There isn’t a single aspect of raising children that we get to take for granted. Even the most mundane, daily parenting decisions that have been made over and over by billions of people for thousands of years have to get re-made by every parent every time. What we feed them, when we bathe them, what and how we teach them – it’s all on a case by case basis. Why then, is it such a shock to some people when I explain how our family’s version of Santa might look different than theirs?
As a new mom, I remember the shock on someone’s face when I told them we were “not doing” Santa. There have been strangers online, as well people much closer, who’ve accused me of depriving my daughter of the best parts of childhood. Of magic, fun, and happiness. Simply because, in my family, we are choosing to let her know right away he is a fictional character.
But before diving further into the tale of this parenting choice, I offer this…
DISCLAIMER: I pass NO judgment whatsoever on anyone that goes all in with the Santa Claus business. In fact, I would argue that everyone who is exposed to him essentially “does Santa” in some capacity, and that the beauty of it is that no one does it the same. It’s a spectrum that includes everything from creating pretend reindeer hoof stomps on the roof at midnight, to the kids who “know who he really is” right out of the gate, and everything in between. Judgment is just silly, because you never find two families who have identical traditions or the same on-the-fly answers to curious questions from their kids. Simply put, everyone has a different Santa because everyone is different.
My personal reasons for not going along with the more traditional Santa idea stems from my own childhood experience, as so many parenting decisions do. First of all, I never got a lot joy out of it, that I can remember – and I remember a lot. Of course each Christmas morning I loved the presents waiting for me beneath the tree, but as my mom tells the story, I vocally wondered “why some stranger got us so much,” as present after present claimed to be from Santa Claus instead of Mom.
I also had nightmares of him peeking in our windows at night since he was allegedly “always watching.” Another time, I tried defending Santa in the first grade to the class bully, only to get teased until I cried. Then shortly thereafter, finding out there was no one to defend.
More often than not, I’ve found other adults to have had similar stories of finding out the truth about Santa, followed by a season of worriedly questioning what else might be untrue that the grownups have been telling them. And while I believe in some healthy skepticism, as a mother I’m not about to volunteer to be the first person my daughter loses even a little bit of trust in.
All of this to say, my best childhood memories of Christmas have nothing to do with Santa. I actually looked forward to the family gift exchange of one gift each on Christmas Eve more than the big haul the next morning. And while I can now appreciate how hard my mom worked to make Santa look good, I never gave her that much credit growing up. Because I didn’t know I should.
I loved picking the coldest night to find our tree, decorating, carols, driving around looking for light displays, Grandma’s cookies, Christmas movies – these are all the things that I loved and continue to give me warm feelings around this time of year. And to be honest, Santa just can’t hold a candle to any of that.
So at the end of the day, while we ARE welcoming Santa into our home, it will be on our family’s terms. Which ultimately is how everything should be, right? Our plan, so far, is that Santa is just another character for our daughter, like in her books and shows. He is imaginary, but really fun to pretend to be real. She’ll know songs about him, watch plenty of Santa-themed movies, and see him at the mall if she wants to. And when she’s using more than three-word sentences, we’ll talk about not spoiling the fun for other kids. In fact, I’d bet money that she keeps it to herself longer than other kids who start shouting from the top of the playground that “Santa isn’t real!” even before they truly believe it themselves. That’s just her personality.
If I’m honest with myself, I’ve come to realize she’d probably figure it out immediately anyway as I’m an atrocious actor. I can’t tell a white lie to save my life. So I am sure that once she began asking me to explain something, I’d blow it and immediately confess it all. And while I’ll still try to fulfill the Tooth Fairy’s monetary obligations, and get up early to hide eggs at Easter, I plan to steer clear of telling her it was some fantastical being that snuck into her room while she’s sleeping.
Again, my choices for my family are not a judgment of others. It’s not my place to make that call for anyone other than my own family unit.
When my daughter sees something new and wonderful and gets that awestruck look in her eyes, I fully plan to keep some magic in her life. In fact, I’m very confident that I can still do that around the holidays without Santa Claus needing to be a bonafide living and breathing resident of the North Pole. Besides, seeing wondrous things that move you and experiencing magic in the world shouldn’t stop at childhood anyway.
For this decision I only have my own experience, some random anecdotal data collection, and most importantly, my instincts on what I think will make my own child the happiest and healthiest she can be. I know zilch about anyone else’s children, so I can’t and would never speak about them. I trust that every loving parent has the same best intentions, so I would hope and expect other parents to trust mine.
The beauty of Santa being fictional is that he can be whatever we want him to be. For my family, we just know that “real” is not on the list of traits we need. We’ll figure it out as we go along while referring to our values and beliefs, which we’ll also adapt when new information and experiences make it necessary.
Essentially, keeping our list and checking it twice, if you will.