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.