Home > Christmas > Lying to my kid

Lying to my kid

It’s the first week in November, but the holiday season is full upon us. Starbucks rolls out the holiday cups today, Shaw’s has giant stockings over the cash registers, I get at least two Pottery Barn holiday catalogs each week (don’t ask me about Bean), and PSBooks has Christmas cards and calendars dominating the whole front of the store.

And I’m faced with a moral and ethical dilemma. It’s one I’ve thought about, discussed and debated, and really agonixed over for years. You’re going to think I’m an idiot, but hear me out.

What do I tell The Child about Santa?

Last year it was no big deal — she was barely verbal and had no idea what was going on. This year, though, she’s pretty damned verbal and knows how to unwrap a present. Soon people are going to start saying to her, “Are you excited about Santa?” The stories and songs and that awful photo op at the mall will all pile on and she’ll start to recognize Santa as something to get excited about. And they will say things like, “If you’re not good for your mommy, Santa won’t bring you any presents.”

Now, here’s the thing. I get the whole magic and wonder of Christmas and Santa. I understand that for many people, learning the truth is a loss of innocence. But let’s think about that for a moment — your innocence, your sense of wonder, is all built on a lie. There’s so much magic and so many truly remarkable things in this world that I am really hesistant to make stuff up.

Also, it’s lying. I don’t like to lie, it’s sort of against my nature.  And it seems unnecessarily cruel to deliberatly mislead a child still trying to get a grasp on the world. I mean, life is full of wonder and mystery, yes, but it’s also confusing as hell and if you’re getting false positives, it totally fucks you up.

For example. Let’s say that you’re a particularly logical child and start having nightmares about the Madame Alexander dolls that your mother has insisted on “collecting for you” and mounting on shelves at the foot of your bed.  You can see their mouths moving in the dim half light of night in a city, the stripes of flickering yellow glow from the street lamps slanting across their little glass-eyed faces in the dark. You ask your mom to take the dolls out. She refuses because it’s “just your imagination.” And you say what if a witch or something made them come to life? She says there is no magic. You say, yes there is, how else could Santa get down all those chimneys in one night? She says, well, Santa is different and won’t talk about it anymore.

Now, either your mom is a. lying to you, b. too stupid to see that she’s being inconsistent, or c. the one behind the creepy dolls that are talking about you when they think you’re asleep.

Can you see why I’m against that?

Plus there’s the whole implied moral equation. Good kids get presents. That means that if you’re very good, you get lots of presents. If you get fewer or less expensive presents than Suzie down the block, you were clearly less good. Never mind that Suzie is a rotten stinking little spoiled brat whose parents are competing for her affection since the divorce.  And I’m not for the blatant bribery — be good just to get more loot.

Finally, in 2008, the whole materialism thing is so awful.  Santa is all about the stuff and I, frankly, don’t approve of the stuff. The Child will get piles — literally piles, you really have no idea just how much stuff, probably about a block 10 foot on each side — of crap! And it will be crap. Giant plastic toys she has no use for. Little plastic trinkets that will break. Hideous clothes she will never wear. Tacky ornaments, glittery dolls, flimsy Santa tableware, cheap synthetic elf hats. It’s a mound of trash, frankly, and exhausting to consider from a financial, environmental, moral, ethical, and humanitarian perspective.

Right about now, you’re rolling your eyes and thinking, “this woman is nuts.” I know I sound nuts. Any time I use italics that many times in one paragraph, I know I sound nuts.
And that’s one of the only reasons I’m considering lying to her. Because she’s already doomed to be different than the rest of the kids. Why give her this one more weird thing that will make her stand out?

But… I don’t want to lie to her. Do you know what most people remember about Santa when they are older? The disillusionment of discovering he doesn’t exist. Oh, that’s something I want to impart to her –  a heartbreaking memory. Plus, I read a study that most kids figure it out between 3 and 6 years old and just play along to make their parents feel better. How dumb is that? (My sister in law, a sweet but sometimes naive woman, honestly thinks her 9 year old still believes.)

Wow, this is a long post about a really very trivial issue. But I’m really torn. I don’t want to lie to her. I don’t want her to think she should only be good to get things. I don’t want her to associated “good” with “stuff.” But mostly I don’t want to lie.

Categories: Christmas
  1. November 7, 2007 at 7:41 pm

    I totally get your argument against “lying” about Santa, especially regarding the overt materialism revolving around it all.
    However, and maybe I’m a rarity, but I look back on the years I believed in Santa as the most enchanted in my life. That my parents and other adults were for once PART of my magical fantasy world made it all the more lush and beautiful for me to imagine. My parent’s “belief” in Santa made my belief in elves and fairies and the possiblities of the world all the more real. For me, the idea that Santa existed for as long as I truly “believed” in him made the transition into reality a little easier, too. But maybe I’m as naive as your sister? ;P

  2. November 7, 2007 at 7:44 pm

    ps: I think the whole Lump of Coal for bad kids thing can be reworked into your own tradition so that you transform Santa into more of a joyous spirit than a rewarder/punisher.

