A few days ago, with my handy smart phone all the way upstairs, I reached instead for the kids’ iPad to Google some question that was irking me. When I pulled up the browser, another search was revealed—is Santa real?
NOOOOO!!! Not this. Not my BABY!! You might know that I have three kids. The oldest is 13, whose unrelenting inquisitiveness required the Great Santa Reveal four years ago, lest he ruin the magic for his younger siblings. My middle child is eleven and the type of kid who likely had the situation figured out two or three years ago but will never breathe a word of it to save my feelings. So, I have no doubt it was my youngest, at the
tender age of nine, searching the internet for confirmation of what she fears—that Santa is a fraud.
If you have tiny babies or toddlers who don’t remember much from year to year yet, I’m going to tell you something I wish someone had told me when I had babies:
You don’t have to do the Santa thing.
Before I go any further, I want to be clear. I have nothing against Santa. I don’t think you’re making a huge parenting mistake if Santa is part of your celebration. I don’t think you ought to suddenly change traditions from what you’ve been doing for years. I simply want to suggest to those who have tiny humans that you might want to think this thing through before you move forward.
There are a lot of decisions to make as new parents, inculding how you do the holidays. Thirteen years ago, we were complete rookies. We were lucky to just get everyone out of the house wearing pants, much less consider how our holidays would look a decade hence. Not until my oldest was in kindergarten did a fellow mom mention that even the tiniest person in her family knew the truth and that they just don’t do “the Santa thing” as part of their celebration. WHAT?! This had seriously never even occurred to me. Maybe I’m slow because now I know that there are lots of families that do it this way. Oh boy, how I wish I had thought of this before it was too late.
So, what’s the problem with Santa?
- Dishonesty I tell my kids whatever they ask—from where babies come from to why we don’t visit that one crazy aunt and everything in between. Sure, sometimes I have to tell them that it’s none of their business or that it’s an adult issue, but that is not the case here. What started as one little white lie—Santa is coming tonight—turned into a million lies and fabrications. How do reindeer fly? How does Santa get in the house? Why do the Johnson’s have an elf and not us? What’s Santa’s favorite type of cookie? Does Santa buy the Xboxes or make them? And that’s just the beginning. Add to this list all conceivable questions about the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. That’s a long list of lies that I personally find exhausting.
- Why we give In our house, Santa isn’t the only gift-giver. For me (and now for my kids) giving is as fun and meaningful as getting gifts. The holidays are a time to think about family and friends and pick out something special for each. Gift giving is not just something to check off the to-do list. It is a way to say, “I care enough about you to spend some time and effort finding something you will love and enjoy.” So why does Santa bring gifts? I don’t have a good answer. The religious connections some people make with the story of Santa don’t really work for us, so now that I have really thought through the reasons we continue this tradition, I come up short.
- Money By far the hardest thing to explain to my kids has been why Santa can’t just bring anything to anyone who needs it. Santa might not bring them the latest gaming console costing several hundred dollars because I e-mailed Santa and said that toy isn’t welcome in my house. What’s harder is explaining why Santa can’t bring coats to all the kids with no coats. Why Santa can’t make sure all kids who need them have new shoes for Christmas. Why Santa brings some kids one Barbie and other kids a fully decorated Barbie Mansion. I don’t want to hide our privilege from my children. I want them to understand it and learn how to share it with others.
- Discipline I have never used Santa (or the Elf, who is not welcome at my house) as a reason for my kids to behave. That’s not a judgment if you have used them. You do you. For us, the kids know we expect them to make good choices no matter who is watching—me, Dad, Santa, a teacher, Grandma. Adding “Santa’s watching” to that just muddies the water for them. However, that doesn’t stop others—teachers, grandparents, perfect strangers at the grocery store—from reminding them that Santa is watching. This would be a lot easier to dismiss if they knew the truth. Instead of tearful conversations about why Santa doesn’t love them any more and won’t bring presents because of some behavior, we could have (perhaps still tearful) conversations about why their behavior was wrong in the first place.
- When the truth comes out Eventually, the truth has to come out, and it is not fun. It might be a kid at school who convinces your little one that there is no Santa. It might be a conversation overheard through the kitchen door. It might be a Google search. Unfortunately, we don’t usually have control over how our kids find out the truth, and it can be painful for them. Once Santa falls, realizing the truth about other myths is usually only minutes away. It’s hard for a kid to suddenly learn that all the magic he thought existed doesn’t. Expect tears. Maybe some anger. Ask me how I know.
Some of the best parenting advice I ever got was, “Begin as you intend to continue.” Through the years, I have often considered this when disciplining my children or making rules and routines for our family. However, thirteen years ago I didn’t know enough to consider all the ways our holiday choices would need to evolve over time. I certainly couldn’t have imagined what it would be like to orchestrate the holidays with three children instead of one tiny baby. For those of you in the same stage as me, I hope you have holiday traditions that you love, that make the holidays meaningful for both you and your children. For those of you near the beginning of your parenting journey, I hope I have given you food for thought. For us all, may we build traditions that bring us joy, create lasting memories, and remind us of values we hold dear.