Momania Flashback: How do you handle ethical dilemmas in front of kids?

This is the third in a series of stories to celebrate the five-year anniversary of Momania. We are flashing back to some of our favorite columns and blogs. This June 3, 2007 column represented a lot of what we discuss on the blog – ethical dilemmas while rearing our kids. How do you handle things in front of your kids? There may be an easy way but is that the way you want to teach your kids?

Pop quiz, hotshot. You’ve just left Target with your purchases. You’ve locked your three kids in their car seats when you notice two boxes of breast pads that were overlooked by you and the cashier. They were not paid for. Your 6-year-old daughter also notices. What do you do? What do you do?

Do you unhook all three kids and slog back into the store to pay for the items? Do you leave the items in the shopping cart in the parking lot? Do you take the items home and return them on another shopping trip? Do you just take them home without paying?

Parents are faced with ethical dilemmas like this every day. One would hope that a parent’s answer would be the same whether her children witnessed the incident or not. I thought it would be fun to do a parenting pop quiz on how you would handle some ethical situations. Listed below are some real-life dilemmas that my friends or I have recently faced. I’ll tell you how we handled the situations at the end.

1. In the grocery store: A. Your child picks up and opens Tic Tacs. He doesn’t eat any but the seal has been broken. Do you buy them or discreetly return them to the shelf? B. Your child eats one Gummy Worm from the Brach’s by-the-pound candy display. Do you leave money for the one worm or don’t worry about compensating the store for it? C. Your children always want to eat bananas as soon as you put them in the cart. Do you tell the cashier some are missing or just pay for the bananas that remain?

2. At Sam’s Club, your child develops diarrhea and leaves runny poop all over the seat of the cart. Obviously, you have to evacuate as soon as possible, but do you take the time to alert a clerk so the cart can be disinfected? Do you try to clean the cart yourself?

3. Your child accidentally urinates by the side of the pool. The pavement is already wet and the pee blends in. Do you try to clean the spot on the pavement yourself? Do you alert the lifeguard?

4. The handyman starts making racist comments in front of your children. What do you say?

Although I admitted last week to occasionally cheating at board games and to attending an illegal sprinkler party, I am pretty doggone honest everywhere else in my life — whether my kids are witnesses or not.

Here’s how my friends or I dealt with the dilemmas above:

1. Tic Tacs: The seal was broken so I told my little guy we had to buy them. They turned out to be a nasty flavor. It was a good punishment that he had to eat them. Gummy Worms — The candy center is pay by the pound. I lectured my child like crazy, but I didn’t try to compensate for the one Gummy Worm. I couldn’t find a place to leave any coins. Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe you’re supposed to pay at the register? If it happens again, I would tell the cashier. Bananas — I weigh the bananas ahead of time so even if they eat some I can tell the cashier exactly the weight to charge us.

2. Diarrhea in the cart: This happened to a friend. She said she left the store as soon as possible. Out in the parking lot, she wiped everything down with a diaper wipe and then with anti-bacterial wipes.

3. Peeing near the pool: I have never had a child pee in the pool, but I have had a child pee about five feet away from one. I took the child to the shower to clean them off and then splashed a bunch of water away from the pool onto the spot of pee.

4. Racist comments: I said where my children could hear me, “That’s not funny” and walked out of the room.

And what about the breast pads? That was a lot more complicated. The baby needed to nurse, so I didn’t have time to unload all the children. I obviously didn’t want to leave the kids alone in the car.

There was no question I was going to return the breast pads, but I just had to figure out the fastest way to do it. First, I looked around for an employee of Target. No one was around. Then I drove up to the front of the store and looked for a clerk there. When I didn’t find an employee, I turned off the engine, locked the kids in the van and ran up to the door and lobbed the breast pads into the store. I could still see the car and the breast pads were in the store. Problem solved — although not gracefully.

What would you have done?

Monday’s Momania Flashback: When wife is ready to give birth, don’t stop for a shower – the harrowing story of our third child’s birth!

More Momania Flashbacks

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[...] Momania Flashback: How do you handle ethical dilemmas in front of kids?Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Listed below are some real-life dilemmas that my friends or I have recently faced. I'll tell you how we handled the situations at the end. 1. … [...]

[...] Momania Flashback: How do you handle ethical dilemmas in front of kids?Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)At Sam's Club, your child develops diarrhea and leaves runny poop all over the seat of the cart. Obviously, you have to evacuate as soon as possible, … [...]

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by AJCMOMania, ajcparenting. ajcparenting said: AJC's Momania blog: Momania Flashback: How do you handle ethical dilemmas in front of kids? [...]


