One of the Most Damaging Things a Parent Can Do to a Child

Thank you again for visiting and reading.  I appreciate it very much.

All across the South and, pretty soon, the entire United States, high school baseball season is about to start.  High school baseball was once a very big part of my life, and I still get onto the field by way of umpiring.  I just like being out there.  The start of this new season reminded me of the following essay that I wrote back in August of 2008.  It’s not exactly about baseball though.

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I make a pretty strong effort to avoid offending people when I write this column. Well, today that might end.  I’m risking that because I feel very strongly about what I’m writing about today.  Other than abuse or abandonment, I want to tell you what I think is the most damaging thing a parent can do to a child.  I have come to this conclusion after 24 years as a “school man” and over 30 years dealing with youth and high school sports.

First, let me tell you a story from my days as a high school baseball coach.  It’s something I’m quite proud of.  Good organizations often have hallmarks or ways of operating that are standard operating procedure and are consistently handed down year after year.  At the risk of sounding boastful, I believe that our baseball program was a pretty good organization and one hallmark that I am mighty proud of is that we never ever made excuses when we had a bad, losing day and we never ever blamed anyone or anything when we lost.  Never blamed the umpire, never blamed each other, never blamed the field or conditions in which we were playing, never made excuses for losing.

That was important because it caused us to be resilient; it gave us the ability to bounce back from what felt like bad or really bad days.  We never wallowed in pity or outrage or disgust.  We put tough things behind us and we moved on from them.  That attitude, that hallmark of our program, caused us to stay out of long losing streaks, and it helped us to be emotionally healthy, forward-looking people who were always ready to see the possibility in the next day and the next game.  You see, when a team lays blame off on other people and offers one excuse after another for not succeeding then they don’t have to win—because there’s always someone to blame for their losing.  We took personal responsibility for our winning or losing, our success or our failure, and for that I’ll always be proud of our little “organization” and of everyone who was a part of it.

So—back to my topic.  Other than abuse or abandonment, I want to tell you what I think is the most damaging thing parents can do to a child.  It is simply this:  laying blame on other people for their child’s shortcomings or mistakes and making one excuse after another in an effort to always exonerate the child from any fault.  I call it blame-shifting; it’s that thing that our baseball team never did.  When a child learns that anything that he or she ever does wrong will always become the fault of someone else, that child is given free reign to behave badly, to make bad grades, to be inconsiderate of others, to be irresponsible—you can make your own additions to this list.

I’ve seen this.  I’ve seen it a lot, and the result of it has never been good.  I’ve seen kids fail in school, and as they were failing constantly blaming teachers, the principal, the school district, whomever.  I have seen students and former students go to jail—all the while finding someone else to blame as they went there.  I’ve seen kids turn into bitter adults because they always believed everyone was against them.  I’ve seen students who got out of school and floundered in adult life not being able to stick to a decent job and oftentimes found themselves in financial struggles.  Remember, when you’ve been taught that there’s always someone else to blame for your life’s difficulties you rarely ever take the initiative to do something about those difficulties:  you just continue to wallow in them and, of course, continue to find someone to blame for them.

I wrote about my mother and father recently, and I told you that they always supported us, but supporting a child includes rearing that child to live up to responsibility.  When we did wrong, they corrected us, and it was made clear that it was our duty to make amends to those that we had wronged.

Lots of us down here in the South have seen just about every Andy Griffith Show episode there’s ever been.  Do you remember that early (1962) episode with Bill Bixby?  It was all about what I’m talking about here today.  It’s a great episode.

And finally, another quick story from my past.  Very early on when I became a young high school coach, I became a baseball disciple of a certain baseball coach from Oklahoma State University.  I even drove out to Stillwater, Oklahoma once to learn from him.  I was enthralled and fascinated with his way of teaching hitting, but the first thing that I ever heard him tell a bunch of kids was something like this:  “Before we get started here today talking about baseball and hitting, I want you to understand and learn the first thing that we learn here in our program.  It’s a motto or hallmark that’s posted in our locker room and something we often wear across our backs on t-shirts, and it has to do with being good people and responsible people.  It goes like this:  ‘I take personal responsibility for who I am and what I shall become.  I will offer no alibis or excuses, and I will expect no pity or sympathy.’”

Words of an old baseball coach.  Words for parents to consider while rearing their children to be emotionally healthy, forward-looking people who are always ready to see the possibility in the next day.

7 thoughts on “One of the Most Damaging Things a Parent Can Do to a Child

  1. Great essay and so true. If you missed the 60 Minutes story on the assistant coach at Chardon High School that chased a student gunman from the school last night, you should watch it.

  2. Thank you Tony for broaching the subject of copping out on owning one’s mistakes.
    The method you employed is the only way to success and it’s the only way to personal growth and character. Bravo!

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