Thursday, December 27, 2007

Pitfalls of a skeptical kid

Quite an eventful Christmas this year. Caitlin and Samantha have come to visit for the entire vacation period. Keryn is engaged. I've met most of the family of my future brother-in-law. They seem like nice folks.

One distant non-relation is a little girl who is 5, exactly Ben's age. She is my sister's fiance's brother's girlfriend's daughter. ("So what does that make us?" "Absolutely nothing... which is what YOU are about to become!") The two kids got along great. Ben's been missing two front teeth since some unfortunate horseplay when he was 5. This girl has lost a tooth in the natural way, which is a hopeful sign because it means that Ben's disfigurement won't stand out for much longer.

They got in the following conversation:

Girl: "The tooth fairy brought me five dollars!"
Ben (confidently): "But the tooth fairy isn't real!"
Girl (taken aback): "She is too! Or else who brought me five dollars?"

Ben didn't answer that one, although I like to think that he knows the real answer and just chose to let it drop. (He does know, after all, that parents bring Christmas presents.)

We made a conscious decision when he was born not to teach him to believe in made-up things like Santa and the tooth fairy. That was a tough decision, but he's just now coming to the age where our decision can ruin the fun for other parents.

Ginny and I had a couple of talks with him. I tried to explain to him that we felt it was the right decision not to pretend that imaginary things are real, because we didn't want to lie to him. But at the same time I struggled to justify why it's okay for other parents to lie to THEIR kids.

At one point he asked "So other parents tell their kids Santa is real to make them happy?" And I said "Yes, that's right." And he said "But I'm happy." Good kid. :)

Ginny had the immediate concern that Ben would blab about Santa to his best friend, who came over on Christmas morning to have breakfast with us after the presents were opened. She said "You CANNOT tell Calvin Santa is real. No, not even if he asks what Santa brought you. You can just say 'I got this and this,' and you don't have to lie about who brought it. You just don't say."

I told him it that this is just a game that some parents play. It's a secret. Since you know the secret, you get to share the game with the rest of us adults. So don't tell anyone the secret, or you'll spoil the game for other kids.


  1. Anonymous2:41 AM

    That sounds like a good way to deal with it. We took a slightly different approach. With Grace and Owen, we let Lexi and Jake read them the book, "The Giving Tree". Lexi and Jake told them that it makes people very happy to give to others and that, at Christmas, everyone gets a chance to be Santa Claus. The concept that there's one Santa isn't the concept in our house. We let everyone get in on the "Santa" action by having them pic out gifts for their sibs and what-not. We do a few things that play into the Santa myth, but... we treat it like a neat story. Much like Kindergarten teachers will teach "Cat in the Hat"... as a ficticious, but fun, story, so we treat Santa Claus mythology. Grace was really confused in her kinder class because the other kids were talking about Santa like he was real. Because we weren't as on point as you and Ginny, Grace apparently said something during class time about Santa being "just a fun story". Whoops.

    Lexi, Jake, and I had a conversation about this, though. Lexi is of the opinion that there's really no benefit to keeping the Santa myth going. She thinks it would be much better for society if we concentrated on the act of giving selflessly, as opposed to expecting a mythical figure to break into your house in stealth mode and eat the groceries. LOL She's like, "Can't the magic be that everyone is acting selflessly?"

    She has a point. Jake, however, took the approach that Santa is like Spiderman or Harry Potter or any other character. He was saying that the Santa experience reminded him of the Harry Potter book releases - "People get excited about the newest tale of a character. So, it's okay to get excited and play the Santa thing...just like you'd pretend to play Harry Potter or Star Wars."
    He has a point, too.

  2. All you parents of this "new age" are struggling with trying to be "better" parents than those of days gone by...and facing some hard issues in doing so. Is it "better" not to use such fantasies such as Santa and the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny? I'm not one to judge. However, I will say it cuts out a fair amount of fun by making life so "reality" based. I never once felt like my parents "lied" to me with such imaginary stories.

    Another possible side issue when going the "reality" route is the making Ben feel either "different" from other children, or superior to other kids because HE kmows the REAL truth and other kids are being "fooled". In either case, it can end up backfiring on you in the long run. And on him.

    There is no going back on your decision now..just be prepared for kids to be cruel in the future, if they decide that Ben is "too" different from them. He is the one that will pay a price for your attempts to be ultra-modern parents. I know that your motives are to rear a child that trusts you and sees his world without rose-colored glasses. Nothing wrong with that. I just hope it works out the way you want it to.
    Only time will tell.

  3. Hey PM your approach is a good one too. We pretend about Santa, make silly conversation about how he'll get down all those chimney's in one night etc...but Ben is clear it's only pretend.

    None of the 'magic' is gone mom...don't worry. Even though Ben is being brought up in a reality based way, we still have all the traditional fun stuff going on around the holidays. He isn't missing out on anything.

    As far as Ben feeling superior, I don't think the rest of his teaching in our home fosters that. And it doesn't hurt at all that his self esteem is quite intact because regardless of what the kids make fun of, and they will find something because kids are obviously cruel, I think having Ben ground solidly in reality, and him knowing he is smart and loved, will help him cope with the cruelty of kids.

    We are teaching him to reason well which is a good thing. We are also teaching him to be social and outgoing which is another useful tool of course. Times are not what they used to be and I think 'Modern' parents have been forced to parent differently.

  4. I don't think that this is strictly a function of us being a "new age" of parents. My parents raised me pretty much in the same way, and I never felt deprived because of it. I think you and we just have slightly different opinions on how kids grow up. Also don't forget that I grew up nominally Jewish, so believing in Santa was never really an issue.

  5. I told my kids that Santa was like the mailman who ever delivers the mail is the mailman who ever brings the presents is Santa