Parenting is full of contradictions. One of them, in particular, how we teach our children to always be honest and in the very next breath we tell them there’s a fat man in a red suit who sneaks into their house once a year and he’s as real as the blue sky above their heads.
It never occurred to me to not tell my kids there was a Santa Claus or an Easter Bunny. I have wonderful childhood memories of my own belief in these mythical characters. However, when it was my turn to share the tradition with my own children, I felt surprisingly uncomfortable. I was straight up lying to them. My children look up to me, expecting me to explain the world to them, and I tell them there’s a fairy who will sneak into their room at night to exchange their lost tooth for a monetary gift.
Some of it’s really fun. For example, watching your child’s eyes go wide as you tell them that little Elf on the mantle is watching their behavior so that he can report back to Santa. That’s a tool that any parent is glad to embrace.
I’m not here to squash the fun or to raise debate about whether parents should perpetuate the Santa myth. I’m here to find solace with my fellow character-personifying parents who have a giddy slash weary relationship with this responsibility.
Parents are required to go to great lengths to maintain the illusion. Each character has their respective character traits and behaviors, and they all require that parents be clever tricksters in some way. (It’s critical that you do it properly because there will be fact-checkers at recess.)
With that, I’ll offer you a guide to the most popular fictional characters. And a few tips for answering (or…dodging) the kids’ questions along the way.
The Tooth Fairy
This one completely stresses me out, because my kids are light sleepers. And because once my daughter found a few of her teeth in a drawer that supposedly the Tooth Fairy had taken with her when she visited a few times last year. Quick! Think, Mom, think! Fortunately, I’m a quick fibber.
“Well, she knows that Moms and Dads are sentimental about their kids’ baby teeth so occasionally she mails them back. Parents are supposed to keep that a secret. Oops, I guess the secret is out!”
Personifying the Tooth Fairy is tricky business. First, you have to wait it out until the child is in a deep state of REM. Sometimes this requires setting your alarm for 3 am to ensure they’re totally and completely out cold.
Like the magician with his tablecloth trick, grab the tooth out from under their pillow and carefully, as beads of sweat begin to form because your child just flinched, replace it with a monetary gift. Finally, drop to the floor and army crawl out of the room just in case they open their eyes.
The Pinterest community, with their never-ending supply of creative ways to add twelve more important-or-I’ll-ruin-my-child-forever steps to everything that used to be simple and normal, suggests that I leave a trail of glitter on the floor, a bit more by the pillow, and a few feathers that must have fallen off her wings as she flittered in and out last night. The idea is beyond clever, but I’m doing well just to get in and out without having a full panic attack.
The Easter Bunny
The good ol’ German Easter Bunny who evidently lays colorful eggs in a nest (yes, I know, but look it up)… There aren’t too many details to worry about here. The Easter Bunny should arrive early Sunday morning with treat-filled eggs. There’s no real danger of him not showing up if your kids are naughty.
You don’t have to plan a creative act for him to do every night for a month (I’ll get to that blasted one in a minute). All you have to do is fill and hide Easter eggs, which is pretty fun. Again, Pinterest suggested that I use white powder and a stencil to make bunny footprints leading to and from the house as added proof that he’s real. That’s adorable, but my sleep is too important to me.
Elf on the Shelf
I think if my husband and I had to do it over, we might give it a go because we feel a bit dull by comparison to our aforementioned clever friends. Here’s how I imagine it playing out in their households, followed by what is probably the reality.
I imagine, after a couple of glasses of wine together once the kids are in bed, my clever friends joyfully developing their next hysterical shenanigan for the Elf to get into overnight. “Let’s have him play Twister with Barbie and Captain America!”
In reality, it probably goes more like this — Mom’s brain is mush after a long day, and creativity completely evades her. She scours the internet for ideas, then resentfully pulls something together at midnight, while her family sleeps peacefully.
Yes, all of that just reminded me why at this point I’m kind of glad we’re not locked into the Elf on a Shelf charade.
Don’t worry, I’m not cynical about Santa Claus. I love Santa. I kind of wish he was real. I rather like the idea of a jolly, chubby, kind-hearted man who lives somewhere really special and has cute Elf-friends who happily make toys all day long while singing carols and eating cookies.
