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Ted Cruz says he was trying to be a 'good dad' with Cancún trip. Here's why experts say blame-shifting is a 'toxic habit.'

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Sen. Ted Cruz has apologized after fleeing Texas to take a trip to Cancún, Mexico, while many people in his home state struggled to stay warm after a historic winter storm knocked out power and utilities for days. Cruz initially said he was just trying to be a “good dad” to his daughters in making the trip.

“With school canceled for the week, our girls asked to take a trip with friends,” Cruz said in a statement after photos of him with his family headed for Cancún circulated on social media. “Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon.”

A source later told NBC News that Cruz’s original return flight was planned for Saturday. Cruz later told reporters that it “certainly” was not his intention to diminish “the suffering and hardship other Texans had experienced,” before talking about what needs to be done to fix the issues Texans are currently facing.

In this image from video, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, walks to check in for his flight back to the U.S., at Cancun International Airport in Cancun, Mexico, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Dan Christian Rojas)
Sen. Ted Cruz walks through Cancún International Airport to check in for his flight back to the U.S. on Thursday. (Dan Christian Rojas/AP)

“It was obviously a mistake. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have done it. I was trying to be a dad,” he said. “When you’ve got two girls who’ve been cold for two days and haven’t had heat or power and they’re saying, ‘Hey look, we don’t have school. Why don’t we go … let’s get out of here.’ I think there are a lot of parents that would be, like, ‘If I can do this, great!’ That’s what I wanted to do.”

But, Cruz said, “from the moment I sat on the plane, I began second-guessing that decision. … I’ve also got responsibilities.” Cruz said he planned to “work remotely” and “be engaged.” But, he said, he realized that “I needed to be here and that’s why I came back.”

A group text thread from Cruz’s wife, Heidi, that was obtained by the New York Times showed that the trip was floated to friends, as well. Heidi wrote in texts to friends that their house was “FREEZING” before plugging the Ritz-Carlton Cancún resort’s $309 a night fee and high levels of security. “Anyone can or want to leave for the week?” she wrote.

Cruz has been under fire on social media since the photos of his trip surfaced, with people particularly calling him out for seemingly blaming his daughters.

Cruz is hardly the first person to shift blame to his children for a poor decision, but he might be the most famous one yet. This kind of behavior is “very harmful,” clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, author of Don’t You Know Who I Am?: How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility, tells Yahoo Life.

“Children are developing, and there can be an internalization of blame and attributions about the self that aren’t true,” she says. “It can also foster guilt in the children, who may feel responsible for any fallout for the lie — and the guilt can drive anxiety.”

Blame-shifting can also affect a child’s self-image, Autumn Kujawa, an assistant professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University, tells Yahoo Life. “If parents often blame children for their own mistakes, children may begin to internalize this and view themselves more negatively,” she says.

Children who are blamed for the actions of their parents may even start doing this to others. “They are learning that blaming other people is normal behavior and are more likely to do this as they go through adolescence and adulthood,” Durvasula says. “It fosters blame-shifting and entitlement as normal, and the perception that deceit is normal.”

Children can also feel “used” by their parents, Dr. Gail Saltz, an associate professor of psychiatry at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medicine and host of the How Can I Help? podcast from iHeartRadio, tells Yahoo Life. “The blaming is a form of scapegoating,” she says. “This undermines any child’s feeling they are loved for who they are, but rather professes they are loved for the purpose they serve, blame-holder.” And, Saltz says, if the blame is a lie, “it is also gaslighting the child.”

Children may also see blaming others as a way to evade consequences in the future. “Children learn by example, and these children not only learn to lie and deflect and not take responsibility, it also fosters an entitlement and a sense that the rules do not apply to them since they didn’t apply to their parents,” Durvasula says.

“It’s also important to note what children are not learning in these situations, which is how to take responsibility for our actions and repair damage done when we make mistakes,” Kujawa says.

Overall, Durvasula says, “blame-shifting is a very bad and toxic habit.”

Parents may do this for a range of reasons, including “narcissism, laziness, entitlement, irresponsibility — but mostly because it’s what they do,” Durvasula says. It’s often likely that parents who blame their children will also blame co-workers, partners and other people in general when things go wrong, she says. “They are incapable of taking responsibility and are concerned with maintaining a false public image — whether big or small public image — and would tell falsehoods to maintain that public image.”

It can also just be hard for some people to admit when they’re wrong and to take responsibility, Kujawa says, adding, “They may also lack some of the skills needed to respond effectively and try to correct the situation.”

If blame-shifting happens once, it “can be a wound” for a child, Durvasula says. But, she says, if it’s repeated, it’s “much more of an issue — and much more likely that a child will go on to do this to others as they grow up.”

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