Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Question of (Preschool) Ethics

Declan's recent birthday party presented me with two moral dilemmas. The first centered around the gift of a picture book. We already had a copy, but it was well-loved and well-worn, so we were all happy for the second copy. But when Amy opened it to read to Declan after the party, she found a very moving inscription... to the child who gave Declan the book: To "Pat," with love, Grandma and Grandpa.

Amy thought I should call the offending parent and innocently mention her "mistake," in the guise of wanting to return the treasured book. But I felt that any mention of her misstep would be extremely embarrassing. Matty agreed, and we kept the book.

The second dilemma was over the insane amount of toys Declan received. As you can imagine, in a house with 8 (10 for now) children, there are a lot of friggin' toys. So really, the last thing we need is another toy. Of course, Declan loves toys, and what else are you going to give a 4-year-old? Theater tickets?

After he opened them, I packed up Declan's presents and doled them out one at a time, so he wouldn't lose them all instantly to the general chaos of the house. Some of the presents, however, were remarkably similar to one another... and some of those same said presents had convenient gift receipts attached. Would it really be so horrible to return some of the presents and get Declan some shoes?

I hope I don't sound ungrateful. Declan truly loved all his presents, since almost all of them featured a pirate in some form or another. But even as we opened them, I couldn't help but take mental note of the tiny swords or gold doubloons or pirate hats, knowing that as soon as they came out of the box, they would most likely be lost in the void.

With preschoolers, moral dilemmas are made all the more difficult (or perhaps easier) by the fact that A) they have short memory spans, and B) they don't have a truly developed sense of morality yet.

I have the same quandaries about lying to the kids, even over ridiculous things (no, Declan, I'm certain you can't bring toy swords into the Renaissance Faire). I remember when Declan was just a baby and we were having brunch with another family. The father went out to the car to retrieve a few things and forgot to bring back his son's treasured bunny (or bear, or some other cuddly animal). When his son called him on it, Dad told him that Bunny was tired and just wanted to rest in the car. His son was momentarily placated.

I, however, was horrified. Why not just tell the kid you forgot? Tell him he can have it when they get back in the car? Why on earth lie to him?

But now I do it all the time, and I'm not really sure why. Sure, I could have just told Declan that I didn't want him to bring his toy swords (all 87 of them) to the Faire, since he'd likely lose a few and end up fighting with his brother and cousins over the ones they managed to hold on to.

Declan went through a phase recently where he would run up to tell me about every little transgression; this after I praised him for telling me the truth about a fight with Ronan.

"Ronan took my sword so I pinched him like this," and he would hold up his hand like a claw.

"Hilary wouldn't share the horse so I took it and threw it in the family room."

"Gretchen hit me so I took her baby away and gave it to Aaron."

The only problem was, Declan expected exoneration in exchange for his confessions. Once I explained that he would be punished for his crimes, regardless of whether I heard about it from him or the offending party, the admissions of guilt ceased.

Which I suppose is a lesson to be learned myself: Just because I am aware that what I am doing is wrong, doesn't make it any less wrong...

...no matter how badly I want him to leave the damn swords at home.

1 comment:

Laundry & Children said...

Here is how I justify the white lies I tell my kids. Kids are totally illogical beings. They have crazy mixed up arguments for why they should get to do one thing while using the exact opposite argument to defend why they shouldn't have to do something else. If I didn't know better, I would think they were out of their little heads. Therefore, it is alright to occasionally use "Kid Think" to get them to do what you want. We all know the bunny wasn't tired. It is an inanimate object. But to the kid, this makes perfect sense. Why should kids be the only ones allowed to use fuzzy thinking?