Saturday, November 21, 2009

Santa: Lying to your Child, or Protecting their Innocence?

My sister in law and her husband decided this week to tell their three kids (7, 5, and 3) that Santa Clause wasn’t real, that it was really them. Their reasoning behind this was that they weren’t comfortable lying to their children. No report on how the kids took it, other than the youngest didn’t really *get* it yet. I actually feel bad for him the most since he’ll have no Christmases with the excitement of waking up to see what Santa had brought and checking that the cookies were eaten.

But, parents are allowed to make these decisions. For our daughter, we’re intending on carrying on the Santa tradition for a number of years. Ideally, she’ll just come to realize what’s really going on as she matures…the same way that she’ll understand about the world beyond her childhood realm.

I was thinking about the notion that propagating the Santa “myth” was somehow lying to the child, that it was a breakage of trust between parent and child. I think back to my own awakening to reality, which to be honest was a long time coming by that point (I was a very naive child).

It was Easter, and I was in grade 4 or 5. I walked into the kitchen while my dad was getting a drink of something, and he had the cupboard door open. In plain sight on the top shelf was the soon-to-be hidden chocolate stash, with the Easter Bunny obviously being the accused culprit. In that moment, I realized something: my parents had lied to me…there was no Santa, there was no bunny, there was none of it. I was devastated. I remember crying to my mom, asking her why she had lied to me. You might be thinking that my story should make me want to adopt what my sister in law has decided for her kids. But to the contrary, that experience was in many ways the beginning of my first real education about the world.

When I look back on my childhood, I have many good memories of getting up early on Christmas morning and being thrilled at what Santa had brought me. I remember Easter’s at my grandparents hunting for chocolates hidden all over the house. I also remember leaving a note for the Tooth Fairy asking for a higher-than-normal amount for a loose tooth so I could buy a toy (she left the tooth). Those memories leave more of an impact on me than the few hours I was upset at realizing what I really should have picked up on my own. In a way that experience forced me, as a child, to grow up a little bit more…to re-evaluate the world around me, what I believed, what I thought I knew. In a way, it was a first step to losing my childhood innocence.

When I look at my daughter, I see the value in that innocence though. Children today grow up so fast, being bombarded with marketing and enticed with toys, clothes, and programming that force them to face life circumstances far before they should. It’s us as parents against the world for control over how long our children stay children.

If my daughter ends up finding joy, happiness, and excitement in the myths and traditions that we associate with our holidays, far be it from me to rob her of those experiences.

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