The Truth About Santa

When I was seven years old, I found out the truth about Santa. My Mom sat me down at the dinner table and read an article to me that revealed that Santa–the one I had believed in, got so excited for, and couldn’t wait until Christmas Eve to see–wasn’t real. I can remember crying at the table for a long time afterwards. At first, I was very disappointed to learn the truth. Santa had been a magical part of the holiday; I believed that he loved all children and delivered presents to everyone. Santa made me feel special: he knew who I was, he made sure I behaved and rewarded me with toys picked out or made especially for me. After realizing that Santa and several other mythical characters I’d grown to love (the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy) didn’t exist, I started to get mad! My parents had lied to me. And though they’d done it with good intentions–perhaps to let me believe in magic or something special–I felt like a fool. Who else knew that Santa wasn’t real? My older sister must have known the truth. I felt like everyone in the world must have thought that I was a stupid kid for walking around getting all excited about Santa and believing he was real. I felt very betrayed. The kicker came when my parents asked me to keep the secret from my younger sister so that she could enjoy the magic of Santa for another year or two before learning the truth. My first reaction was ‘you’ve got to be kidding me, I’ve just discovered the truth and you want me to keep it a secret–it’s a BIG secret!’ It was a pretty tall order for a seven year old, especially one that was still sad, disappointed and angry with her parents.

I think about this childhood revelation each year as we get closer to Christmas, and I’ve come to better understand the struggle my parents faced. While you want your child to experience the magic of Santa when they’re young, you know there will be the great disappointment of learning the truth down the road. I know we have precious few years left before my children start to question the existence of Santa so my husband and I try not to make too big a deal about the whole thing. When our kids ask questions like ‘Where does Santa get all the toys?’ or ‘How does Santa know where we live?’ We simply turn the question back to them: ‘Where do you think Santa gets all his toys?’, ‘How do you think he knows where we live?’ They come up with some pretty clever answers: ‘He probably get his toys from the store’, ‘Yes, you’re probably right,’ we reply. ‘He must have a phone book so he knows where we live’, ‘That could be,’ we answer. I feel like I’m constantly walking a very thin line by trying to maintain a thread of truth in how I respond. It is so important for my husband and me to be truthful with our kids, and sometimes the line between lying and storytelling is a precarious one. I want the foundation we are building with our children to be one of trust and sometimes I feel the Santa story could put that in jeopardy if they discover the truth in the wrong way.

I want my children to know they can trust me and that I won’t ever deliberately cause them any pain or deceive them. But at the same time, I think there is great benefit in children believing that someone completely outside of their family believes in them and loves them for exactly who they are, be it Santa or some other higher power. I am bracing myself for the day they ask me to come clean about Santa, but I’m also preparing myself for it too. I’ll tell them the truth, share what we struggled with in deciding whether or not to tell them and let them feel whatever they need to feel, be it understanding, anger, disappointment, sadness or anything else.

I never did tell my younger sister about Santa. If I remember correctly, she learned the truth from some neighborhood kids not too long after the Christmas I found out. She was spared the ‘story at the table’ and while she might not appreciate that, knowing that she didn’t connect the experience with the let down of the news coming from my parents, I do. While the experience that I had in being read the story was painful, my mom had told me the truth and believed I was at an age where I could handle it–she thought she was doing me a favor by telling me before the neighborhood kids had a chance to. Upon reflection, I wish she had just acknowledged why she allowed me to believe in Santa in the first place, what she hoped I would gain from believing and why she told me the truth when she did; I wish she had acknowledged that this was hard news to accept and that it was okay to be upset.

How do you talk to your child about Santa? Have you discussed a plan to reveal the truth when you feel they’re ready to hear it? While I still haven’t figured out all of the details of this yet, I know that I want to make sure my children understand that while there might not be a Santa, the love and magic of Christmas still exists in the friends and family who love them just the way they are.


Pictures with Santa

The holiday season brings with it the annual tradition of taking the kids to get pictures with Santa. This activity can elicit a range of emotions for you and your child, from joy and excitement to fear and dread.

When my boys reached their toddler years, I couldn’t wait for them to get their pictures taken with Santa. In advance of the outing each year, I would envision my desired end result: a festive picture of them smiling from ear-to-ear. But it became clear in the early years that achieving my vision wouldn’t be as easy as I’d hoped. Instead of my children cheerfully embracing the stranger in red and white, they were terrified (in retrospect, perhaps understandably) and didn’t want to be anywhere near Santa. This happened multiple years in a row. One year, one of my children didn’t want to sit with Santa and could only be comforted by being held. I was so committed to getting a picture of the kids with Santa that my husband and I ended up in the picture with him. After the photographer took the picture, I thought ‘what am I doing? This is not what I wanted!’ While my husband had tolerated my quest to get the picture over the years, he gently reminded me of something valuable that day by asking me why I needed a picture of the kids with Santa so badly. Was it for me or for the kids? No one wants to be forced to do something, let alone fake enjoying it, if it’s not really what they want to do.

