely known for her role in Desperate Housewives - was last month charged in relation to a college admissions bribery scandal, there weren't many who jumped to her defence.

Huffman's alleged crime was to pay $15,000 to ensure that her daughter was allowed extra time on her SAT test, which was then corrected by someone well-disposed to giving her a better score.

The lack of sympathy for the actress was based, to a great extent, on the fact that she has wealth and status and could use these to smoothe the path for her little girl.

Huffman allegedly paid big money because she has big money, so everyone hated her for it. She could pay mightily in other ways, too. If convicted, she potentially faces a five-year prison sentence. She has possibly also damaged her relationship with her daughter, who reportedly was innocent of Huffman's alleged efforts.

It is true that part of being a parent is a desire to protect our progeny. An extreme level of protection is the alleged buying of a college place, but the degree to which parents are now knocking obstacles out of our offsprings' paths is quite the modern phenomenon.

"Snowplough parenting", as it is known, is not to be confused with the "helicopter parenting" of previous decades. After all, the helicopter style, which features constant hovering, interfering and micro-managing, is what gave us the snowflakes - and no one wants a repeat of that.

No, snowploughing seems to be a more subtle approach. Like helicoptering, it attempts to remove all nasty pressures from our young, but without their knowledge that it's occurring. So, we snowplough, getting subtly ahead of them at every step, hurtling the obstacles away before they know they exist, giving them the sense that their life occurs on a smooth, forward, always-advancing trajectory.

So, you're snowploughing if you're ringing the school to complain that the homework doesn't suit your child's skillset. You're snowploughing if you're phoning the football coach to insist that they get a place in the team, regardless of merit.

And you are seriously snowploughing if you're contacting anyone in their university, especially if it's to say that the princess finds the mattresses in halls too lumpy.

Then there are the tiny moves - less easily recognised than the big gestures. One feature that sums up the small gestures is making mini-mes of our children.

We are grooming them, with social media as a massive tool for this, into training for adulthood during their childhood.

The most visibly obvious effect of this is the way many of us now dress our children. We don't dress them as children used to be dressed, which was functionally, in hand-me-downs. Instead, many parents now dress their kids by the same standards as they dress themselves.

Kim Kardashian's daughter, North West, is an extreme example, but there's no need to look that far for a demonstration.

From birth, we want our children to be cool and stylish and regarded as possessing good taste. Initially, it's taste that we impose on them, because we buy the clothes.

But, with luck, it takes and they are then stylish beings from the get-go and then, phew, bypass any of those awkward stages and phases that besmirched our own pasts.

But before we are too hard on ourselves for snowploughing, we need to grasp where we parents are coming from. Many of us reach parenthood a good decade later than our parents did and this surely plays a part.

Today's parents, who have babies in their mid to late-30s, come to their 40s as their children are at primary- and secondary-school age.

As the parents reach the decades where they stop worrying so much about what other people think, they see the world bearing down with all its harsh realities on their kids.

And all the parents can think is how much better it would be if the kids could dodge all the difficult decades and just get straight to the good stuff.

We know, too, that it's going to be more difficult for our children to get to the good stuff. In the case of Felicity Huffman, she allegedly seemed to feel that in the face of massive well-publicised competition for a limited number of college places, she needed to buy an advantage. The average parent hears constantly that our children may never own a home and almost definitely will never have a permanent and pensionable job. They may never possess the pillars of security that mean so much to us and to our parents before us and that bothers us.

They're too young to know that a good education, accomplishments and a well-rounded collection of interests will support them in later life, so we need to slot those things in place for them. They'll thank us later. Or maybe not, if they never find out.

The motivation to snowplough is sincere, but the result may just be a variation of the snowflakes about whom today's generation of parents are so scathing.

And if anyone expects that they'll thank us for these efforts, then we should think again.

The parents will get the blame, rather than the gratitude.

That's the only pattern that remains constant.

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