7 Takes to Snowplow Parenting

7 Takes to Snowplow Parenting March 22, 2019

Friday, there you are with your gray snow mixed with rain.
I just wasted an hour reading about snowplow parenting, a curious expression for me, seeing, as I do, the plows moving up and down the road all day long but never quite in the places I wish they would go.

To some degree, the plowing method of parenting seems like it would be exactly right. Push them along. Get them going. Come along. Get in the car. Get out of the car. Come on. Get going. I say things Iike that all day long. Which makes me feel more militaristic than snow removing.

The expression, though, seems to be about removing the debris of life out of the way of the child. You’re not pushing the child (that’s another kind of parenting) so much as sweeping them along in the wake of your force field. (Please don’t analyze all my science-y words here.) It is an instinct I totally identify with—I’ll just do it myself. “Here, let me,” hovers over my lips all day long. Indeed, I said it last night as a child was balancing precariously on a stool in front of the stove waving a pot and a can of hot chocolate mix in the air like a standard rallying the troops for war. I also said, “Get off the stool. That’s not how to do it.” Then I said, “We can’t do it yet because the kitchen’s not clean. Clean the kitchen first, then I will make the hot chocolate.” She was crestfallen. All she she wanted was a little warm cup of cocoa and here her mother was ruining everything by pointing to the vile mess of a whole day’s worth of dishes that nobody whose job it was bothered to do. I felt bad and washed a couple of pots. An hour later, in a clean kitchen, I made the hot chocolate. I also poured a little into my teacup and added a splash of whiskey, because, my goodness, watching a bunch of children badly clean a kitchen is so much the worst.

Seriously, you have to shove them along. They will never do it on their own. Never. What child, faced with a seriously unpleasant task, like a trashed kitchen, or a trashed bedroom, or a yard full of nerf bullets mixed with winter worn dog poop, or a year of math, or a boring thousand page novel, or sixteen baskets of laundry to fold, ever dances up and says, “Oh fun, I’ll get right on it!” You have to get behind, however gently, and shove. “Keep going!” You say over and over and over when they think maybe they will stop trying and have a lie down.

For me, the parenting task is about bringing the child along into a world where it is comfortable and ordinary to do difficult things. Every day, as a human person, I have to get out of bed one way or another. I ought to read the Bible. I ought to take some exercise. I need to eat food throughout the day. I must also clean the implements by which I consume that food. I must study and do work. There is also dirt on the floor, borne in by my miry shoes, so that I must pick up a broom and sweep the floor. My clothes, having had tomato sauce splattered all over, must be washed and folded and put away so that they can be stained again. And over all this I must also have relationships with other human people and do those myriad tasks that obligation and charity demand. All these various works should not be So Much The Worst. They should not be impossible for me to contemplate (though they often are). If I have done a good job as a mother, my children will be able to do all these works without falling to bits emotionally.

They might even, with a lot of patience, discover that they are enjoyable tasks, that they tether the ethereal spirit to the ground, that they mitigate against frustration and rage. The hot soapy water of a sink full of dishes is a fine way to bite back the frustration of failing a Latin quiz. Running up and down the stairs putting stacks of clean folded laundry away is a reasonable way to blow off the bitterness of not understanding a complicated math problem. Vigorously and angrily sweeping the kitchen is a good way to stop screaming and think for a minute about why you—or maybe I mean I—am so disappointed for no discernible reason. More so, coming to the end of a long day and sitting down at the kitchen counter to eat some delicious pickles and realize that all the effort and toil was not for nothing, and seeing, for true, that there are more chances to try again tomorrow, mitigates against despair.

So far, at least to some degree, I’m not failing. I often walk into the kitchen and find a large “child” sitting in front of a beautifully cooked egg on toast, reading a book, a cup of coffee or tea in the hand. When I ask what’s up, I am treated to litanys such as, “I woke up at 6 and finished my classics and made my bed and took a shower and in twenty minutes I will be in class.”

But then also, the child sitting next to that one I can see is wearing a three day old shirt and eating something that looks like pure sugar from an ugly gray plastic bowl. “What are you suppose to be doing?” I ask. “Um,” says the child, “I can’t remember.” So then we have to walk back through, together, All The Things that encompass a well-ordered work day.

The only way to push the plow is to mix a steadfast refusal to do for another what you know he can do for himself, with a showing how to do a task over and over and over again without rancor, with occasionally just doing it yourself because you can’t deal anymore and it is a better choice than yelling, and then finally standing back to see what the Holy Spirit is doing. If, at the end of the next decade, I have six adult people occasionally coming to visit me who aren’t starving to death and slovenly and who are functioning according to the quirks of their own natures, I will thank God that I survived. Beyond that, everything else is whiskey in the hot chocolate.

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