To Santa Claus or not to Santa Claus?
As a wellness consultant, journalist, and mother of two, this was a delicate topic for me. When my children were born, I had mixed feelings about "lying" to my kids about the existence of Santa Claus. Because the very career I chose is about supporting people's physical and emotional health, it was a difficult decision.
The relationship between parents and children is critical, I was worried that violating my daughter's trust could damage it entirely.
So I read what experts had to say, and concluded that my fears were largely unfounded. "When it comes to the Santa Claus Myth, the misleading does not harm [kids] because their focus is more on the symbolism of the events occurring during this season rather than the specifics of any reality behind the 'why,'" says Dr. John Mayer, psychologist at Doctor On Demand, who specializes in children and parenting. Mayer emphasizes that the story of Santa Claus is part of our tradition, and that tradition can be very important to children, with many social and developmental advantages.
His explanation made sense to me. Plus, who doesn't want the Jolly Old Soul around?So I decided to tell the lie. My husband insisted it made Christmas more "magical ."
So, Santa came. I kept him to a minimum in our home, telling the girls that they could only ask him for one big thing (though he always managed to bring a couple of extra trinkets too). We chose a service project every year, trying to take the focus off the man in the big red suit.
Still, it made me cringe every time I had to manipulate the truth about Santa to my sweet, sensitive, trusting daughters. So this year, when my oldest turned 8, I decided enough was enough. I wanted to tell her before someone else did.
But how could I tell her without breaking her heart and taking away her trust?
It was a hard decision and I didn't know if I was doing it too soon, but the impending doom of her finding out on her own felt like a clock ticking down to the day when my lies would suddenly be discovered.
Still, I thought of the experts, who claim that my worries were for naught. "Most children understand when they find out why their parents lied to them about Santa, so it rarely impacts the trust relationship," explains Dr. Wyatt Fisher, a licensed psychologist and marriage counselor in Boulder, CO, who works with a lot of parents. However, when parents are considering whether to participate in the Santa tradition, they must consider that when children learn the truth, they may be shocked, disappointed, and frustrated temporarily, he says.
Despite the potential for disaster, I was hoping for a good reaction.
I took my daughter out for ice cream and explained that now that she was old enough, it was time to put her on the Santa team. I said that the magic of Santa Claus is passed down from parent to child and that it is about giving thoughtfully and anonymously all year long. I told her that not every 8-year-old is mature enough to take this responsibility, so she can't tell her friends, but now she is an official Santa Claus.
According to Mayer, "When children find out about Santa, it provides children with that 'ah-ha' moment about their parents that they can be whimsical, and that they are giving and loving and fun. Overwhelmingly, most children have fond memories of the discovery of the secret." This has really been true for my daughter.
She is so pleased with herself that she was "ready to be a Santa," and she's excited to pick out her little sister's presents and fill her stocking on Christmas Eve!
I told her that her duties aren't just once a year—that she can be Santa Claus to anyone who truly has a need. So sometimes we make cupcakes for elderly neighbors and surprise them at their doorstep or even leave them anonymously.
There are lots of other ways to break the news about Santa. You may even find that the discovery happens naturally. You know your child best, so let your relationship guide the conversation.
The Santa tradition merely transformed in my household from one of secretive, magical giving by a stranger, to anonymous, heartfelt giving to others. It was a beautiful experience.
As a family health consultant, I feel that this not only preserved our relationship but also taught a valuable lesson about giving. She loves to wink at me when we talk about Christmas in front of her little sister.
She is so excited to give her sister the gifts she picked out for her, letting Santa get the credit. Of course, she picked out some to come from her as well. I can't wait for her to help me fill the stockings on Christmas Eve.
I have no regrets anymore. I gave her magic until she was eight, and I gave her the spirit of giving for the rest of her life.