The fact that he’s supposed to “know when I’m sleeping and know when I’m awake” however, kind of conflicts with my faith. I know, I know… it’s all in good fun. But my kids have actually asked me this question. “Mommy, I thought only God is everywhere and knows everything about me.” So again, I quickly fashioned a well-intentioned fib and said that Santa doesn’t really know everything about you. “He relies on parents to e-mail him with an update. ‘Yes, she was good this year. No, he wasn’t good this year.’ And then he adds you to the appropriate list.”
It’s all about finding the loophole.
In our house, Santa is basically a cool toy-maker with high-tech gadgets that allow him to make a bazillion toys, enter our homes and deliver presents all over the world in one night. My kids believe technology is full of infinite possibilities that we could never begin to understand, so this explanation works. And then I don’t have to endorse an omniscient, omnipresent Santa.
It’s not that I refuse to allow magic into my kids’ worlds. Like most children, my kids tend to get very excited about characters in their life that have special meaning for them. Superheroes, Disney princesses, and the like. I love that. I want them to use their imaginations, to dream big and believe anything is possible. At the end of the day, however, I want their hope and faith to lie in God, not in an imaginary magical man who lives in the North Pole. Call me legalistic, but it’s a delicate balancing act for me.
The Santa myth comes with a whole host of required lies and responsibilities, including but not limited to:
- Writing him a letter. Pretend to mail it, and then intercept it for their memory box.
- Visiting him at the mall. Your child will definitely ask you if he is the “real” Santa. Responding one way or the other is too risky so I go with, “What do you think? Do you think it’s the real one, or is it one of his helpers?” Let them decide.
- Leave milk and cookies out on Christmas Eve. If you’re Pinterest-y, you’ll also leave carrots for the reindeer on a plate that has the kids’ handprints on it from each of their first Christmases. Don’t forget to eat everything and leave a few crumbs behind for believability!
- If you go on vacation or live in a house that doesn’t have a chimney, you’re doomed. You’ll face a dozen extra questions and you may have to get a bit creative in explaining how Santa will access your home. Some people leave a key in a gift-wrapped box on the doorstep for him. Others explain that it’s magic and he can enter without direct access.
- Definitely, use him as leverage for good behavior. It’s your right.
Confession: Sometimes I resent Santa because he gets all the credit. I want my kids to know that beautiful four-story dollhouse Santa brought is actually the result of five hours of online comparison shopping, two weeks of closely monitoring the UPS tracking number, four hours of assembly late last night, and $250 of hard-earned money.
“Where do babies come from?” Well, that’s an easy one, kids. The stork flies over rooftops with a little cloth bundle then lands at the doorstep of a happy couple who then unwraps their precious, smiling newborn and they all live happily ever after. That’s where babies come from.
If only it was that easy! We’d all like to waylay children’s awkward questions for as long as possible, but their curious nature means parents have to tell them something.
Ever since I saw the movie Dumbo for the first time, I’ve loved the stork story. In the end, we’re a birds and the bees household. We’re pretty straight-forward about where babies come from (minus the intimate details). There are many fantastic books out there about welcoming new baby brothers and sisters, and how babies enter the world. Best of luck to you.
Answering (Dodging) Their Questions
Fellow parents, Santa and his fellow fictional friends may not be real, but encouraging children to believe for a few years can be tremendously fun. For you, and them. Just roll with it. It’s their right to enjoy these myths as long as possible until they figure it out. Or until Billy on the playground shatters the illusion.
I don’t think I have many years of this left. The length of time the kids believe gets shorter with each one. I’ll be lucky if my 6-year-old makes it through this Christmas season with her Santa-faith intact.
The questions will come. “But Mommy, is the tooth fairy really real?”
I prefer to dodge their questions and respond with “Well what do you think?” And hope they’ll astutely sort it all out, and decide on their own they don’t believe it anymore.
The day will come when they discover the truth. When they do, I think they’ll be basically unscathed. And they’ll have a lot of fond memories to pass along if they become parents themselves.