The Humanist And The Tooth Fairy

It’s happening. My baby is growing up. Juniper Junior has not long been five, and now has a wobbly tooth. A very wobbly tooth, as it happens. And there comes an issue: the Tooth Fairy. Some may remember from last Hogswatch, that I wrote about our experience as a Humanist family. But now we have a new experience: the aforementioned Tooth Fairy.

Once upon a time – all right, last week – Juniper Junior came through to the kitchen where Mr. Juniper and I were talking. The talk turned to his wobbly tooth, and without much forethought, we mentioned the Tooth Fairy. With an immediacy with which Acme anvils are well accustomed, I thought: what am I saying?

In similar ways to the Hogfather, the Tooth Fairy is just “there.” An idea that has, in various incarnations, been a part of our culture for a long time. And it can feel a little daunting to go against something that has become a tradition.

A part of being a Humanist is to reject the supernatural, and I suspect that any self-respecting Tooth Fairy would consider themselves to be a supernatural being. To me this means finding the line between encouraging belief and enjoying the story. At Hogswatch, we enjoyed the story of the Hogfather but we did our best not to encourage the belief of the Hogfather. An encouragement that a concept which has relied largely on an oral history is of little difference to a story book. Indeed, Juniper Junior has two books of Bible stories because we feel that the stories can still be of importance; it’s whether we treat them as fact or fiction that matters.

I appreciate that there are people who say the Tooth Fairy does no harm, and will consider me to be a freak because I’m “over-thinking” this, or will see me as denying my son a critical part of childhood if we deny the Tooth Fairy. To be fair, a lot of people say the same things about Humanism. That by being a Humanist family, we’re denying our son something critical. I am at the point where those beliefs are something to ignore. Though it can be very hard. I try to bear in mind that those people are at liberty to raise their children as they see fit, so long as they do no harm, just as we are at liberty to raise our son as we see fit, so long as we do no harm. There are those who consider a rejection of deities within a child’s life to be abuse, but for the moment, the United Kingdom’s government disagrees with them. Long may they do so.

As always, a simpler approach has a tendency to be the better approach. But over the past few days, I have still been left with the “how” of this approach. What is the simple approach to enjoying the story of the Tooth Fairy? Part of me would like to get Juniper Junior to read The Hogfather. It is a fantastic look at belief and stories, which also happens to be written by one of my heroes (and fellow Humanist) Terry Pratchett. But I fear The Hogfather is a little beyond Juniper Junior’s current reading ability. I don’t wish to have a need for a spoiler warning, so I shall simply say that the way in which The Hogfather includes the Tooth Fairy truly is amazing.

So the simple approach has something of a plan emerging around it. The plan being alongside reminders that the Tooth Fairy is something that some people choose to believe in, that it is a part of a long history of mythical creatures and beings. But that we can also enjoy that story. That if we’re talking about the story that is the Tooth Fairy, why don’t we get out some of the books we have on folklore and check out the kelpie and selkie stories, too?

There is then, the matter of payment. The Tooth Fairy, or at least, the tooth fairies that act on behalf of the Tooth Fairy, are generally expected to offer a reward for the tooth in question. Juniper Junior doesn’t get pocket money, so I wonder how much a financial reward will mean to him. He enjoys playing with pennies, but he is quite as entertained by a two-pence piece, as he is by a pound. But perhaps in turn, this is an opportunity to teach him something about money. He does, after all, have a piggy bank. How much though? Twenty pence? Fifty pence? A pound? If he’s to save his pennies, then a small amount seems reasonable. If he’s to spend them? There has to be enough to buy something, even a small something. Save or spend? Perhaps this is the moment to grab, and encourage the idea of saving.