October 24th, 2010
8:17 am

You MUST do the right thing, even when it is not convenient. Period. Even if your child doesn’t see it, GOD does, and that is even more important.

You take the pads back to the store, after unstrapping everyone. You buy the tic-tacs. You DON”T ALLOW the kids to eat a banana or anything else until you pay for it. You wipe down the cart AND notify the store (think about what you would want for your child to sit in). You rinse the pavement. And you ask the person making the comment, “Do you really think that?” and then walk away, telling your child that is NOT what you believe.

And you don’t keep filling up the kiddie pool when there is a ban on watering!

Your job is to bring them up in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord. That requires effort and some self-sacrifice, and teaching them the same.


October 24th, 2010
8:59 am

I will have to disagree with you catlady on eating banana’s in the store. It is the one thing that will allow me to get through the store without a screaming fit and I always tell the cashier and I let them chose if they are going to charge me or not. I always buy anything my little one opens or puts her mouth on. She is at the age where I give her a shopping list for her to get the items (I use pictures from ads and sales flyers) and sometimes she goes off the list, but I just feel it’s part of growing up. Teaching them right from wrong while they are doing something is the best way they can learn. Plus, when I have to purchase an item I do take the money from her piggy bank.

As for all the other issues brought up, you tell the store or lifeguard what has happend and allow them to chose if what you did was enough. I firmly believe that this is another way to show kids that parents make mistakes and show them how to correct them without fear of just “getting into trouble.”


October 24th, 2010
9:06 am

Obvious blog is obvious. Do the right thing.


October 24th, 2010
12:32 pm

or…use God to scare the crap out of kids. that really works, catlady. jeez… he is a loving God. not an entity we use to make kids behave the way we think they should behave. WOW!! i hope all you have is cats.

“God is watching you.” TERRIFYING FOR A KID!!!

mom of 3

October 24th, 2010
3:39 pm

God is watching you shouldn’t be terrifying for a kid. Not if the kid is in a religious environment at home that explains what God is really and truly about. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. What’s scary about that?
What about the shelf elf that watches your kid while they are sleeping during the holidays? It’s all in how you present things.


October 24th, 2010
6:17 pm

Once I had to make a quick grocery store run for some ingredients that I had just enough time to buy, run by the house to throw in the fridge and then get to school to pick up my daughter before we had to be somewhere else. I got to the car and realized that one of the non-refrigerated items had not been rung up and was sitting in my cart. I really needed that ingredient but wouldn’t have enough time to stop by the house to put things in the refrigerator if I took the time to return it, so I took it with me and returned a couple hours later, with my daughter to, to “purchase” the same ingredient and then hand it back to the clerk after I paid for it and explained that I’d accidently taken one earlier without paying was just trying to “even things up”. The clerk looked at me a little funny and my daughter (who was 6) seemed very confused no matter how many times I explained it (she kept getting hung up on the fact that I took the unpaid for item home in the first place and seemed to think I could go to jail at any moment!) but I felt alright about the way I handled it!


October 24th, 2010
7:56 pm

well, the shelf elf is creepy, too.


October 24th, 2010
8:51 pm

I have raised 3 kids, thank you.

On eating food from the store before purchasing: I certainly tried to never take them to the store starving (planning ahead). And the whining thing does not need to be reinforced. I have, however, made a quick trip through the checkout line BEFORE continuing to pay for something we need right away, if we got caught in immediate need (think: sanitary napkins, asprin).

And on the scaring kids with God, I was talking about God watching YOU (the adult). Reread the post for comprehension this time.

Way to go catlady...

October 25th, 2010
6:57 am

…I was just getting ready to lambast the posters on their failure to comprehend what you wrote when I got to your rebuttal – thanks for keeping it lively…


October 25th, 2010
7:55 am

Parents make time for what is important to them. If ethics and manners are important to you…THEN MAKE TIME FOR THEM.

The behavior in our world is going to ^&(( in a handbasket IMHO as everyone is out for themselves and too busy to consider how their actions reflect on their character. Sad, to me. People with no manners may think others (with manners ) are snobs and too buttoned up. People with manners may think others ( without manners ) are trash.

Go figure.

I want my children to have character and manners…simple as that.

Many schools have adopted CHARACTER COUNTS. Which is a great idea. Since some kids have no idea what character is.

TO ME, The families who do adhere to a faith and values system are ahead of the curve,as their children may have already been exposed to the idea that YES God is watching us. Kinda like teachers having eyes in the back of their head and just knowing who, what where.

God does love us all but is disappointed in the behavior of many…myself included…sometimes.

I love my kids…but they know they will disappoint me with certain behaviors. They know the consequences.


