Doing The ‘Right’ Thing is Hard, Even for Moms

June 5, 2012 at 7:07 am (Positive Discipline)

Elia: (crying) Someone ate the rest of my candy that I had in my room that I was saving!

Me: Oh, I’m so sorry! You were looking forward to eating the rest of it and now it’s gone.

JJ: I don’t know who did it…maybe the rats?

Me: What makes you say that?

JJ: (shrugs) I know they like to eat stuff.

Me: Well, the rats are in their cages, Dad’s not home, and I didn’t eat it. JJ, I know you really like this candy. You pointed it out at the store the other day and told me how good it is, which made me think you’d had some recently. Did you go into Elia’s room and eat her candy when she wasn’t there?

JJ: No.

Me: Well, Elia is very sad and I’m going to help her feel better before she goes to bed. We’ll all figure out a solution in the morning after we’ve slept.

–next day–

Me: I’m not mad about the candy; It can be easily replaced, no problem. I think it’s much more important to be honest about what happened and do what we can to fix this mistake. Elia, are you mad about the candy?

Elia: I’m sad about the candy, and I’m more mad about someone not being honest about it!

JJ: I didn’t take it.

Me: Hm…I have a feeling that’s not quite what happened. I just think it’s important to be honest and do the right thing.


JJ: Actually…Idideatthecandybutitwasamistake! I just didn’t know what I was doing and…it was a mistake and…I’m– I’m sorry!

Me: Oh, OK, thanks for telling us. So what should we do to make this right again?

JJ: Oh! I know right where they are at the store! We can just go there and buy her a new one!

Me: Sounds like a plan. And we can go right now. Only one suggestion: I think you should be the one to buy it since you ate it. Does that makes sense to you?

JJ: Fiiiiine.

So JJ bought a replacement candy for Elia and had only 11 cents left over…not enough to buy anything for himself. This was very upsetting for him, and honestly, it was hard for me to deal with. It had taken a lot for him to admit he made a mistake that had caused Elia so much upset. To me, that was a huge success. I wanted to see things work out for him right then.

Instead, he screamed and carried on about how “ELIA gets candy and now I don’t have enough money to get ANY!” It seemed like the hardest thing in the world for a 5 year old…to summon all of your humility (and money) to right a wrong, and then watch your sister eat candy right in front of you and not share because you’d already eaten your share uninvited in her room the other day. I tried to offer some comfort and reassurance that he did the right thing, but he was too mad right then.

It was hard to rationalize the consequences of his mistake without shaming him. Without saying something like, “Well, you did this, you know. If you hadn’t eaten the candy, you wouldn’t be spending your money on a replacement and you’d have enough to buy something for yourself. So it’s your own fault.” I didn’t want to do that.

What I really wanted to do was just leave the store without making any more of a scene and without having to carry anyone out because he was having a fit and refused to leave the candy aisle.

And so it was that I “happened” to find a quarter in my pocket, for which JJ traded me his 11 cents. “Surprisingly” and “luckily,” then he was then able to afford a gum ball from the machine.

Oh my, was that a Positive Discipline faux pas? Rescuing? Enabling? Rewarding? I felt all of those guilt trips coming on in my head, and in that moment, I didn’t really care. It would have been a hard, hard day that day. And quite simply, I didn’t want a hard, hard day. Usually I am willing to tough them out for the sake of natural consequences, but not then. Not that day.

So I guess I rescued JJ form the ever-important natural consequences of his mistake. Up until then I had been feeling proud of appreciating and working with JJ’s honesty instead of punishing him for it. But now I didn’t feel proud of how the situation had changed…because of that silly gum. And I told him that on the way out of the store.

Me: You know, it’s nice everyone feels happy again, but I wish I hadn’t given you money for that gum.

JJ: Why?

Me: Because this is the kind of stuff you need to buy with your own money; your allowance. That’s how it is every time, and by helping you out like this, I’m sending the message that, “Mom will buy something for you even if you don’t have money.” [Or that you’ll get a reward for doing something you should have done anyway.]

JJ: But I didn’t have enough for anything after I bought Elia that candy!

Me: Yes, and that’s how it should have stayed. I am sorry you only had 11 cents left over, that was disappointing to realize you didn’t have enough for anything for yourself. It was even very disappointing for me, too! I wanted to see you enjoy a piece of candy with Elia. But that’s just how it worked out and that’s how it should have stayed until allowance day when we could have come back for your turn to buy for yourself.

JJ: Oh…Thank you, mom.

So my intent was to teach JJ about being honest, doing the right thing and fixing your mistakes. But it was both of us who learned important lessons about how hard it sometimes is to do the right thing in each of our roles. It’s either hard to know what to do, hard to actually do it, or both. I do think with so many nuances in life and kids and parenting,”right” is subjective. Maybe there was nothing “wrong” with how I handled the fallout from that day’s natural consequences…but things could have gone differently. It’s a good thing we have lots of opportunities to practice this stuff, right? And talk about it? I’m thankful that throughout this parenting journey, my kids and I grow stronger together.

Elia: JJ, thank you for replacing my candy

JJ: You’re welcome. I’m sorry I ate it.

Elia: That’s OK.

Me: Thanks, Elia. And JJ, how do you feel?

JJ: Good! And I like my gum.

Of course, the gum.


  1. Lisa said,

    I don’t think it is so awful that you got him the gum. I mean, you want to encourage the being honest and the restitution… No, people don’t do that when you’re an adult, but he is not an adult, he’s a child. And he’s learning. You could say something like, “I am really impressed that you admitted what happened, and have bought your sister candy with your own money. I know how sad you are that you don’t have enough money to buy anything. I will help you buy a gumball, because I know how hard it is to admit you did something wrong and make amends.”

  2. abundantlifechildren said,

    You know, I really feel like in our effort to raise children with natural consequences, we sometimes undermine our efforts to model generosity, helpfulness, respect, and so on. I can completely empathize with your dilemma…but I want to offer this perspective. I think when we teach children through “natural consequences” or “logical consequences”, we *sometimes* communicate that offering or receiving help is conditional. Like I will only help you if you deserve it (cleaning up and putting shoes on are at the top of my personal list!). I once read a critique of parenting styles that rely on logical consequences that said something to the effect of…when you allow a child to suffer logical consequences, you teach them that we only help others when the conditions are right…when those ‘others’ have earned the right for help.” I can’t even presume to know what the *right* choice was for you in this gumball situation. I know the situation changes when it is a matter of your son making amends with his sister. At the same time, I think you can rest in the awareness that your son witnessed you model: 1. empathizing with someone in pain (the great pain and suffering of missing out on candy!), and 2. doing what you could to connect with that suffering and relieve it. Anyway, I applaud your careful and reflective read on the situation. Thank you for sharing with all of us! I know I would be processing the same ins and outs that you are now! 🙂

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