Deciphering Parenting Metaphors: Animals and Machines

When I grew up, parents were referred to as...well...parents. But nowadays, it is hard to keep up with the trendy terms to describe people who raise children. First, there were helicopter parents then lawnmower parents and now the newest one is snowplow parents. I wonder what the next machine metaphor will be. Since land and air vehicles have been covered, maybe submarines? Turns out, there is already one of those, too.

Besides machines, there are animal or invertebrate parents. Do animals gather around and coin terms for their parents? If so, would they say, “You are really acting like a human parent right now.” Until we find out, here is a cheat sheet of the latest lingo.

Jellyfish Parent

A jellyfish parent is permissive and doesn’t create rules or expectations. They often give in to avoid confrontation and lack a backbone like a jellyfish.

How you know you’re acting like one: Your kid has been begging to eat his Halloween candy. Even though you know he can’t handle sugar, you let him have it. When he is running around the house, you realize that saying “no” would have been easier.

Tiger Parent
Tiger parents are strict and demanding. They prioritize academic and extracurricular success.

How you know you’re acting like one: Your favorite show is Dance Moms and you think the media has demonized the moms who are trying to help their children. 

Elephant Parent
Elephant parents focus on nurturing and encouraging. They’re protective and intervene at the first sign of danger.

How you know you’re acting like one: Not only did you have a video cam on your baby’s bassinet, but you also put it next to your bed. At the first whimper, you spring out of bed.

Helicopter Parent

A helicopter parent is one who hovers over their child’s every move and helps when needed. They tend to worry a lot about their child.

How you know you’re acting like one: You hover next to your child as she eats her hotdog that has been cut into so many pieces it resembles grains of sand on a beach instead of food.

Lawnmower Parent
Lawnmower parents are more aggressive. Like a lawnmower, the lawnmower parent mows away obstacles.

How you know you’re acting like one: When your kid calls, texts or sends a smoke signal to you that he forgot his lunch, you rush it over to the school faster than a FedEx delivery truck.

Snowplow Parent
The snowplow parent is more aggressive than a lawnmower parent since plowing requires more force than mowing. They are similar because they remove obstacles, but they also fix everything for their child.

How you know you’re acting like one: You deliver your child’s forgotten jacket, gloves, and hat to the school so that she can go outside for recess, even though you are fully aware that she wore shorts and short sleeves.

Bulldozer Parent
See definition for Snowplow. This one is for the warmer climate parents who were not happy with the lawnmower metaphor and wanted a more robust descriptor.

How you know you’re acting like one: Before your kid goes to the beach, not only do you pack sunscreen, towels, water, and snacks, you also apply the sunscreen to your 15 year old.

I’ll admit, I’ve probably exhibited symptoms of all these over the years. When you have three kids, you are going to resort to whatever works in the moment.

Instead of referring to parents as machines or animals, maybe we can just call them what they are: superheroes.


1 Review
Kathy Michael
Baker, LA

As a teacher, I have seen all kinds of parents. These are accurate descriptions of some I've met in 40+ years of education. My parents of my students with disabilities I have had to hold closer and let them know that their kids CAN do while I provide as many resources for them as I can possibly find. They need to trust in someone whose interest is also the best for their children.

July 2021

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24 Jun 2021

By Cheryl Maguire

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