Right and Wrong

Even from my earliest days, my biggest fear was upsetting/disappointing my parents.

I could never lie to them — and still can’t.

I could never intentionally hurt someone I care about — and still can’t (if I have ever hurt anyone reading this, please know it was never deliberate!)

And I could never forgive myself for doing something wrong. Even today, I over-think, obsess, and drive myself crazy when I know I’ve done something I shouldn’t have or said something I shouldn’t have to someone (or, in some cases, should have said).

As my dad says, I was born with a conscience.

OK, that’s not to say we all aren’t born with one, but I think for some people — like myself — having a conscience isn’t always a positive … oftentimes, it fuels our anxiety. Whereas some people can tell a white lie and move on, I’d be stewing and analyzing every possible scenario … not fun.

While I firmly believe it’s important to teach children the difference between right and wrong from the start, I also don’t want to create a monster with Maya. I believe part of being a parent is hoping your children will take the best pieces of you and your significant other, and become someone even more amazing then you both combined.

My anxiousness is not one of my best qualities, so you can bet I don’t want to pass that along to her … and this weekend that goal was tested.

Maya and I were in the basement, which has just recently become her playroom, so it’s a work in progress and not completely baby-proofed yet. We have a small flat-screen TV down there which is on a TV stand, but not mounted yet. Maya ran over to the TV and started tapping on it, then attempting to push. Of course, this was dangerous so I said, “Maya, no thank you!” the first time. She gave me a Cheshire cat grin that usually makes us crack a smile when she’s being silly, but this was no laughing matter. Falling TVs have killed children. I couldn’t risk something happened to her, and after a few more taps, I lost my cool completely. “Maya, NO!”

I was booming loud and firm — two things she’s never seen before. Sure, I’d raised my voice if she’d done something I didn’t like in the past and has had plenty of time-outs (“breaks” as they call them at school) … but I’d never yelled at her like this. This was serious. And she knew it. As soon as she saw my face, she burst into inconsolable tears, fat drops rolling down her red face as she ran towards me, shaking and collapsing into my arms.

She knew, in her own two-year-old way, that she’d disappointed/upset me. And while it made me happy that she realized it … it also broke my heart seeing her so upset. She was just being a toddler, pushing her limits — as all toddlers do. But this time, her safety was at stake … and since I couldn’t magically move the TV to a shelf somewhere, my instinct was to shout “NO!” and get her out of harm’s way.

I worried maybe I’d over-reacted with the yelling … but there was no time for analysis. Instead, I squeezed her close and said Mommy was sorry, too, for yelling at her — but explained I was worried and didn’t want her to get a boo-boo. She nodded and said “Mommy sorry, TOO,” through her tears. She gave me her pinky promise that she wouldn’t touch the TV again and then she went back to playing with her kitchen set.

The next morning while she sipped on her milk, I asked her a couple questions to satisfy my own curiosity … and learned this little girl’s memory is pretty darn good.

“Maya did we have fun yesterday?”
“Yea.”
“Did we play in the playroom?”
“Mmmhmm.” [gulp]
“Did Mommy yell at you?”
“Yeaaaaa. Loud.”
“Yes, Mommy yelled. But why did Mommy yell?”
“Touch TV.”

Now don’t get me wrong — I didn’t ask her to remind her that I had yelled at her — I felt horrible about it. But the fact that she remembered I’d yelled and — more importantly, why … was really eye-opening. Even at two, her little conscience is developing.

While I want her to know the difference between right and wrong, I have to be careful not to pass my anxiety issues on to her … because I know we will be tested lots in the future. There will be lots of lessons ahead … the trick will be to approach them head-on … without adding any unnecessary layers of anxiety.

How about you? Do you think it’s ever too young to teach right from wrong? Was disappointing your parents your biggest fear from a young age, too?

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