With events like Hogswatch, we have come to have our own traditions and little quirks. And so, we hope to do the same with the Tooth Fairy. The tradition in mind, is for books. To be fair, I will wrangle an excuse out of anything to acquire more books. So in preparation for the tooth coming out, I have done a little shopping on Amazon on behalf of the Tooth Fairy. And along with the pennies that Juniper Junior finds by his pillow, he’s going to find a book, too. So now we just have to wait for the tooth to come out – hopefully on a weekday – I’ve heard the rates go up at weekends.

By Juniper

Rarely to be found without herbal tea nearby. Team Unicorn. Often in pyjamas. Also: TEAM KATNISS!

20 replies on “The Humanist And The Tooth Fairy”

The tooth fairy is a bit bizarre, isn’t it?

My daughter goes back and forth about believing it’s real- somedays she says it’s me, other days she really tries hard to believe.

A book that is fun to celebrate passage out of babyhood is “Throw Your Tooth on the Roof” – it’s a book of tooth tales and traditions around the world.

When M lost her first tooth, she got $1, a book and a toothbrush. Now she just gets a dollar. It may or may not be painted with clear glittery nail polish that I may or may not have pointed out to her as um, Fairy Dust.

It is, possible because there isn’t the same connection – or so it feels – to great tradition and celebration, as we do, for example, with the Hogfather.  That’s really interesting to hear that your daughter goes back and forth on how she feels about it. Thank you for the book recommendation, too! I’ve just checked and Amazon UK have it, so I think we’ll be getting it before long – looks like an ace read. Love the toothbrush as a present, too. It’s something we toyed with, but in the end (the tooth came out!) we went for fifty pence and a book. And, um, I love the idea of Fairy Dust on the coin. That is awesome.

Hooray for the first tooth!! For M, it seems they seem to go in pairs, so get ready for the second one soon :)

I should also say that she’s kept all of her teeth. Each time she loses one, she writes a note to the tooth fairy asking her NOT to take the tooth.

The tooth fairy is extra nice and always leaves a token anyway, the mark the rite of passage. She sometimes writes notes, in teeny-tiny writing.

In the end, I’d rather have a collection of M’s letters than a bag full of baby teeth in my dresser drawer :)

I’m pretty sure I had the Tooth Fairy visit, but after a certain age -just like Sinterklaas- both my brother and I knew it wasn’t real (but just a way for my parents to give small gifts and not let -especially me- be terrified about your teeth dropping out).

This is an interesting take. I have no plans to have kids, but I’ve often thought of what I’d do if I did since I’m an atheist. Would I take them to church a few times so they could see the other side? I’m not sure. I suppose I wouldn’t if I wanted my kid to be an atheist when they grew up, but I’d also want them to make the decision to have faith (or to note). Though perhaps I’d wait until they expressed an interested in attending a service, and then I’d go and we’d have a discussion.

I suppose with things like the tooth fairy or Santa, it’s more difficult because kids who believe in them at this point are too young to see the difference between myth and reality, whereas if a 10 year-old wanted to go to church, they’d have more capacity to reason between the two.

I’m just rambling now, but I can see that it’s a tough quandry, especially if their friends are talking about the Tooth Fairy!

I think it’s quite reasonable to think through a scenario regardless of the likelihood of that scenario. For us, we won’t be taking Juniper Junior to church. We feel he can learn about religion without having to participate in religion. Though, having said that, our schools have services at the local kirks at the end of each term, so he will be exposed to worship in that respect, though it will only be when he’s old enough to decide whether or not he wants to go.

Age is definitely an important factor and it wasn’t until this past Hogswatch when Juniper Junior was four-and-a-half that we were able to speak about the Hogfather with anything resembling understanding – he was simply too young before that.

