With both moms here at Raise A Mother having young toddlers, this holiday season begs the questions: to Santa or not to Santa? How much to Santa? And what about when it’s time to stop Santa-ing?
I may be the more cynical of the two of us, but I’m struggling with the whole concept of Santa. I recently went out with a group of mom friends whose eldest kiddos are 2-year-olds, like A, and when we talked about it, it seemed to me that almost everyone in the group had some reservations about this aspect of Christmas. Asking other moms I know since then has revealed the same issues. Whether it’s a major or hardly-there concern, and whether it’s about putting too much focus on getting presents, feeling pressure to buy more presents than you otherwise would, being creeped out by the Big Brother he-sees-you-when-you’re-sleeping connotations, or worries about ‘lying’ to your kids and how you’ll address that when they inevitably find out – almost every mom I’ve talked to acknowledges some weirdness about it. However, the overwhelming conclusion seems to be that as uncomfortable as those issues are, most of us plan to do Santa in some shape or form, since we don’t want our kids to be left out.
So my first question this Christmas is: are the majority of new parents out there today initiating Santa with their kids not because they really really want to, but because it’s just what we do collectively?
This is where I’m struggling, because I can’t think of other areas of life where I’m trying to create the illusion for my kids that a fantasy is real. And don’t get me wrong, I really like many aspects of Santa, like his qualities of generosity, jollity, and cheer. I love putting out the cookies the night before and hanging stockings. Not to mention that the general ability to believe in magic that most of us lose with growing up seems so precious in kids. But I’m still challenged by the idea of deliberately engaging my kid with a fantasy story as if it’s real. When we read a book about talking engines or dragons, I don’t feel a need to stop and say, “Just so you know, this isn’t real.” But I’m also not going out of my way to create dragon-sightings or doing ventriloquism with his toy trains to try to migrate those stories into his real life. It’s a puzzle to me, so I’d love to hear from some other moms in the village on how you resolve this!
I guess I’ll start by answering the question Lindsay posed in her response: No, I’m not just planning on doing Santa with my kids because I don’t want them to feel left out. I’m planning on Santa-ing because I have very fond memories of believing in Santa as a young child, and because I like the sense of excitement, joy and magic that he brings to the season for kids.
I guess I don’t struggle as much with the idea of Santa. My childhood self wasn’t scarred or even hurt when I found out that Santa wasn’t real. I didn’t feel betrayed. I understood that my parents and the adults around me had created a fun, pretend time for us. To me, it didn’t feel very different than when my Mom would commit to some other form of imaginative play and then the game would eventually end. My Mom never felt the need to point out that we couldn’t really turn into mermaids. On some level, even as a very young child, I already knew that. But that didn’t stop me from wishing ardently on countless stars that I would someday sprout a fish tail. That’s what kids do. They believe in magic – whether it’s magic presented to them by others or magic fostered in their own imaginations.
I remember feeling disappointed that Santa wasn’t real, but also that I already kind of knew. Because kids generally do figure this out on their own. And with Santa, as with many things in parenting, I want to meet my kids where they are, to let them take the lead. Once they start expressing their own doubts, I like to think I’ll take that cue as a sign that they’re ready to learn the truth without feeling shocked or blindsided.
It is absolutely important to me to teach my children that giving is more important than getting, and to set reasonable limits on spending. These things are true every day of the year, not just around Christmas. I think when you are modelling and talking about these kinds of lessons throughout the year, children expect them at the holidays too. Like virtually everything else in parenting, I think you make the holidays work in the way that works best for your family – not the other way around. So, Mamas, how do you make them work for you?