“Mama, Do You Believe in Santa Claus?”
What was I to do, being a mindful parent who had pledged never to lie to my children? How was I supposed to answer when my ex-husband’s new wife had given Santa gifts last year and I’d chastised her (I chastised my ex, but of course, he hadn’t shopped or wrapped; he had a new wife.)
If we’re being honest to our kids about Santa, we ruin a childhood fantasy. If we lie to them, we’ll later be pillaged and used as an example anytime our children do something we’ve told them not to. As my mother would have said, “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
So there I was on Christmas, when my son was six and my daughter was three, celebrating at my sister’s house (yes, I dad haul all the presents). My son was mopey. He’d play with gifts, but it was clear that his heart wasn’t in it. Perhaps he was tired, but I had to ask. His response knocked me on my parenting butt.
“Santa didn’t come! I tried to be a good boy all year.” (He was very well behaved, except for the black-basketball-on-the-ceiling incident.) “But Santa still didn’t bring me the Superman action figure,” he whispered. The tears spilling from his eyes were the size of tablespoons. My gut wrenched. My empathy had me in tears, too.
“Oh, sweetheart, I told you we couldn’t find that action figure anywhere. You found it in a comic book from when your dad was a child. I told you several times that it wouldn’t be under the tree. I looked everywhere I could!” (Amazon had not yet been invented; neither had eBay.)
I took him aside and laid it all out for him. “Do you remember any gifts you’ve ever gotten from Santa? Well, honey, while lots of parents find the magic of Christmas is something they can’t explain, I believe the magic of Christmas is love and honesty…”
Yep, I probably broke his heart.
I’ll ask him now what he plans to do when he becomes a parent. It just might lead to an interesting discussion.
Melissa Pazen holds an MSW, but prefers to coach parents, especially those who are expecting their first child and worried that they could “break the baby” or “wreck the poor kid.” Based outside Chicago, she has a thriving practice in which she helps parents anticipate the thorny issues of raising children, and make plans for handling them when they arise.