Upon reflection, I realized that I really just wanted them to have the experience of meeting Santa and thought the photo would be a good memento of it. I decided going forward that I wouldn’t subject my husband or children to pictures with Santa again, unless everyone involved was excited about it.

The Santa debacle prompted me to examine whether or not there are other areas in which I might be trying to force my hopes and desires on my children. I’ve sometimes wondered if putting them in various activities, soccer, swimming, gym, etc, is more for their benefit or mine. I want our children to have experiences that allow them to reach their full potential, but I need to not to let my desire to see them succeed get the best of me. What if my child excels at soccer, but doesn’t enjoy it or want to play on the team anymore? Then who is he doing it for? I believe that following my husband’s advice and asking who an activity really benefits is a good way to keep myself in check.

This year, we took the children to see Santa again. Our youngest wasn’t so sure about the whole thing and kept his distance. Our oldest, however, was eager to talk to and sit with Santa. We got the picture we wanted, albeit only with the one child. And even though our youngest didn’t want to be in the picture, he did warm up at the end of our time there and gave Santa a high five on the way out. It was a good experience and a memory we’ll all be able to cherish.

Parenting Firsts

When I first became a parent, I was struck by how many firsts I encountered during the first few years of my child’s life. There was the first time I changed a diaper, gave my child a bath, took him for a haircut, dropped him off at school and so on. Some of the first times were a little bit upsetting for me: I didn’t like seeing my child cry when I gave them his first bath or his first haircut and then I was the one crying when I first dropped him off at school. Other firsts were more exciting for me–things we’d planned for and couldn’t wait for our children to experience. Seeing our children take their first steps, learning new things (numbers, letters, reading and math), and participating in an activity that didn’t require my husband or I to be in the pool or on the field with them.

How many of us have had a first event or outing planned for our child that didn’t go quite as we’d hoped?

We recently came back from our first true family vacation. Though we’ve been on trips to visit family before, this was the first time we were going to have a family vacation with just the four of us. I have been carefully preparing this trip since my oldest, now six, was about two years old. I grew up in Florida and knew we had to get the kids to Disney World in Orlando at some point. We wanted to take them when they were old enough to enjoy it and more importantly would be able to remember it: for $75 a kid, you need them to remember it!

While we’ve been planning the details of our trip for some time, we decided we wouldn’t tell the kids we were taking them to Disney World until we were closer to our vacation date. Their birthdays are close together and landed a few weeks in advance of our departure date, so we figured that would be the perfect time to tell them. The morning we decided to finally spill the beans was carefully planned. We put a pair of mouse ears at each of their places at the breakfast table, and we had the computer cued up to play a Disney video that would show them all the fun and magical things kids can experience there.

I woke the kids up with much anticipation. While I wasn’t sure what their initial reaction would be, I was expecting something along the lines of exhilaration, shrieks of joy, or at least big smiles on their faces. I got none of the above. They were mildly interested in the mouse ears, but their response to hearing the news that we were going to Disney World ranged from ”I don’t want to go!” to “That sounds boring!” This was not what I was prepared for. Years of planning down the drain! I was distraught but my husband was actually chuckling when the kids expressed their dismay at having to go.

Thankfully, once the kids started telling their friends about the trip and everyone told them how much fun they would have, they started to warm up to the idea. By the time we arrived at our hotel, Wilderness Lodge, (a great family spot) the kids were pretty excited.

In addition to this being our first family trip and our first time to Disney World, this was also our first time sleeping all four of us in one hotel room. My husband and I weren’t sure what to expect. Would the kids get any sleep? Would my husband and I? It reminded me of when the boys were infants and we were on pins and needles waiting for them to wake us up in the middle of the night. I also reflected with a great deal of gratitude on what my parents dealt with when they took my sisters and I on trips growing up. The trip and sleeping arrangements ended up going about as well as we could have hoped–we slept through the night for the most part and figured out how to share a room as a family for the first time together.

Our days at the park and in Orlando were pretty magical. There were many highlights including It’s a Small World, the Electrical Light Parade on the water, and all the fun things the kids could do at our hotel, and many firsts for my children, but also for my husband and I. We not only survived our first family trip and lived to tell the tale, but have a memory we’ll treasure forever!

What parenting firsts have been most special for you?