October 25th, 2010
8:52 am

yeah, catlady… good one!! woohoo! you really told me.

thanks. i’m such an uneducated buffoon who has no reading comprehension skills that i need a “cat lady” to tell me how to live my life.

how did i ever learn to read/survive without you?


October 25th, 2010
10:45 am

really? I have no idea. Be careful to read the directions on your medicine. Two every four hours does not mean two four times a day, for example. Baking powder and baking soda are not the same.

Actually, I wrote something more scathing to you (which is unlike me) but deleted it because maybe you do really have comprehension problems.

It’s just that I have a problem with someone seemingly deliberately misunderstanding what was written, just so they can “call someone out” on something that the did not say. You want an argument, go to the playground.


October 25th, 2010
10:51 am

is that where you hang out? the playground?


October 25th, 2010
12:48 pm

We had trunk or treat this weekend. I set up my display, I had fun talking to the kids and was getting after them to be in line and so forth but they crowded me….and this is at a CHURCH…and the kids they had bussed in from the community (not downtown, not rural) BROKE my displays, grabbed the treats, walked over the toddlers, and left nothing for the rest.

Well I had bought enough for 100 T or T folks…we had MAYBE 50 show up. I ran out of treats. Then those kids said “you didn’t buy enough you should have bought more.”

No thank yous. Just pushing, shoving, ugliness. Some of my previous Sunday School kids said that more than half the cars they went to had said they had been cleaned out of candy….I had bought some for the neighborhood and had it in my car–so I got into that to give these kids some.

YES you have to teach your kids how you want them to behave. That means living it too.

Otherwise I assure you it will Lord of the Flies.


October 25th, 2010
2:35 pm

@ really…I have hung out with catlady ( after meeting her on the blog) and you can choose to take my word for it…she knows more than a lot of folks here…including me! A fascinating person, to say the least!


October 25th, 2010
4:04 pm

1. In the grocery store: I don’t usually let my son eat things that have to be weighed first but it has happened and in the case of the banana, I asked the clerk to weigh the whole remaining bunch and then pull one off & weigh another for the one he ate. I’ve also opened a bottle of water and box of Cheez-Its while shopping (they were going to be paid for in total) so I don’t feel like it’s stealing. Open packages however cannot be returned and the store will consider that a loss so I would pay for the TicTacs or whatever and deal with my child independently (it’s not the store’s fault if you don’t watch your kid). My husband and I have both walked out of store with something that wasn’t paid for and either returned to pay for it or just returned the item depending on how much time we had and the need for the item. I have also returned extra cash when I received the wrong amount of change too (sometimes kicking myself for what I could do with that extra cash all the while knowing how much grief it could cause the other person and knowing it’s the right thing to do).

2. Grocery cart cleanup… haven’t experienced that but when my son was about 2 he unexpectedly threw up in Walmart. I asked a clerk for some paper towels, she brought them and then called the janitor and told me to go ahead and leave even though the mess wasn’t completely cleaned up; my son was then crying at that point. I think she would rather have let the janitor clean up the mess than listen to another crying toddler ;)

3. Your child accidentally urinates by the side of the pool. Chlorine kills any germs in urine so I would have just splashed water on the pool deck to clear it away. Poop is another story.

I hate board game cheaters! What’s the point in playing if you’re going to cheat (unless you intentionally lose against a little kid so they can win)?? The illegal sprinkler party is funny. You weren’t doing it to water the grass or wash your car, you were doing it for fun for your kids. As long as you didn’t let it run for hours on end, I don’t think it’s a big deal.


October 25th, 2010
6:35 pm

@motherjanegoose – i’ve read other comments made by her. she seems to know her stuff… i didn’t mean to react the way i did, but i have little patience for people who use the “God is watching you” line to guilt others (ADULTS and children) into following the rules. i’ll think before i blog the next time, though. i’m sorry, catlady. :/


October 25th, 2010
8:55 pm

@really? it takes a lot to eat humble pie and I, for one, respect anyone who does.

Sometimes, guilt is the only way folks WILL follow the rules…sad but true!

I agree with catlady’s accountability to a higher power and while this may not be popular in today’s world…it works for me. When living at home and on my dime, my own children know they are ultimately accountable to me and if I consider myself to be a child of God, why should it be any different? Unfortunately, there are many to attest to NO accountability and they are not always the upstanding citizens of our community.


October 25th, 2010
8:56 pm

@really? that was a compliment towards you….


October 25th, 2010
9:16 pm

haha! thanks, motherjanegoose. got it! i am actually quite great at comprehending what i read! :) i simply let my overreactive mind take over yesterday. have a great night… *hugs*


October 25th, 2010
9:41 pm

@really…I think I am too but sometimes things get ALL out of whack here on the blog. Just wanted to clear the air. Night!