This time of year always leads to shocked gasps and accusations towards our household. It seems that in a world where we are told on the one hand that all personal choices made by others must be accepted and accommodated for, there is still a taboo we are guilty of that shocks most, especially other parents.
I have known parents who do some (in my opinion) questionable things such as raising a child without any indication of gender, because apparently thats not a choice you can make until you are older or raise a child on vegan only diet (including no milk from the mother) which is by many accounts harmful (unless extremely strenuous adaptations to the diet are made). These are examples of course and I have no intention to rally against either, in my view choices that a parent makes for their children are valid as long as they are intended for the child’s personal development and are done safely, the challenging thing is that this is rarely the case and in most situations its an extension of the parents ego and vanity that produce mini versions of the progenitors. Our daughter, for example, has a tendency to be sarcastic and sardonic like her mum and dad are, I suppose to an extent that is to be expected. The point is, while a lot of people scoff in private at the choices other parents make, how often do you hear them challenged publicly? I mean really challenged, out loud, mocking, and debasing the parents choice? I see it every Christmas time and every easter. I see it time and time again from the same people.
So what is this cruel practice I carry out that means I am being unfair to our little girl? We don’t lie to her.
In particular, we don’t pretend that there is a man called Father Christmas who will judge you and compensate you depending on whether you have been slightly more nice than naughty that preceding year. Am I spoiling the magic of Christmas? I used to say no, but more recently its much more sensible to challenge the idea that Christmas needs to be in some way magical. Like the idea of your family and friends being kind and thoughtful, and showing special gratitude for you through gift giving is not a nice enough feeling, you would need to invent a clearly impossible story based on a 4th-century Greek saint-to-be in order to legitimise the event. Frankly, I am more shocked it’s not considered weird to try desperately to maintain the lie, sometimes well into a child’s early teens (I imagine this is never successful, but more that it is a desperate attempt to force the parent reliant stage of a relationship far beyond its natural expectancy).
It’s not even that I find my position difficult to defend, it’s reasonable and sensible and the alternative is foolhardy, but it’s the repetitiveness of it that confuses me. Hold on this might be easier, here is a list of reasons I feel the deception is a bad idea to in particular perpetuate the Santa clause myth.
- There is nothing to be gained. A simple start but a good one. You can tell stories about the character for fun and present a show without having to lie. You don’t take a child to see Peter Pan and then afterward feel the need to guarantee them that that was not an actor on a stage, but rather a real person playing out life to music cues for their ease of reference. You can have the story, the game, and the experience without the lie and therefore there is nothing to gain from the lie other than forced obedience, roll on number 2.
- Forced obedience. If you are not able to adequately parent yourself, then utilizing a lie to take the place of supervision will not help long term. One day they will realize that this is a lie, and then you have given away the stick and lost credibility, roll on number 3.
- You will lose credibility in an ironic fashion. The most common bad behavior a late stage toddler can engage in is to lie. It’s new to them you see, they recently realized that communication includes the ability to say things that are not true which lead to one of my blissfully ironic pet hates, the sentence “If you tell lies, Santa won’t give you presents”. Seriously I have heard at least 6 different parents say this to 6 different children. There is no benefit to making children believe that the level of compensation at Christmas in regards to presents is based on pure behavior. Roll on number 4.
- Unbalanced compensation. I have met some pretty spoiled kids who got everything and some genuinely good kids that got little. I was probably the former. Despite bad behavior throughout the year, I was always treated generously. There was of course that two week period between mid-December and Christmas when the Santa stick made an appearance and the threat of missing presents was waved in front of me to modify the way I acted but what value did this have? Had I believed in father Christmas, then he would have by the time I was rational enough to think ahead when deciding my behavior already have proven to be a bit of a soft touch. By the time I was old enough to consider what good will approach me in two weeks, I could already remember what good came my way last year. I know my behavior was worse last year because it said so in my report card from school, I know what “Improvement” means even if I was unfortunately still oblivious to what behavior was good and what was bad. Well, last year I got a bike, so with the improvement on my side, I think I have enough goodwill to behave how I like while we are shopping for clothes and still get a Gameboy, maybe a pair of skates at the least. But alas, the reward I received was based purely on means. My parents had the means to provide well for myself and my siblings, and they were very significantly very loving parents. It was always clear that they valued us and at Christmas, they made it clearer and extended their means as far as they could to ensure that we could eat, build, ride and wear their affection in giddy delight. Thanks, Mum and Dad, it is appreciated. But not all parents have the means to do this and yet the myth is ever present for a young child in Britain, you must remember that if you don’t receive presents at Christmas it’s not because dad got laid off, or because mum became ill or because the roof had a leak in October, its because you were not good enough. You won’t get feedback, you will get a tangerine and some play-doh maybe while your friends circle the neighborhood on their bikes or tell you about Mario kart all through January. You will wonder, was I not as good as them? so what do we need to surmise from that, wealthier kids are better kids?
- This one is probably the least considered one and it’s a surprisingly hard lesson learned by my daughter already. Yesterday while shopping, two separate occasions of strangers (you know the type, normally older, kind faces and well wishing probably transferring affection from grandchildren who are not nearby or never occurred) came and said hello to my little girl, a pleasing common event as she is so friendly and outgoing that everyone recognises her. Both these people asked what Santa had given her for Christmas. With a knowing glance to her mother, she answered that she got a bike this year, and mentioned a few other lovely things quickly as if not wanting to let them become afterthoughts to the big gift she really loved. she didn’t correct the phrasing of the question however, she let it slide. When the first of these encounters was over she confirmed to me that she knew it wasn’t true and she used to be surprised that so many grown-ups still think it’s true and that that is sad. Yesterday however she realized that it was sad that so many adults lie.
Our daughter knows not to lie, and yet she occasionally does anyway. so do you and so do I, there are usually mitigating factors. She also knows it’s not down to her to tell other children that their parents are lying to her so she plays along. She will take a picture with Santa at a party and treat it as a game although she is accurately aware that the ones in Cardiff sound a lot different than the ones on TV or the ones from back in surrey and London. She’s a bright kid, and I don’t think we could have convinced her of any lies for long (she never did believe me that blue-tac was smurf poo after all) and she recognizes the difference between what should be a harmful fantasy and a threat integrity. I hope that she can convince a few adults of the same.