The Truth About Santa and Kids
Is it okay to lie to your kids about Santa Claus?
Before I had a kid, I thought lying to kids was abhorrent. I would give my kids age-appropriate truthful answers to questions about death or sex or other squirmy topics; I would be gently forthright about their actual abilities, talents and skills; I would never fib to them to avoid a tantrum. I wasn’t even sure I was going to tell them about Santa Claus.
As I now think back on my other pre-parent parenting goals, I have the same reaction to this one as I do to my goals about perfect behavior in restaurants and stores, organic food, no television, and no bed-sharing: Hahahahaha.
I haven’t given these ideals up completely, mind you, particularly in the case of lying. I really, really hate lying. I have been pretty honest about death and sex – but I did once tell Ruby that the elaborate condom display at Target was “boring vitamins for grown-ups.” (“Balloons” was the first answer that came to mind, but I realized quickly that she would immediately start begging to buy them.) I have been pretty honest about Ruby’s abilities because I think it’s a disservice to let her think she is good at something she isn’t very good at – but I still couch any criticism so ridiculously that I am not sure the message sinks in, and besides, I am wildly biased and think she is good at most things. I am 100 percent guilty of lying to head off a tantrum, though; there’s no getting around it. I have told her that stores are closed when they’re not, that I have to work when really I am going to a party, that I am all out of something I am not in fact all out of.
And then there’s Santa.
As a kid, I believed in Santa, until I didn’t. I guess I was 7 when I put it all together, and I don’t recall any trauma around the whole thing, at least not any more trauma than is just inherent in childhood. But I had a friend who in fifth grade missed three days of school. When she came back, I ran up to her and yelled, “Yay! You’re back! Were you sick?” I peered closely at her face: red nose, puffy eyes. “You look like you had a cold,” I declared. “Are you feeling better?”
“No,” she whispered. “I have been crying for days. My parents told me the truth about Santa. I can’t believe it. I am so sad that he’s not real and so angry that they lied.”
“Oh,” I said, stumped. “Um. Santa. Huh. Really? Huh. You, ah … you didn’t know Santa wasn’t real. Wow.”
And I was actually one of the kinder kids in the class. Other kids outright mocked her, ridiculed her, got in her face and pretended to fake-cry: “Wah-wahh, I just found out about Saaaaaantaaaaa, and I’m gonna cryyyyy about it, wahhhhh.”
Granted, she was maybe not the most mature kid and her reaction was pretty extreme, but I still felt just awful for her. I had never really considered Santa a lie, but she absolutely felt that it was, and she thought her parents had betrayed her. I got that.
I also, however, get the parents who love Santa, love the magic, love the joy and wonder that the myth brings to the season.
I am probably middle-of-the-road on this. Ruby believes in Santa (this is probably the last year she will), but I have some basic ground rules.
I have told her about Santa, but I don’t go to any extreme or elaborate lengths to perpetuate the lie. There are no phone calls from Santa, no hoof prints on the floor, no ReindeerCam. (And as always with anything related to parenting, my attitude is: Do what feels right to you. If these things feel right to you, go for it. They just don’t feel right to me.)
I don’t use Santa to manipulate behavior. I want Ruby to respect me and listen to me, year-round. (That doesn’t mean she does, by the way, but I still have it as a goal.)
Santa doesn’t bring the biggest presents. It might be petty, but I want credit for the presents I buy. Santa brings stocking stuffers and one wrapped present. Everything else says “Love, Mom” on the label. I also think this will be good as she lets go of the myth because Santa isn’t the one responsible for her favorite presents.
No Elf on a Shelf. He creeps me right the hell out, plus I fall into an immediate drooling stupor once my kids are asleep. More power to parents who make marshmallow Elf beds or stacks of tiny Elf pancakes or who throw raucous late-night Elf-Barbie parties – and I mean that seriously; if it gives you joy, do it! – but if I have energy left once my kids are asleep, I am going to use it to watch an episode of "Law & Order" or read a trashy novel in the tub.
Ruby is starting to be skeptical, I can tell. She is hinting and asking questions in a gingerly fashion that is so completely unlike her that I can tell that she fears the answers. And so I am not giving her real answers, true or false, so much as I’m floating out vague concepts such as “magic” and “Christmas spirit.” If she asks me outright, I am prepared to tell her the truth, gently, but as long as she continues to want to believe, I am going to continue to let her.
I don’t like lying, but I do think a certain amount of magic leaks out of both Christmas and childhood once the truth is laid bare, and I personally think that Christmas and childhood need all the magic they can get.