So here’s the thing: my kids don’t believe in Santa.
At least, not as far as I know.
My daughter (7), the cynic of the family, absolutely definitely does not believe in anything make believe whatsoever. She also never talked back to Dora the Explorer or bought into the idea that anyone on the other side of the TV screen was actually speaking directly to her or could hear or see her. Even as a teeny tiny toddler, she never once did what any of her beloved characters on TV asked her to unless I prompted her. And, while she would happily sit in front of the TV all day if I let her, proving she’s perfectly happy to hang out in fantasy-land, she just seems to separate reality from fiction very clearly in her little brain.
When she has asked me about the existence of the man with the beard in the red suit, my response was “What do you think?” She didn’t think he did. And, she and I are both okay with that.
My response to my son (5) has been the same, but he’s the dreamer. When he asks me if pirates and witches are real, he really wants to know . . . because he’s just not sure. And when I say, “Well, not in the way that you’re imagining them,” because I feel like that is the most truthful response, I’m not sure that I’ve provided him any clarity on the subject whatsoever.
There have been times in the past when we’ve discussed Santa and other holiday characters. On those occasions, he seems to have arrived at the conclusion that they are just fun make-believe in which much of the world enjoys participating. This is the philosophy I preach to his serious and cynical sister out of my extreme fear that she will spoil someone else’s fun.
But, there are other times with my son when we have had conversations about dinosaurs being extinct and I see the logic side of his brain accept that and yet moments later when the animatronic dinosaur we’ve been standing in front of moves, some other portion of his heart or head has kicked in and he has doubted what we’ve just discussed. So, as for him, and what he really thinks is real and not real in that precious head of his . . . I just don’t know.
What I do know is what’s important to me. What’s important to me is just that I’m truthful with them. That doesn’t mean that I sit my tiny kiddos down and lecture them about truth vs. fiction. It doesn’t mean that we forego pictures with Santa, Easter Baskets, or token monetary gifts in exchange for baby teeth. It just means that when they ask, I give them honest answers. And when they don’t ask, I don’t make things up to fill the space. Although, I will say that my daughter and I do now have a wink-wink nod-nod thing going about the tooth fairy. But, it’s because she knows exactly who is delinquent in retrieving her tooth and depositing monetary gifts under her pillow that she’s able to giggle at me when I discuss the tooth fairy’s forgetful nature and say “Oh, M-omm, cut it out.”
I choose to approach Santa, elves, bunnies, and fairies like I approach shots, yucky medicine, anatomy, sex, death and pretty much anything else when it comes to my kiddos: I just tell them the truth. It’s just SO much easier on my simple brain. I don’t dump lots of information on them that they don’t need at this age and I do struggle sometimes with how to tell them things gently and in ways that (hopefully) will require as few future therapy sessions as possible, but when I tell my daughter, “I will always be honest with you” I mean it. To my core. I will joke and tease and say things sarcastically, but my children will know when I am truthful and when I am choosing not to be for fun. At this point, I can’t tell that this makes a bit of difference to my son. But, I can absolutely tell with my daughter. Being able to believe in that truth means something to her.
My sense is that it will mean more, not less, as she gets older and things get more complicated than fairies and bunnies.
Because (and this is the bottom line for me), when I tell my kids that something bigger than their imagination and more impossible to picture than Santa Claus exists, I want them to believe me. Because God is real. And to a kid, God looks a lot like Santa.