This is odd timing, as my 3 year old has been singing about the tooth fairy all day. (Damn you, Yo Gabba Gabba!) My husband and I are both atheists; my family is Catholic or Methodist and his is Jewish and so far we haven’t brought up much in the way of religion or other supernatural beliefs to her. I insisted on having her picture taken with Santa because it was something I did as a kid and I thought it would be fun, and we read (and sang) Rudolph more times than I could count, but she doesn’t think it’s any different or more real than any of her other books. We’ve got a couple years (hopefully) before any teeth fall out, but I’ll probably go along with the Tooth Fairy story because I loved it when I was a kid. And it was good for me to learn eventually that not every story that I believed in as a kid was true. I figured out Santa on my own because the details didn’t make sense; I hope my kiddo also thinks about it and figures it out. Too many people never learn how to tell fact from fiction.

Ah, we’ve been having renditions of “Old MacDonald”. Problem is, Old MacDonald only seems to have a duck at the moment – it’s getting a little repetitive. That’s really good that you’ve found a plan that suits you as a family – I think there’s a lot to be said for it not being what you do, but how you do it. And questioning things is so, so great for children, too.

Okay, I very recently went through this very same thing. You cannot believe how unpopular my position has been amongst other parents. But I just personally don’t feel like feeding something I do not believe in to a child. I have always let her decide what she wants to believe in and I never ever contradict her about stuff. So if she says unicorns are real, so be it.(Pause here for the response to the inevitable “I believed in Santa, Tooth Fairy, Baby Jesus, whatever, and it didn’t hurt me.” That’s cool and I don’t think it’s massively damaging to believe in Santa, it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth to tell this little person who believes Everything I Say something that is manifestly not true to me.)

So the first time she asked if the big TF was real, I said it was a story that some people believed in, and some didn’t. And she was cool with that as long as she was sure that *someone* was giving her tooth-money. But then as more kids lost their teeth in kindergarten and first grade, she started to show signs of really wanting it to be true. And I was torn. Because on the one hand, I don’t want to be like, “No, child! It’s not true! Your friends parents are LIARS!” but I don’t really want to say it’s true. I wishy washied and said that I didn’t really know and she could make her own decision. Being th child she is, she at once proposed an experiment. If she put a tooth under the pillow, what would happen? And she told me she really, really wanted it to be true.

I caved. Sigh.

Thank you so much for sharing your experience with this. It can be quite the minefield! Especially when faced with the “…and it never did me any harm!” argument. It’s where I’ve come to realise that it’s important to do what’s best for us as a family and what is in line with how we live and what our beliefs are. I think, too, that it’s reasonable that if there’s uncertainty to let your child question it and make up their own minds.

This is a cool shift. I feel like it makes loosing a tooth more of a rite of passage, like it has a lot more substance behind it.

Things like the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus are very peculiar to me. I appreciate their power as stories, and the messages they bring. But why must we be so literal about the stories? Are children really enriched by being persuaded by these stories are literally true (in the true sense of the term!)? I don’t think they made any real impact on me as a child. But with me, when I realized that Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy weren’t real beings, my parents abruptly stopped enacting traditions behind them. So, no more quarters in exchange for teeth, and no more presents that had “Santa” on the “from” tag at Christmas.

I wonder, how much more meaningful would the stories have been if they had been told with full disclosure? If the stories had been clear as stories, but an emphasis on not only their meaning but why their meaning was important.

I’ve come to a place where I deeply appreciate religion, despite my rejection of god(s). I think religion has a lot to give us, especially in terms of stories. IMO, religious texts aren’t meant to be literal, anyway. It wouldn’t be of the divine if it was.

It’s a very interesting area of parenting: the effect of teaching stories as fact or fiction. For my brother and I, our (Humanist) parents did carry on the traditions. When I wrote about Hogswatch, I mentioned that my brother and I still get presents from the Hogfather! (Indeed, everyone in the family does.) What I’ve taken from that is that the story can be enriching, rather than the belief. That’s a great point about stories being told with “full disclosure” as it’s how I was brought up – one of Juniper Junior’s books of Bible stories is mine from when I was a child. It’s where Aesop’s Fables are an interesting point – we don’t necessarily believe the story, but we can take much from the story itself.

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