A new survey for the New York Times has revealed a full 11 percent of parents would go full snowplow and contact an adult child’s employer if he or she had an issue at work. Think about that conversation for a second. Let it sink in.
“Hello, Mr. Andrew Burmon? Editor-in-Chief of Fatherly.com? This is Patrick Coleman’s mom. Apparently, you’re making him write too many depressing opinion stories and it’s making him stressed and sad. So I’m calling to ask that he only be given assignments related to being licked in the face by puppies.”
That’s what it would sound like if my mother called my boss on my behalf. And it would be followed by a moment of stunned silence and minutes of uproarious laughter. And rightly so, because it’s a ridiculous notion. But it’s not as ridiculous as some of the other insights from the Times survey. Not by a long shot.
Of a nationally representative 1,138 parents of children between the ages of 18 and 28, 16 percent of parents have committed straight-up fraud by helping their adult child write all or part of a job or internship application. Another 15 percent called or texted to make sure their kid didn’t sleep through a class. All of this suggests that so-called snowplow parents like the alleged college admission scammers Felicity Huffman and Lori Laughlin have plenty of company on the road of life. And that’s incredibly, undeniably sad.
The college admission scandal shed light on a small subset of super-rich parents willing to break the law to get their kids an edge. As infuriating as that news was, at least the behavior was confined to a few parents whose souls had already probably been eaten away by money, fame, and a desire for status.
But the Times survey suggests that the problem is far more wide-spread than we could have imagined. And as much as I relish the imaginary hilarity of my mother calling up my boss on my behalf, I’m chilled to the core by the thought of literally millions of parents coddling their adult children to such an extreme. The trend doesn’t bode well for any of us — kids and parents alike.
Here’s a story: At the age of 16, I scored a drivers license and drove to a Southern Colorado hash house chain called Starvin’ Arvins to apply for a job as a busboy. They handed me the one-page application and I filled it out, by myself, in an empty booth. It wasn’t difficult. Neither was the interview with the gruff dude with a crew cut who asked if I’d be responsible. I didn’t need my mom there. She would not have come even if I had asked.
Thirty years later, the experience of cleaning syrup off tables at Starvin’ Arvins remains the foundational experience which built my work ethic. The career path between busboy and columnist might seem twisted but one continues to inform the other. I stuck my hands in so much filth that writing about the Huffmans and Loughlins of the world is pretty tame by comparison.
And I would not have that understanding if my parents were always stepping in to make sure I succeeded and thrived. Because the fact is there were times when I didn’t. I failed at trying to go to The American Academy of Dramatic Arts out of high school. Later in life, I failed at becoming a nurse. I was homeless for a short period. I was laid off by a vacuum company.
Through it all I knew my parents were there for support. I could call them and cry. They might even kick down a loan. But they didn’t keep me from failing and I’m a better man, father, and employee because of that experience.
But as much as I’d like to feel superior to those kids being coddled, in the end, I just pity them. A life without struggle and failure is not really a life. And 16 percent of parents are dooming their kids to figuring that out way too late.