The highlight of my Little League career was a two-hitter I threw against the Knights of Columbus, the class of our league in Sharon, Pennsylvania. My team was sponsored by the International Union of Electrical Workers, IUE AFL-CIO Local 617.
I was a pitcher and sometime right fielder, but the coach tended to bench me when I was not pitching because I was an indifferent hitter and a little afraid of balls I wasn’t throwing. I tried out for the league at ages 9 and 10 and was cut twice.
I can still remember being the last person let go at age 10, from the Knights of Columbus, as it happened. The coach took me into the outfield and encouraged me to try again next year. I felt sorry for him at the time; it would have been a difficult conversation to have with a young kid.
I finally made it when I was 11. If you are a parent with children in Little League today, you will understand how differently the whole thing works now. My parents never came to games. There were too many of us — eight children — to allow that kind of attention, and they figured that extracurricular stuff like that was our lookout anyway.
Mind you, I did not feel slighted. I don’t think they were neglectful. Parenting back then was a different ballgame. People have since developed greater expectations — they had done so even before so-called “helicopter parenting” became a national phenomenon.
For the time they lived in, my parents kept a pretty close eye on what we were doing. And although they were fairly strict by today’s standards, what surprises me as I look back is how much they intentionally let slide — including some forms of misbehavior.
I think they knew that if they made an issue of everything, they would have been punishing us constantly. They didn’t want to be coming down on us all the time. They disciplined us often enough that we knew what the rules were, but then left us some room to get used to following the rules on our own.
Of course, Mother and Dad might just have decided that it wasn’t worth going to our games because we weren’t very good. That was true enough in my case, but I think they might have shortchanged themselves.
My wife and I found that it was fun to play with our kids and watch them acting in their own affairs. I coached one daughter’s basketball team for a couple of years. I learned some useful things about her and a lot about her friends — not a bad thing for a parent.
The main point, after all, is to teach children to act independently— to show them in a controlled environment how to make their own decisions. But playing an active part in their childhood is also the happiest thing a parent will ever do.
There is a wide middle ground between smothering children for the sake of safety and leaving them to fend for themselves. I think my parents avoided the excesses of their own time and found a place somewhere within that broad territory; I think my wife and I did too. I hope more of today’s parents can avoid going too far with the idea of micromanaging their children’s lives.
John Garvey is president of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
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