  3. paulmcneil
    November 7, 2007 at 7:47 pm

    Santa is part of your daughter’s cultural heritage and should be respected as such. But the again, Christianity, vodka parties, and Puritan witch-hunts are also part of her cultural heritage.

    I’d treat it like religion. Go ahead and make the motions when you are in other’s space or demanded for family peace and maybe pick-up some of the traditions that feel good on their own merits. When she asks, say “Some people believe that…” Let her make up her own mind.

  4. karriew
    November 7, 2007 at 10:53 pm

    I’m still not sure how to explain this to Max, but I don’t think it will be quite as large an issue where we live vs many other parts of the country.

    I like stockings. I like white lights and the smell of real trees.
    The whole Santa thing? Especially faux mall Santas? Creeps me out.

    Leaning towards some kind of matter of fact explanation here. Tantrum in prgress, must run

  5. Juliet Bravo
    November 7, 2007 at 10:56 pm

    I’d suggest what I grew up with, which is introducing the Santa story by reading The Night Before Christmas. The poem is very good, and it doesn’t emphasize the presents part at all. It gives the kid some context, she will know who Santa is, but she will know it as a _story_. A storybook character is myth, it’s not real in the sense that mommy and daddy are real, but it’s real in the sense that it is a wonderful idea 🙂

    Of course, this is somewhat more complicated for me because we’re Jewish…. still haven’t entirely figured out what we are doing. Have another year to worry about it 🙂

  6. November 8, 2007 at 2:02 am

    Are there truly adults out there that are scarred for life because they found out Santa was not real? Eh, do what you want, but it sounds over dramatic to think kids are being traumatized by finding out about Santa. I remember feeling a let down, but then I thought I was cool because I knew something my younger brother didn’t know. I was let in on the secret only the adults knew.

    I don’t consider it lying anymore than I think it’s lying when I tell my 3 yr old that the sun is taking his bath and putting his pj’s on to get ready for bed, so it’s time for her to get ready for bed too.

    As far as the whole naughty and nice deal and the rampant materialism, you can create the myth and your family traditions any way you want. Hopefully you can get your extended family to go along with whatever you decide.

  7. Raise Hell
    November 8, 2007 at 7:08 am

    I agree with the “sun story” I also hate lying but it depends on what your talking about. I’ve never lied until I had a child. I use those kinds of story’s to avoid meltdowns. I asked my dad where his mustache went when I was in preschool and he told me it flew away. I totally believed it. I don’t remember when I found out Santa wasn’t real so it was no big deal. I was so excited when I found out my parents were the tooth fairy because I felt smart figuring it out on my own. My child it five and she was the one who let me know that Santa was real. I follow her lead. I don’t want to be the one to tell her and then she go and tell everybody at school (in a mean way even). Now that I couldn’t live with on my conscience. It’s impossible to avoid traumatizing your kids so save up money now for their counseling when they turn 16. Hehe!

  8. Wendy
    November 8, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    I agree with Kind of Crunchy Mama. And here is a more indepth answer:http://soulprncs2.wordpress.com/2007/11/03/santa-is-dead/

    You do know that imagination helps with cognitive development? Most kids can’t determine between what is on TV and real life until they are older. Much of what your daughter sees or reads in books she probably thinks is real to some extent. It is a part of growing up and having life experiences.

    I tell my daughter the monsters in her room are not real, but we also reassure her with our safety measures (alarm system in the house). I think she still believes all of this is real, but as she grows and learns more she will discover what she can believe and what she can’t.

    My theory is answer questions as they come and as simply as you can. They don’t need more info than beyond their questions and I think it just opens up to discussions that they are not prepared to handle.

  9. November 18, 2007 at 3:51 am

    OK, I’ll be a late dissenter (well, I’m kind of on the same page as paulmcneil) and just tell her that Santa is a story a lot of people like to think about and act out at this time of year. That’s sure what I’m going to tell Zag – who is somewhat older and will get those concepts more, since he’s all about acting out stories these days. But even if The Child doesn’t get what you’re saying that much, it’ll be because she’s not that bothered about real vs. pretend yet.
    A possibly relevant point: A lot of kids are FREAKED OUT by Santa, especially the guys dressed up like Santa who wander around this time of year. It might be a lot more comforting to know it’s just pretend, than to think that pushy, weird guy is going to be breaking into your house at night in a few weeks. 🙂
    But then, I’m actually a Christian and am raising my son to be one, so I’m all about teaching my kid the myths I want him to live by. It just sounds like Santa isn’t one of those, for you.

  10. elcynae
    February 18, 2008 at 2:16 am

    So this is totally too late for this discussion, and I can’t even remember whether I already said this. But I just found the navigation buttons on your blog (don’t ask), and I’m reading it all. I figured out my approach this year, just in case, though my girl wasn’t old enough for it to be necessary yet.
    I will talk about Santa the same way I will talk about dragons, except that dragons are way cooler. 😉 I won’t lie to her, and yes I feel that saying ‘Of course Santa is real!’ is a lie. But you don’t have to claim that a story is real for it to be a good story, and you don’t have to claim that dragons are real, for them to be awesome. 🙂

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