'Why I wish I never started Santa' - One Irish mother explains
Last week my 9-year-old asked me the dreaded words, "Mummy, is Santa real?"
This is the moment that every parent dreads. The moment we have to pull back the curtain of lies we carefully wove over years of hidden presents, half-eaten carrots and biscuit crumbs. It's the moment of truth.
These conversations have rarely gone well for me, previous efforts with my older children resulted in everything from weeping fits to furious anger. One of my children has still not forgiven me and that's after seven years.
Because the lies were so much more than Santa. The lies included the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy too.
"Everything you told me was a lie!" one of my daughters yelled at me and she was right. I'd lied, and lied, and lied. And I had revealed the lie at the point where my child was growing up, her body starting to change. The point where I needed her to feel she could talk to me, could trust me.
It was about then that I began to regret ever starting Santa. A friend of mine had been upfront from word go with her children that she was Santa. She would leave a surprise gift out for them on Christmas morning, like Santa but they knew it was her. Her kids would be just as excited as mine about Christmas and she never had to have the 'I've-been-lying-to-you-your-whole-life' conversation with her kids.
How I envied her as I dealt with my children's feelings of betrayal and anger. Having started the lie though I was now trapped, I didn't think I could just end it for my younger children. It hadn't occurred to me when my first child was small that I had options to create my own traditions for Christmas. The truth is I lied to my kids because that's what everyone else around me did. I never stopped to ask myself was there a better way.
After telling four children now that I lied to them about Santa, I've since explored other family's ideas and traditions around Christmas that don't involve lying to kids.
Here are some of my favourites:
- Leave gifts hidden around the house for their kids, with clues for them to find the gifts. It becomes a wonderful fun adventure every Christmas morning as they try and solve the clues and find their gifts.
- Make your child be "Santa" for another family member, help them choose a gift, wrap it and leave it under the tree for them from "Santa" on Christmas morning.
- Older children can be "Santa" for anyone they think needs a Santa present.
- Teaching children about the "Christmas Spirit" instead of "Santa". Find ways for the family to all embody Christmas spirit, like making biscuits and packaging them up and delivering them on Christmas Day to people who have to work, firefighters, hospital staff etc, or people who might not have family at nursing homes or homeless shelters.
I used the idea of "Christmas Spirit" in my most recent 'There's no Santa' chat with my nine-year-old daughter. I told her that the secret is that anyone who has the spirit of Christmas, kindness and generosity is Santa.
Speaking to her, I explained:
"As you have shown how kind and thoughtful you are I know you are big enough now to be Santa too. "Can you help me be Santa for your siblings?"
My daughter was excited about the idea of being Santa but disappointed that I had lied to her. I feel sad I lied to her too.
If the point of Santa is to create magic for children I now believe there are lots of other ways to do that than lying to them and damaging the trust between parent and child. If I could go back in time, I would explore the traditions of the world and pick out the most fun, most magical ideas that are aligned with my family's values instead of having to create a make-belief world that always comes crashing down.