I am willing to risk sounding like Scrooge to share my belief that children should be told the truth about Santa and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. In Yes Annika, There is a Santa Claus, another attachment parenting proponent comes to the conclusion that she will perpetuate the Santa “fantasy” with her daughter. She says:
I’ve heard parents debate this topic, reasons that affect how new parents handle Santa almost always involve the way their parents handled it. It seems that the only angry memories involve parents who did not promote the Santa story. I have yet to hear any adult say, “Yeah, my parents LIED to me. Boy was I pissed when I found out there was no Santa Claus.”
Well, count me as one of the people who felt lied to and was angry about it (it’s okay Mom and Dad, I found it in my heart to forgive you at some point over the subsequent 32 years!) I found out the truth when I was six years old and some other children mocked me for not knowing the truth. I was terribly embarrassed in that moment and was angry at my parents for deceiving me when I trusted them to always tell me the truth. It was the first time I realized that people lie, whether with good intentions or bad.
How I Handled the Santa Story
I have told my children (7, 5, 1) that Santa a.k.a. Saint Nicholas was a real person long ago and now we continue the tradition in the spirit of giving. They enjoy being in on the secret and have not told any of their friends. Perhaps one day they will be sad that they did not get to experience the magic of Santa, but for now they seem to enjoy their gifts on Christmas morning just as much as I did as a child!
What My Oldest Daughter Thinks
I just asked my 7.5-year-old whether or not she was glad that we told her that Santa Claus was not a real, modern-day person. She surprised me by saying, “You didn’t tell me! I found out by myself!” She explained that when she was three she woke up in the middle of the night and went downstairs to ask her daddy to snuggle her back to sleep. She saw him setting out the gifts and that’s when she realized the truth. I reminded her that we had told her the truth all along and she said she didn’t believe us until she saw it for herself! I guess the desire to believe is strong, and perhaps Martha is correct when she says that how parents handle the situation depends a lot on how their parents handled it.
When I asked her whether she wishes we hadn’t told her, she said yes, because she knows lots of little kids who believe in Santa and they like it. Of course I agree. The problem with perpetuating the myth only comes when the truth is revealed! If you’re lucky, the child figures it out on her own. If you’re unlucky, she gets told by other children.
Gentle and Respectful Approaches
So what can we conclude from all this? As with many parenting questions, there is not one right answer. Here are some gentle guidelines no matter which way you decide to go with the Santa story:
~ Respect your child’s feelings about sitting on Santa’s lap. Photos of crying children on Santa’s lap are not “classic” or time-honored rites of passage.
My children were terrified of Santa and I saw absolutely no reason to have them sit on his lap unless and until they expressed an interest in doing so.
~ When your child starts to ask whether Santa is real, ask her what she thinks! If she wants to believe, she’ll conclude he is real (without your having to lie directly to perpetuate the myth). If she wants to know the truth, she will push the issue with you and you can decide to let her in on the secret.
~ Whether you plan to tell your child from the start or when she asks you, think about the best way to share the truth. I thought a gentle way to do it was to talk about the spirit of giving, about the real Saint Nicholas, and about how loving parents around the world have kept up the tradition of gift-giving to make children happy. This can also branch into a discussion of charity, and for the religious, a discussion of Jesus.
How did your parents handle the Santa story and were you glad about it? How have you decided to treat it?